Phone interviews and phone screens: Convenient for the hiring manager or recruiter, nerve-wracking for the job candidate. Just answering interview questions is tough enough -- even if you're prepared to answer the most common interview questions and most common behavioral interview questions. With a phone interview, you can't read the interviewers nonverbal cues. You can't tell how your answers are being received. It's harder to establish rapport.
Phone interviews are hard.
But they don't have to be. To help you prepare for a successful phone interview, I asked Brian Baxter, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Modere, for a few practical tips to add to my own. Aside from doing all the things you normally do to prepare for an interview (here are sixteen steps to the perfect job interview), here are simple ways to ensure you ace a phone screen, plus a few additional tips to help you prepare for video interviews.
Phone Interview Tips
1. Lay out your notes.
One advantage of a phone interview is that you can't be seen -- which means you can use plenty of notes. You can prepare notes about the company, notes about the interviewer, key points you want to emphasize, questions you want to ask, etc.
Make sure you lay out your notes in a logical fashion, though. Key points about your background, experience, and achievements may go on one page, questions for the interview on another... but then place those notes in such a way that you won't be heard shuffling through papers.
Refer to your notes when necessary, but make sure you...
2. Don't read from your notes.
Say you're prepared to talk about a time you led an initiative to increase efficiency. You may have crafted the perfect paragraph describing how you increased departmental productivity by 12% while reducing errors by 7%.
Great. Now throw it away. No matter how hard you try to sound natural, it will be clear you're reading from your notes.
The key is to find a balance between preparation and sounding rehearsed or pre-planned. The best way to do that is to prepare notes that remind you of what you want to say or ask.
A note like, "Productivity up 12%, errors down 7%" should be plenty to jog your memory. After all, you've been there, done that.
People who smile tend to sound more energetic, more engaged, more friendly... even if the person on the other end of the phone can't see it.
But when you don't have a person in front of you, you don't tend to smile.
Imagine the person you're speaking with is in the room. Write "Smile!" in large letters on a piece of paper and place it on the wall where you can't miss it. Then, before you start to answer a question, smile. You'll sound more engaged, more enthusiastic... and, oddly enough, you'll automatically relax and feel less stressed.
4. Stand occasionally.
Not only will that help you keep feeling active and energetic, there's an additional benefit. According to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, two minutes of power posing -- standing tall, holding your arms out or towards the sky, or standing like Superman with your hands on your hips -- will dramatically increase your level of confidence.
Of course that's hard to do if you're holding a phone, which is a good reason to...
5. Use a headset.
Having your hands free means you can walk around, use your hands as you normally would when you speak, more easily refer to a note... and you won't have to worry about making sure you hold the phone in the optimal position for call clarity.
And speaking of call clarity...
6. Take care of call logistics.
Find a quiet place where you can talk without interruption. Make sure the reception is good and the call won't drop. Place a bottle of water nearby in case your mouth gets dry.
Think of anything that might distract you -- or the interviewer -- during the call, and take care of it ahead of time. Make sure the only thing the interviewer will think about is you -- and how great you'll be in the role.
7. Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes.
From an interviewer's point of view, a phone interview isn't particularly different from an in-person interview. The only real difference is that good phone interviewers pay close attention to tone and inflation. They have to gauge your level of comfort or discomfort.
For the interviewer, it's all about the words and the tone.
So help the interviewer out. Stay focused and to the point. Stay enthusiastic. If you feel you are a great candidate -- and you should -- then act that way. Be proud of what you've accomplished. Be honest when describing a shortcoming.
Think about what you would want to know if you were the interviewer. Think about how you think a great candidate would come across.
Be prepared to give the interviewer what he or she really wants -- the perfect candidate for the job.
Video interview Tips
8. Logistics matter even more.
Pay attention to the background. Pay closer attention to how you will be "lit." Make sure there aren't distracting shadows or strong back lighting that makes your face appear dark. Dress appropriately. Make sure your mic picks up your voice well.
Simple stuff, but often ignored.
9. Focus on the camera.
It's really easy to start looking at your computer screen and not the camera. That's especially true if your monitor is relatively large. (And that's even more true if you have your interview notes on the screen.)
Remind yourself to look at the camera. If you can, place the interviewer's video window at the very top of your screen so it is as close to the camera as possible. Eye contact matters, even in a video interview.
10. Use notes wisely.
A video interview is just like being in person. Would you constantly refer to notes during an in-person interview? Of course not -- so don't let the interviewer constantly see your eyes darting off to scan your notes.
Of course there are times when it's okay to refer to notes. If the interviewer asks if you have any questions you want to ask, say, "I do. In fact, I wrote down a few questions I want to ask just to make sure I didn't forget them."
That shows you're prepared, and more importantly, that you care.
Caring is never a bad thing, especially in a job interview.
And then, whether it was a phone interview or a video interview...
11. Say thanks.
A phone interview may seem like a less formal version of an in-person interview, but don't treat it that way.
Send a short thank you note by email. Don't be tempted to recap all the points you made in the interview, though. Just say thanks, say you enjoyed the conversation, and that you appreciated the interviewer taking the time to speak with you.
Not only is sending a quick note good manners, it's also good business. We tend to appreciate the people who appreciate us. We tend to like the people who like us.
And we definitely tend to like people who are thoughtful and polite.