How Do I Ace my Phone Interview?

Ann,  I have a phone interview next week and I don’t think I do very well on them. What do I need to know get invited to a face-to-face interview?

Ann-Z-newA phone interview is typically the very first step in an interview process, and a surprising number of candidates do not get through that initial step. When we have a candidate that we know is technically qualified for the role, and yet they do not proceed to the next step in the process, we know that they bombed the phone interview for something that could have been easily correctable if they knew how to properly prepare for the telephone meeting.

ISC’s team of experienced headhunters has put together this list of suggestions to help candidates fully prepare for a telephonic meeting, in order to move forward to the next step, and ultimately land the job of their dreams.

Be Prepared!

If the hiring manager calls unexpectedly without pre-arranging through your recruiter, it is perfectly acceptable to try to re-schedule so you can be sufficiently prepared. Say that you have a conflict and suggest a time you or they can call back. When you call back, be prepared for the call just as you would for a full-dress interview.

Arrange to be in a place where you can speak openly/freely, with a minimum of background noise. Avoid a cell phone, if at all possible since a land line is still more reliable.

Be sure to have the following within reach:

  • Pen and paper, and a calculator
  • The job ad/description
  • A copy of your resume so you know what the interviewer is looking at
  • A list of your accomplishments which relate to the job you are discussing
  • Research you have done on the company and hiring managers.
  • A short list of questions about the job
  • Your calendar

The Techniques of a pro

  • Smile – it comes through in your voice
  • Speak directly into the phone
  • Look at a picture of the person you’re speaking to (do a Google search)
  • Don’t smoke, chew gum, eat or drink anything. It all telegraphs to your listener
  • Don’t type when you are on the phone, just take handwritten notes
  • Look at notes
  • Stand up. Your voice sounds stronger
  • Avoid ah, er, hum. This habit is especially noticeable on the telephone. This takes practice, so practice going over your job history, providing short, concise answers as to your job changes
  • Never ever pick up another call if you have call waiting, or put the interviewer “on hold” for any reason

For a Winning Performance

  • Confirm the caller’s name and company. Get the caller’s telephone number
  • Be aware that the caller can’t see you – can’t see your hand gestures, can’t see you taking notes
  • Pace the call. Let the caller do most of the talking, without interruptions
  • Do use the technique of repeating or re-phrasing questions. It tells the caller that you listened carefully, and gives you time to think about your answer
  • Avoid the simple yes or no; add selling points at every opportunity
  • If you need time to think, say so – radio silence during a telephone conversation is dead air time
  • Compensation issues typically come at the end of the interviewing cycle, as opposed to the telephone stage. If the topic of dollars does come up, you can truthfully say you don’t know enough about the job to state a salary figure. And, of course, you would need a personal interview to really talk with the company. Which is another way to go for the personal interview. Re-affirm your qualifications, express your interest in the job and the company

The best way to respond to questions regarding comp is to defer that question to a later date, after you have had a chance to evaluate the opportunity, and culture.

Beware negative comments about current employer – it is almost certain to hurt you. Be prepared to explain why you left your previous jobs without criticism of that company or it’s management.

Obviously, don’t get casual because you’re on the telephone – no slang or cursing.

Bring it home!!

At the end of the interview, assuming that you are in fact interested in pursuing the opportunity, make sure to share your enthusiasm with the interviewer.

Ask if they have any questions or concerns , and express your interest in moving onto the next step in the interview process. Ask what the next step in the process is, and ask if you will be moving forward in the process.

Be sure to have their email address prior to concluding the call, so you can immediately send a follow-up thank you note to express your interest in the role, and emphasize your interest in the job.

Show Your Enthusiasm!!

When all other things are equal, hiring managers hire people who they believe truly want the job and are going to be jumping in with both feet.

Even if you are not naturally an ebullient person, practice showing enthusiasm for the role and expressing interest in moving forward in the interview process.

Role playing can be very helpful in this instance. I occasionally get feedback from hiring managers that the individual did not seem engaged during the interview and interpret that to mean that they are not sincerely interested in pursuing the opportunity, only to hear from the candidate that they are extremely interested in the role. This disconnect happens when people who are not naturally effusive fail to show their enthusiasm. Ask to role play with your recruiter, coach, or another trusted advisor, to see if you are successfully showing enthusiasm when role playing.

Good Luck!



Ann Zaslow-Rethaber

Ann Zaslow-Rethaber

A recruiter since 1996, Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is the president of International Search Consultants, a global executive recruiting firm launched in 1999.

ISC has become one of the country’s most reputable search firms, earning more recommendations on Linked In than any other 3rd party recruiting agency in the entire country. With a team of 15 talented recruiters, utilizing the very best high- tech tools available, ISC can produce highly qualified candidates for companies with hi-volume recruiting needs.

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