Career Coach: Tips for success when participating in job interviews by phone


December 6, 2013

In today’s job market, applicants can expect to undergo numerous interviews for jobs. While savvy applicants often spend hours practicing their face-to-face interview skills, many pay less attention to their phone skills, despite the fact that many interviews start with a call.

You should prepare ahead of time. Here are some tips:

Prepare for a phone conversation just as you would for a face-to-face meeting. Have your notes available for questions you want to ask as well as key points about yourself that you want to make. Keep a pen and paper handle to take notes.

Clean up your voicemail greeting. Listen for how it might sound to a prospective employer. Get rid of the cutesy phrases, strange songs, etc. Have someone else call you and report how professional your answering machine sounds.

Practice how you sound on the phone. Record yourself and listen or have someone else listen and provide feedback. One executive that I coached always started out strong in his conversations, but near the end he mumbled and talked fast, making him very difficult to understand. He would not have known this without having someone listen to his conversations.

Make sure your phone is high quality and is not going to breakdown during the call.

Get dressed up for the call so that you will project a more confident image; some applicants I have worked with have even stood during parts or the entire interview to feel more confident.

During the actual call

Treat a phone conversation like you would a face-to-face meeting. Start with a positive and pleasant strong voice.

If you are the caller, show courtesy by asking if the time is convenient. Ask, “Is this still a good time for you to talk?” Make sure they are prepared for your conversation. You might ask, “Do you have my materials or do you need me to e-mail or fax you any additional information before we get started?”

If your call is answered by the employer’s gatekeeper, make sure to be nice to this person. Often, they are in charge of screening the employers’ calls. Learn and use their names when dealing with them, show them respect, and be personable yet professional.

During the conversation, if it sounds like there are distractions from other people or activities, politely ask them if this is still a good time to talk. You need the interviewer’s full attention to make sure you can put your best foot forward.

Take your time when speaking. Be polite and use the interviewer’s title or Mr. and Mrs. and their last name. If they want you to use their first name, they will tell you. Err on the side of being more formal and polite.

Get the caller’s phone number and contact information. This is important if you want to follow up later or send a thank-you.

End of the conversation with a wrap up as if you were there in person. Make a personal comment (“Good luck in your charity golf tournament”) and end on a personal, positive or forward-looking note. Make sure to thank the interviewer for their time and insights.

If you have to leave a message, make it clear, concise and short. Leave times when you can be reached; provide your phone number (and repeat it). Send a thank-you note to employers you talk with as well as any gatekeepers who greatly assisted you.

A few don’ts to remember

Make sure you have time to talk if you answer the phone. I have seen many people answer their phones as they are rushing off to meetings or lunch and then try to have a serious job conversation. If you don’t have time, allow the employer to leave a message and then call them back when you are in a quiet place and have time to talk, preferably later that day.

Do not engage in conversations when you are driving. For a job interview, you really need to be able to focus and concentrate. Plus, background noise from traffic, ambulances, and such really does not sound professional.

Don’t use slang language or nonwords (“huhs,” “yeah,” “ums,” “uhs”).

Don’t eat, chew gum or drink while you are on the phone. Would you do these things in a face-to-face interview? If not, then don’t do them on the phone interview.

Remember, phone interviews are critical for determining whether you will advance to the next stage in the interview process or for determining whether you get the job. Treat them as professionally as you would a face-to-face meeting for best results.

Joyce E.A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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