How to Ace a Telephone Interview

by Marci Alboher, Working the New Economy, on Wed May 27, 2009

When employers want to narrow a pool of candidates, they frequently use telephone interviews to decide whom to bring in for in-person interviews. Telephone  interviews are also becoming more popular as employers continue to tighten their belts.  And while phone interviews are a cheap and efficient way to find a candidate, they can also feel overly casual and detached. So if you know you are going to have one, it’s important to give it some thought and not let the medium trip you up.

Here are some tips for making the best impression during a telephone interview:

Be prepared. Since a telephone interview is usually a test to see if you will make it to the next round, be as prepared for a phone interview as you would for one in person. That means, do all your research about the company or organization as well as the people you’ll be speaking with during the call. And of course, work on your pitch for why you’re the best candidate for the job.

Dress up. Really. There’s lots of evidence showing that how we dress affects how we work. So, if you’re home and tempted to do the call in your pajamas, take it up a notch.

Find a quiet and private place for the call. Control the environment where you take the call as much as possible.  If you’re at home, think about crying babies and construction noise.  I work at home with my dog, a French bulldog who snores loudly.  When I know I have an important call, I always put him in another room or send him to work with my partner that day.

Do not do anything else while on the call. Telephone interviews are not an ideal time to show off your multitasking abilities. Close all the windows on your computer, unless there is something on your computer you want to reference — like the web site of the organization you’re interviewing with. Close your email. And definitely don’t eat, drink, chew gum or do anything else that would hamper your speech or create a distraction.

Control the technology. The more advanced we get with telephone technology, the more we seem to hamper the quality of our connections.  Avoid using a cell phone since calls can get dropped. Disable call-waiting if you have that service.

Keep notes and documents handy. One advantage to a telephone interview is that you can have any papers you want to look at nearby.  Also, have a pen and paper handy to take notes.

Practice. Have a friend call you and see how you sound. Ask whether you sound better standing or sitting. I’ve taken some classes on public speaking and learned that I sound much more relaxed when standing, or even pacing. So that’s what I do when I take an important call.

Find out who will be in the call. If possible, get the names in advance of who will be on the call and know what roles they play. If there are multiple people on the call and you think you might not be able to distinguish their voices, ask them to identify themselves the first few times they speak.

Don’t worry about brief silences. In fact, it’s better to take a moment to digest the question than jump in and answer before you’ve thought about what you want to say. Plus, people pay attention to those who know how to listen.

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