Contributed by LiveCareer
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of an initial phone interview/screen, but having polished telephone interview skills can make or break your job search. These initial screenings are designed to efficiently eliminate candidates from the larger pool. One wrong or tripped-up answer could mean the end for you! So then—how do you move past the first-round call?
- Timing Is Everything
If you’re someone who isn’t fully awake until after that second cup of coffee, don’t accept an early morning interview. The same goes for accepting an afternoon interview if you’re prone to a post-lunch slump. In a telephone interview, your voice and demeanor are as much a part of your interviewing skills as being able to succinctly describe your experience, so you’re best to choose a time when your mind is firing on all cylinders.
Typically, recruiters will offer you a couple of different days and times for an interview. Choose one during your peak personality hours. Being groggy in the morning or totally spent after a long day doesn’t translate to a great first impression.
- Give Yourself Some Breathing Room
Be ready for your call at least 10 minutes early. That means using the bathroom, pouring that second cup of coffee, and finding a quiet space to sit. If you are rushed you’ll feel – and sound – flustered. Being ready early will give you the time to take a breath and get centered. Being prepared for the call is half the battle.
Another pro tip, if possible: don’t squeeze a phone interview in on a 30-minute lunch break. Initial phone interviews typically last about 30 minutes, but if the recruiter is even slightly late to call, you could feel rushed. Whenever possible, block off a full hour for the call. You’ll have some extra time on either side and will be more relaxed.
- Calm the Commotion
Put pets in the other room. Turn off the TV. Focus on the conversation at hand. Even little distractions, like text alerts, can throw you during a phone interview. Do what you can to eliminate the potential for interruptions, but if a major diversion pops up during the call—say, the FedEx guy shows up and the dog goes berserk—stay calm, explain what’s happening, and handle the situation.
- Prepare to Plug Your Past Experience
Again, a first round telephone interview is designed to quickly eliminate candidates from the pool of applicants. If you want to move on to round two, be prepared to discuss your experience in detail during your call. Your resume catalogs your achievements, but you must be able to articulate in your own words who you are and elaborate on why you’d make sense in this particular role beyond what’s written in your resume.
Printing out the job description before your call and making notes about how your experience relates to the stated responsibilities is a great way to organize your thoughts. Recruiters want to hear about not just the skills you have, but real world examples of how you have applied them in your past roles. Comparing your experience to the job description before the call, and making notes about how the two relate, is great prep.
- Vet the Vetter
While you may feel like you are in the hot seat during the interview process, remember that you are also deciding whether this employer is right for you. Candidates sometimes forget that it’s not just about being chosen; the goal is a perfect fit on both sides.
Asking pertinent questions about the company, the office culture, and expectations is an interviewing skill that will only serve you well down the road. It shows the interviewer that you’ve done homework prior to the call (for example, know the company’s mission statement prior to picking up), and that you have a genuine interest in the role and the company. Also—talk about your workplace needs and wants, and what you’re ideally looking for in a job.
- Honesty Is (Truly) the Best Policy
If you have holes in your resume or have jumped around from employer to employer over the course of your career, recruiters are going to ask why. Before your call, prepare your response so that you don’t get flustered.
If you’ve been fired or laid off in the past, be honest. It can feel awkward to explain but never lie. If you become a finalist for the role, the truth will be revealed. This is your chance to take control of the situation and explain in your own words what happened. Remember: Elegance in your explanation is key, and bashing your former boss won’t ever sit well with a recruiter. It’s not a crime to have been unhappy in a past role, but being able to explain the situation diplomatically is critical in any interview.
Even if you’ve been with your current employer for years, recruiters will want to know why you are looking to leave. Make a list of motivating factors. Are you looking for more responsibility? Hoping to parlay one of your skills into a career change? Seeking a move into management? Being able to identify a motivator other than a higher salary is important at this stage.
- Make a Connection
An interview skill that can really set you apart is the ability to find a connection with the person interviewing you. Listen for commonalities that you can grab onto during your conversation. As long as it’s not something taboo or workplace inappropriate, take the time to chat a bit. A recruiter is looking for clues as to who you are as much they are examining your skill set.
Another bonus: make the interviewer laugh during the call. They are making virtually the same call all day long, so charm goes a long way. Plus, laughing relaxes both the person conducting the interview and the person being interviewed.
LiveCareer offers a treasure trove of materials to aid jobseekers in their journeys towards dream jobs. Interested in learning more about how to bring your A game to an interview? Check out our Interview Game Plan for all sorts of helpful materials, including a free video on interviewing basics, plus strategy docs and downloadable worksheets that will assist you with putting your plan in action.