How to Ace a Phone
Interview for a Job

Phone interviews can be tough. There are no visual cues, so you have to work harder to convey why you’re the best person for the job using only your voice. However, doing phone interviews are unavoidable: many companies use them as first round interviews to identify good candidates or if you’re located far away from the job location.

“We do phone interviews because we understand in this age of being virtual that not everyone is able to be present,” says a recruiter from a Big Four firm. She also added that while they prefer virtual interviews (like Skype–see below), sometimes they do phone interviews.

Another reason a company might do phone interviews is to access whether candidates are truly qualified and interested in the job.

“I do phone interviews because first of all, you can’t always tell if someone is truly qualified based on their resume,” says Lisa Conrad, a technical recruiter for Bentley Systems. She also uses phone interviews to assess whether someone is truly interested in a position.

Using first round phone interviews can be beneficial to the candidate as well: they give the candidate a point of contact throughout the entire interviewing process.

“[Using first round phone interviews] allows the candidate to have a point of contact throughout the interview process that can offer a sense of support when moving through the different interview and on-boarding stages,” says  says Sarah Shoemaker, a Vanguard recruiter. “We truly believe at Vanguard that recruiting is about forming lasting relationships with our candidates and crew members.”

Here are some things to keep in mind about preparing to ace a phone interview:

Prepare Well

Barbara Hewitt, senior associate director of Career Services at University of Pennsylvania, suggests you prepare just as well as you would for any other interview.

“[The questions we ask] really depends on the role, but we would ask the same questions we would ask in person,” says the Big Four recruiter.  She says regardless of whether an interview is virtual or a good candidate’s skills and expertise will come through, you should prepare with doing the same research you would for any other interview.

Conrad will also ask what the interviewee knows about the company. “Are they prepared for the phone interview, do they have questions?” she she asks herself when interviewing a candidate. If the person doesn’t know anything about the company or hasn’t even visited the company’s website, she knows they’re not truly interested in the job.

Hewitt adds that having a quiet space to do your interview is important, especially for students who live in a dorm. Make sure you have good cell phone service and you won’t be interrupted.

Also, make sure you know who is calling who, to avoid possible confusion. For phone interviews that may be across time zones, make sure you have the correct time of the phone call figured out ahead of time.

Be Enthusiastic and Speak Clearly

Since the interviewer can’t see you, you need to make sure you come across as enthusiastic: Hewitt suggests smiling or even standing up during your interview.

“During the interviews I focused on using proper diction, never saying ‘yeah,'” says Temple University freshman Lora Strum, whose landed jobs after phone interviews. She also focuses on “responding in an organized manner, using the other person’s name when applicable and remembering that they can’t see my facial expressions so I must be as clear as possible.”

A phone interview can also give recruiters and HR representatives a good sense of what skills you possess and how interested you are in the job, so asking enthusiastic questions is important as well.

“A Recruiter is able to evaluate how engaged a candidate is by the type of questions they ask as well,” says  Shoemaker. “When candidates take the opportunity to ask well thought out questions that demonstrate their interest and excitement for the role it’s evident and they are often more successful throughout the interview process.”

Use and Take Notes

One advantage of doing an interview over the phone is that you can have notes readily available, placed in front of you. Also make sure you have a calendar and/or a planner available as well so you can take notes and check dates. However, Hewitt recommends you don’t rely too heavily on these notes or you might sound too rehearsed.

Professors have recommended to me to even bring notes to an in person interview by keeping them in a planner or in a small notebook that you intend to take notes in during the interview.

Dealing with Cold Call Interviews

I’ve struggled through phone interviews when a recruiter calls me and wants to talk with me immediately about the job and my qualifications and I’m not prepared. Hewitt also struggled with a phone interview like this as well.

“My suggestion is if you are not ready, come up with a reason to reschedule,” she said. “Most employers will not see it as a negative as long as you don’t push it off for too long.” You can suggest that you’re currently busy working on something at the moment or heading out the door as potential options.

Skype Interviews

Doing interviews over the computer via Skype is also becoming more popular. There are a few extra steps you can take to make sure that a Skype interview goes well. Make sure to dress professionally and find a quiet, clean area, preferably without a bed in the background. Hewitt says she once had someone who had a cat randomly jump onto them during an interview, and while it didn’t affect her opinion of  the candidate, it’s something you probably want to avoid.

If you’re not familiar with Skype, “practice with somebody just so you know what you’re doing.” says Hewitt.

Another thing I’d recommend is having a professional username. If you need to, create a new account just for the interview.

Take Advantage of Career Services

Temple Career Center Penn Career Services, and Drexel Career Services have a wide variety of resources available on interviews and more. Don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment or stop by your career office as well! They’re a great resource and many of them are even open to alumni.

If you have something you’d like to specifically see in the career section on Campus Philly, give us a shout out in the comments or connect with us via Facebook or Twitter.

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