With so many candidates from which to choose, employers often use a telephone interview to screen through a large number of people. It has now become a de facto terminator of prospective candidates. This is especially true for entry-level positions.
Usually, the telephone screener is not the hiring manager and this makes the situation even worse. The screener’s objective it is to pare a large number of probable candidates down to two or three. Screeners will tell you that their mission is to discover the best candidate, however, from my experience, it becomes more like musical chairs. There is a random stopping point for deciding which candidates “win” the reward of a face-to-face interview.
If you get a call from a prospective employer and are not prepared or ready for the call, take down the person’s number and ask to call them back at a designated time. If you had no previous contact with the organization and were caught unprepared, you should take time to do a quick bit of research on the company and prepare yourself for the interview. Don’t feel like you need to talk to someone just because he or she called you. If you don’t know to whom you are talking, or what the person is calling about, I guarantee you won’t get to the next step in the interview process.
Here’s what to do regarding a telephone interview:
Do remind yourself that this is not a real interview. It is a screen and the objective of the screener is to screen you out. It is only a “voice ” conversation; it does not, as in a face-to-face interview, take into account the candidate’s image, body language, and visual communications. Overall, it can be a more difficult situation than a face-to-face interview.
Do sell yourself hard. Since the employer’s objective to screen out the candidate, you must sell yourself a bit harder. Remember, your goal in a telephone interview is to get a face-to-face interview.
Do know beforehand the exact criterion for being hired. Rehearse addressing those needs. If you’re being screened by a third-party, such as an HR staffer, who does not have a feel for the flexible aspects of the position, the interview becomes much harder.
Do keep your comments concise and to the point. The more you talk in a phone interview, the more likely it is that you will say something wrong and be screened out.
Do fully prepare for the phone screen. Have your resume in front of you along with your research on the company. Have a legal pad of paper and pen handy so you can take notes. Have a glass of water nearby. You have to present yourself as professional and polished, so make sure you have time to prepare for the telephone interview. Prepare several open-ended questions that will demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the company.
Do be ready psychologically for the interview to last about 20 minutes. Usually, a telephone screen gets old and boring for both parties after about 20 minutes. Unless the interviewer has a set of questions (which most do not), the conversation will have a tendency to ramble. You want to start closing early for a face-to-face interview.
Do try to be the person who initiates the call. The person making the call has a tendency to be in control. There may not be a choice in this, but whenever possible, the candidate should initiate the call.
Do set an appointed time for the call whenever possible. It makes the call more important to all parties. Avoid a casual, “call me anytime” atmosphere. If you initiate the call and the interviewer is not available as scheduled, leave a message letting the person know you called, and that you will call back after five minutes. Do not leave a number. Place the call again. Keep doing this until you reach the interviewer.
Do smile. It doesn’t hurt to have a mirror in front of you. Be in a good mood, friendly, and in a selling mode. People can “hear “smiles over the phone!
Here’s what not to do in a telephone interview situation:
Don’t leave a “cute” message on the message system of your phone. We covered that earlier, but it bears repeating. Be sure to always leave your name. If people only get a phone number, they may not be sure it is you they have contacted and chances are they will simply hang up.
Don’t use a cell phone for a telephone interview, if you can avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, make sure you are at a place where the reception is clear and the call will not be dropped. If you must use a cell phone, do not use the headset apparatus or speaker feature. The microphone picks up all kinds of background noise (i.e. crowd noise, wind, etc., and it is very unprofessional)
Don’t carry on a telephone interview from a busy place or a noisy environment. This should be clear enough, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a candidate “lose” an opportunity for a face-to-face interview because of background noise.
Don’t discuss money in depth. As an entry-level candidate, you should not be discussing this until you get an offer.
Don’t ask “what can you do for me?” questions. Questions that address your needs are a major cause of candidates not making it past the telephone screen. Keep your questions open-ended, such as “why is the position open?” or “Mr. /Ms. Employer, why do you work for the company?” When the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?” you should take the opportunity to ask, “When can we get together face-to-face?”
Don’t talk too much. Answer the questions directly and conversationally, but don’t ramble. It’s easier to become confused in a telephone conversation than it is in a face-to-face interview. It is a good idea to end every statement that you make with a question. Even if the question is, “Did I answer your question?”
Don’t say you know something that you do not. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable enough with yourself to say, “I don’t know” to any question that you shouldn’t necessarily know. Know the difference between a question for which you should have an answer and one you don’t necessarily need to know.