The phone interview is the gatekeeper. The first step in getting your foot in the door of the place you might be accepting a job offer. While difficult, there are certain strategies and tactics you can use to your advantage to position yourself in the best possible place for success.
This section will be dedicated to developing a custom phone interview strategy to help prepare you for your upcoming phone interview. You’ll find the following sections:
Before the Phone Interview
There are several areas to focus on before the phone interview. Most likely, you’ll want to break this down to the areas you need to spend the most time in and the areas you’ll need the most help.
Schedule your phone interview NOT on a Monday. If anything, I would recommend scheduling on a Friday morning around 10am. Why?
It’s far enough away from lunch to where people won’t be too hungry and hangry, but far enough away from the beginning of the morning that they’ve had a chance to answer morning emails and get settled in.
Most people are in a good mood on Friday, more so than any other day because they’re looking forward to the weekend. Also, if the person is leaving early that day, they’ll really be in a good mood.
Here’s where you can really make an impact. Conduct detailed research not only about the company but about the person you’re speaking with and about the role.
Who was in the role before? Who is the role currently? What has growth at the company looked like? Assemble quality research outside of the typical Google search.
Be prepared for the, “What do you know about us?” question if it comes up. It’s not a good interview question, but some companies still ask it.
Do not make assumptions, but help paint a more full picture about the company’s industry and what they do so you’re able to have an intelligent conversation about the company.
You might think this is a typo – why would you need info about your resume? You need to know your resume inside and out.
Why? Because your interview is going to quiz you on it. Literally. They’re going to ask you questions citing information directly off of your resume.
If they ask you about how you improved sales by 15% and you say you didn’t improve sales 15% you improved sales 12%, it’s going to look highly suspect.
Everything on your resume should be reviewed with a fine tooth comb. You can’t make edits to it, now that the company has agreed to interview you BUT, you should prepare based on the resume you submitted to the company. Become an expert at the resume you submitted.
Have examples and stories at the ready for every bullet point on your resume.
If your phone interview is a webcam interview, then your appearance should mirror what you would wear in an in person interview. However, if it’s only over the phone, you should STILL be full dressed and ready for the day.
Studies have shown time and time again when you dress for success, you feel better and thus, perform better.
You should be ready for the day, fully showered, dressed, and ready as if you’re going to walk into an office ready for an in person interview.
Your performance in the phone interview will automatically be different. Don’t believe me? Try it in your next phone interview. What’ll it hurt?
Perhaps the most important part to cover will be technology. As part of your preparation before the phone interview, your technology preparation will be absolutely critical.
Be sure you’re on a hands-free device. Whether it’s Bluetooth or wired, just be sure it’s hands-free and the microphone works well without you having to hold it close to your mouth.
Test this with someone on the other line before your call. You want your hands free so you can use them during the call.
You also want to be in a place with good cell phone reception, if you’re not on a land line.
This seems obvious, but time and time again, I’ve made calls to candidates in bad reception areas and it’s the most frustrating things. We spend about 10 minutes just trying to hear one another. It puts a damper on the conversation for sure.
Once the phone situation is figured out, you also want to have a laptop or computer in front of you with every possible internet resource loaded in front of you. A digital copy of your resume, previous workplace performance reviews, Google News, Google Search, common interview questions and answers, and more.
Have this ready with a quiet keyboard you can discretely type questions and search for answers if needed during the conversation. This is why phone interviews can be so powerful. You have the ability to have a helper at your side to help you during the phone interview.
During the Phone Interview
It’s game time! Your pregame has been done and now it’s time to perform! We’ll breakdown all the sections of your phone interview while it’s happening.
- Follow Up
The style of your phone interview will vary from company to company. It is important to observe the style of your interviewer and mirror them as best as possible. If they tend to be more reserved, try to be more reserved.
If they tend to be more excited and up beat, try and raise your energy level.
Keep your reactions and emotions genuine, but understand that all phone interviews will vary and so should your approach to how you treat them. The best advice is to mirror them as close as possible to how the interviewer is treating them.
Pay special and close attention to how they ask questions and how they layout what is to take place.
**BIG TIP – stand up! Your voice will carry and you will think better. Studies have proven this, and I’m certain it will help your interview success.
The biggest mistake in phone interviews and the biggest pet peeve in phone interviews is when the call starts, the introductions happen, then the candidates starts on a 10 minute monologue about their background.
No prompt, question, or reason for them to start talking; they nervously just start hammering away with information and ignore any kind of social queues from the interviewer. It’s devastatingly painful. Really.
The best advice I have for the phone interview is to WAIT. Yes, WAIT. That might sound stupid, but just chill out and wait until the interviewer asks you a question. You might be nervous and chomping at the bit to tell the interviewer every single little thing about your background.
Once the interviewer asks their first question, clarify it. That’s right. Ask a question to their first question to make sure you understand it.
The only thing worse than a candidate who rambles for 10 minutes unprompted is a candidate who rambles on and on not understanding a question. When the interviewer asks, “tell me about your background,” – come back to them with, “do you want a high level overview of my career or just my current role?”.
This clarification will save you from answering the wrong question and will allow more time for the right topics versus spending time on the wrong topics.
This one is a borderline “hack” or trick you can use to ensure you’re getting at what the interviewer is looking for. The truth is more people are terrible at interviewing. With that in mind, we want to spoon feed them your information and give them everything possible in order to get you to land the job.
Ask them questions specifically aimed at confirming they received the answer they were looking for. Try questions like, “Is that what you were looking for?” or “is that what you meant?” after a question or two.
This will help, also, put emphasis back on the interviewer to take ownership of the interview questions they’re asking.
It will get them thinking about the quality of the interview questions they’re asking without blanketly assuming they’ve asked a good interview question.
I will caution you to use this sparingly. If used too often, it can sound like you’re needy or unsure about your answers. Interject only when necessary and probe for feedback from the interviewer.
No doubt, the most important part of the phone interview and the part where I hear most people get rejected is the questions section.
“I asked the candidate if they had any questions and they said no.”
Interviewers hate this.
Why? They are required to sit and listen on the phone for 30 (sometimes more) minutes to some random person without talking much. Human nature says this sucks. It’s normal. People want to talk. What’s more, people want to talk about what they do and what they’re interested in and what they’re passionate about.
It’s not fair – you had all this time to answer questions and talk and they didn’t get any time to talk or answer any questions. Ridiculous, right? It is. But it’s how most interviewers think and you won’t change their mind. Come to the table with questions ready to go.
Questions I like to ask at the end of a phone interview are:
- What keeps you up at night?
- What things is your team already doing really well?
- What’s one thing you wish you knew about the company before joining?
- How does the company look compared to 12 months ago?
All of these questions sound vague or general like they could apply to anywhere BUT they’re in fact very specific. They tell you very intimate details about a company. Take for example the doing really well question – this will tell you what they think is going well. Potential red flag could be if something is messed up and they think it’s one of their strengths. Again, general or simple question with deep implications.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Expect your interviewer to call 5 minutes early or up to 10 minutes late.
- Keep an eye on your email for schedule changes or last minute phone number requests.
- Review the interviewers LinkedIn profile in advance.
- Ask what the next step is at the end of the interview.
- SMILE during the call – it comes through on the phone.
- Take notes during your call.
- Confirm whether or not you need to dial in somewhere OR if they will be calling you.
- Have noisy shit going on the background or bad cell reception.
- Answer your own questions without answering the interviewer’s questions directly.
- Ask about vacation or fringe benefits.
- Sound annoyed when answering the phone.
- Play hard to get or act uninterested even if you’re unsure about the job; this will hurt your chances of even being considered.
- Badmouth your current employer or say anything even remotely curt about your manager.
You’ve worked so hard to get here – after getting your resume noticed, this is the next hardest step of the entire process. These Guru Tips are designed to help with your phone interview in a potentially unorthodox way. Not all of these will be applicable, BUT I would encourage you to consider utilizing all or some of these tactics.
Reach Out to Former Employees
Head to LinkedIn and reach out to former employees and ask for help/advice for interviewing with the company. Check with the ones you’re already connected with and extend your network outward from there.
Do this carefully as your job search may be confidential. Start with the ones closest to the job you’re interviewing for and extend to those in Recruiting as well. They can have valuable information about the interviewing process.
Scour the Web for Specific Interview Questions
For larger companies like Google and Amazon, some of the interview guides may already be out there. Some of the typical interview questions they ask may already be out there.
Conduct as much research as you can using peer networks like Quora to find these interview questions and how they evaluate certain candidates for certain positions.
Ask for an Agenda
If your call is scheduled with or through a recruiter, ask if they would be open to sharing an agenda beforehand. Preface the request with, “I’d like to prepare as best as possible, are you able to provide a general overview for our call?”.
No one does this. And because no one does this, you’re much more likely to get a candid response of exactly what they’ll be covering in the phone call.
Reschedule Last Minute
This is risky. Caveat. After the call begins, and about 5 minutes in, once you get a feel for how it’s about to take place, as if they can hold for something important. Either another call on the other line or the doorbell or anything.
Make up an excuse. This is to give you time to get ahead of what the agenda of the call is and prepare and reschedule the call. Again, this is risky but might give you an edge to help prepare more for the interview.
Ask a recruiter friend to mock interview with you. Ask them to be brutally honest with you. They will. Take their feedback. It can hurt and you may even disagree with it. It can be really difficult to see our blind spots.
That’s okay. What’s not okay is being unable to adapt or change because of our inability to adapt to these. A mock interview can be super helpful in finding out what you need to work on most.
Record an Interview
Place a recorder next to your call to record your next phone interview. This can be a perfect way to listen to your last phone interview and see where it went well and where it went wrong. Caveat, you must obtain the other person’s consent in order to do this in states where 2-party consent is required. If you do not, you are breaking the law.
Do not break the law in order to do this. Where 2-party consent is required, always obtain consent before recording someone. It can be really uncomfortable to hear yourself on recording but it can be a fast track way to find out where you need the most help.
The phone interview can be your friend and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to learn from this. You’ll hear some job seekers claim they hate the phone interview or they’re unable to get past the phone interview. That’s fine. You don’t have to get past the phone interview.
The phone interview can serve as worthwhile practice into in person interviews which are much more important. That’s right. Practice for interviews that are much more important.