Once you’ve gone through the time-consuming process of applying to a job, tailoring your CV, writing a cover letter (see my colleague Sam Cushing's previous blog for top tips), you need to make sure you put your best foot forward in your phone interview.
While you’re job searching it should not be a surprise that many companies opt to have an initial phone interview (whether it be with HR or the hiring manager) before investing further time in a face to face meeting. Many use this as an opportunity to determine if the candidate is a good fit and to gauge their interest in the job – making it the perfect opportunity to highlight why you’re right for the job.
But it’s different from a face to face interview – it’s not all about shouting about your experience and telling your life story. It tends to be a subtler conversation than that, focussing on the softer aspects of the role, giving a brief overview of your career history and interest in the role, which can make it difficult for some to get it right. That’s why I wanted to write this blog post and share some tips, from a recruiter’s perspective, of how to make sure you ace your next phone interview.
It starts with initial contact. When I set up an initial phone interview with a candidate, I schedule it via email. This can be the first stumbling block for some – not replying to the email! Make sure you respond in a timely, polite and professional fashion. If you don’t someone else will and they will pip you to the post. I’ve seen it time and time again where a candidate doesn’t reply to me for a week and they end up missing out on an amazing job opportunity. Don’t let tardiness be your downfall.
Once the phone interview is in the diary, you need to start preparing. You should do all of the preparation you would do for a face to face interview; from researching the company and understanding the job description to thinking about which elements of your experience are most relevant. For more advice on the type of preparation to undertake, you can read my colleagues previous blog here. You should also have a list of initial questions to ask the interviewer. These may be qualification questions such as salary, exact location and reporting structure, or they may be more details questions around the nature of work, a typical day in the role or why the role is being advertised. Just keep in mind that your interviewer may not be able to answer everything but asking those questions will show your interest in the job so do prepare them!
Once the meeting is schedule, the next tip is pretty simple – answer your phone! Again, this seems to be a stumbling block for some. If you’ve made a commitment to speak at this time, honour it. The likelihood is this won’t be a long call, and it may be from an unknown number so around the time of your interview make sure you answer your phone in a professional manner, and just in case you’re unavailable for a legitimate reason, make sure you have a professional voicemail. If you fail at any of these steps, it’s going to leave a negative impression and I’m unlikely to call you back. If I have 20 qualified, interesting candidates for 1 position the smallest thing can differentiate candidates.
Once you’re on the call it’s useful to have a few things in front of you…
- A copy of your CV – highlight the areas more relevant to this role
- A copy of the job description – write some of your key skills and areas of experience against each point of the job description
- A pen and paper to take notes – the interviewer will give you some advice and further information to what is on the job description
As I mentioned earlier, although this is a phone interview, it’s useful to treat this like a face to face interview. And that extends to your behaviour and mannerisms on the call. Although the interviewer can’t see you, it’s important to project passion and enthusiasm throughout the call. One easy way to do this is through smiling – you really can tell when a person is truly excited by an opportunity and this is on way to help project that through the phone! The same goes for your environment, make sure you’re in a clean and tidy space so you can focus, list and communicate effectively. It can be difficult over the phone, especially when there is background noise or a time lag but being in a quiet and clean space can help your concentration ensuring you listen effectively and respond to exactly what the interviewer is asking. Linked to this, make sure you speak slowly and clearly. It may seem slightly unnatural, but ensuring your interviewer can hear and understand everything you say is essential, otherwise they might be missing out on some key information.
With phone interviews (and face to face interviews), there’s no harm in asking for clarification, or taking a moment pause to collect your thoughts. It’s perfectly acceptable to take a few seconds to compose your thoughts before you answer, so don’t feel like you have to rush into an answer straight away. This can also help ensure you don’t talk over the interviewer, and that you fully understand the question being asked. It gives you some time to cast your eye over your CV and the job description in front of you to think of the most relevant and powerful response, and hopefully should put you ahead of the competition and one step closer to being invited in for a face to face interview.
When the interview is done, it’s important to follow-up. This doesn’t mean hounding the interviewer for feedback and next steps after a couple of hours! It means following up with a thank you email immediately, reiterating your interest in the job and highlighting your relevant skills and experience. As a rule of thumb, I provide feedback within 24 hours, and aim to have an update on the candidate’s progress through the interview process (employer permitting) within 48 hours. I think this is the best way to maintain transparent communications and ensure both candidate and employer satisfaction. But don’t expect everyone to do this! There’s a careful balance to be struck between hounding your interviewer for feedback and next steps and asking at the right time intervals. I would recommend contacting them to ask for a progress update if you haven’t heard from them after a week of the interview, and if you still haven’t heard from them 10 days after the interview give them a call.
Good luck with your next phone interview, and I hope these tips help you ace your interview and proceed to an in-person interview!