Acing a Phone Interview in 5 Steps

With a higher applicant pool these days, many employers are conducting phone interviews to weed out people who might not fit in well with the company.

Love them or hate them, phone interviews have their place in the job market. It gives employers an opportunity to get a feel for an applicant without them even stepping foot into their office.

Over the years, I have conducted and been on many phone interviews. They're not as easy as you might think. Many times, there is no time to plan ahead. You simply have to go with the flow. Consider these tips when you're faced with a phone interview:

1. Act as if every call is a potential employer

Whenever I answer my personal phone instead of using the greeting hello, I always say, "Hi, this is DeShuna Spencer" in a professional, energetic voice. When setting up a phone interview, sometimes employers will email you with various time slots to choose from. But most likely, you will get caught off guard and get a phone call in the middle of the day by an employer who wants "a few minutes of your time." It happened to me a few years ago, I was renovating my house and I was arguing with my contractor over money discrepancies when an employer beeped in asking if I had time for a phone interview right then. I was honest and told her that I was on the other line with my contractor. I asked if it would be alright if I could call her back in five minutes or if she could hold on so I could end my conversation with the contractor. She didn't like either option, so she hung up. Looking back on it, I'm sure I sounded tense on the phone with this employer. She sensed the drama and moved on to the next candidate.

No matter what's going on around you, try to sound professional whenever you answer your phone. If you're busy during the day and an unfamiliar number calls you, don't answer it. Allow them to leave a message so you can call back when things calm down. If nothing pressing is happening, never ask the employer to hold on, especially if you're talking casually with a friend.

2. Silence is not golden

When you're on a phone interview, your voice is your greatest asset. Employers do not have the benefit of checking the grip of your handshake, evaluating your eye contact or judging your professional appearance during a phone interview. So it is important to not talk too quickly or too slowly. Speak clearly and try to avoid long pauses or using words such as "ah" or "um". If you are unable to properly articulate your own skills, employers will question how well you can represent their company to the general public. If you're near your computer during the phone interview, pull up your resume if you need a mental refresher. Answer questions in complete sentences. Avoid using a simple "yes" or "no" when answering questions.

Although silence is golden, background noise is not. If possible, try to find a quiet place to conduct the interview so you won't be distracted. I have given people advance notice of a phone interview and you would be surprised what I've heard in the background. You don't want the sound of police sirens or your child screaming for a toy to be what the hiring manager remembers the most about your interview.

3. Be prepared

If your phone interview is scheduled, a little homework beforehand can go a long way. First, research the company and the person who's conducting the interview. Second, practice your "phone voice." Some people have mock phone interviews with friends and record themselves so they can see what to work on. Third, put together an interview package (resume, cover letter, portfolio and list of accomplishments) beforehand. Study it and have it handy during the phone call. Fourth, prepare a short list of questions to answer the employer right before the interview is over. Fifth, be in a location where you can use a landline. You would hate for your dream job to slip out of your hands because you lost a few bars on your cell phone. And lastly, have a glass of water handy.

4. Be enthusiastic

Employers can't always sense your passion through a phone, so it's important to convey it through the conversation. You can accomplish this by smiling when speaking. Tell the employer why you want the position at that company, but avoid rambling or over-explaining. You want to come across as confident, but don't want to dominate the conversation by talking over the interviewer. If you're a little nervous, take a deep breath and use that energy to fuel your enthusiasm.

5. Give thanks

Before hanging up with the hiring manager, remember to thank them for the opportunity. It is also a good idea to send a thank you email to the employer. I usually send it the day after the interview because by then, the hiring manager might have spoken to a dozen other applicants. You can stay fresh on their minds if you send the thank you letter a day or so later.

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