Phone interviews are standard practice now—at nearly 95%—and most people aren’t trained for it. Whether an initial interview with a potential co-worker, HR or a search executive, making a great impression on the phone is key to success.
1. Can You Hear Me Now?
When the phone interview begins, make sure you can hear the interviewer on your end and be heard clearly on theirs. This might seem obvious, but we’ve all been on a call where the other person’s voice fades off at key moments or is just plain difficult to hear. No matter how intelligent a point or comment, it’s weakened or lost if it’s not heard clearly. So, confirm what you have to say is coming through loud and clear. When scheduling, make arrangements to have access to a calm, quiet place that has great phone reception for the duration of the call. You don’t want to be at the office whispering into your cell phone, or have the dead zone in your kitchen or on the highway cause you trouble twenty minutes in. And begin the interview by asking your interviewer, “Can you hear me okay?” This quick, simple question gives both parties the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments to location and/or speaking volume before diving into the Q&A portion of the call. Now, you can concentrate on what you are putting across instead of if it’s coming across.
Extra Quick Tip: Reconfirm at the top of the interview how much time your interviewer has allotted for the call to avoid being surprised by an earlier cut-off than you were expecting.
2. Build Rapport with Opening Comments
Once you’ve established the phone connection is solid, establish rapport with initial remarks. First impressions develop within seconds of meeting someone for the first time and this holds true for phone meetings as well. For instance, if you’ve done your homework, you’ll know they went to the same college, opening up the opportunity to say, “Good to be talking to a fellow Panther.” If they’re in a different city, read the front page of the newspaper and pull something from the headlines—whether they’re experiencing a drought or a special event or conference is in town. One or two quick sentences will do the trick. Interviews are about more than answering questions “correctly.” The interviewer is also asking herself, “Would this person be a good addition to our team? Would my colleagues and I enjoy working with them?” You’ve got the rest of the interview (and your resume) to showcase your expertise and qualifications. Try to get a sense of who they are, their speaking style, and match it.
Extra Quick Tip: Though it is an election year and politics are top of mind, steer clear. You can argue or commiserate about it if/when you get the job.
3. You Can’t See Them...
Because you aren’t meeting face to face, you won’t be able to read their nonverbal reactions to what you are saying. Without responsive body language and facial expressions, you may at times feel like you’re talking into a void. Be careful. Intuitive individuals have a tendency to “over talk” in these situations. Many interviewers fall completely silent after asking a question and even remain so for a couple of moments after you finish making your point. Be ready for the silence. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It could be due in part to them taking notes, and it will provide you with more time to collect your thoughts. Accordingly, be confident about your answers and avoid rambling on. If you ever feel like something might not have landed or been as clear as you would have liked, you can say to the interviewer, “Does that make sense?” or “I would be happy to give you additional detail on that last point.” This stops you from divulging more information than necessary and puts the interviewer in the position to either move on to the next question or ask you something specific about what they just heard.
Extra Quick Tips: Two ways you can avoid going on for too long: 1) keep all your answers under a minute, or a minute and a half at the most; and 2) focus answers by saying up front, “There are three points. First...”
4. …And They Can’t See You
Flip #3 around and it works to your advantage! Have a glass of water nearby for when you get thirsty. Pull up a LinkedIn or other picture of your interviewer and talk to it; you will talk more naturally to them. Best of all, prepare the specific points you want to hit and have your notes open right in front of you for referencing throughout the interview. Work out what you want to say in advance as bullet points, and then group them according to the questions you expect to be fielding. As a starting place, look to the responsibilities and requirements listed in the job description and assume you’ll be asked these standard interview questions: Can you tell me a little about yourself? What would you describe are your strengths and weaknesses? Why are you interested in working with our company? By turning this disadvantage into an advantage you’ll not only come across confident, thoughtful, and prepared, but also avoid the trap of “over talking.”
Extra Quick Tip: Avoid overlapping with your interviewer by counting to four after they finish speaking before you start speaking.
5. Practice Makes Prepared
Interviewing by phone isn’t easy. Following the advice provided above definitely gives you a leg up on the situation, but nothing beats doing a couple of practice runs via phone. Athletes work out and performers rehearse. Create an opportunity to test and refine your answers out loud without the pressure of needing to get it right the first time. Just keep in mind, objective feedback is difficult to obtain. No one likes to give bad news. So, practice with a close friend trusted colleague, or a coach to help you identify and work on trouble spots. They should be direct and help clarify your answers and questions. With preparation, you’ll be able to successfully present your authentic, capable self in what can feel like a very manufactured, disconnected situation.
Extra Quick Tip: Your posture directly affects how you feel—which in turn is reflected in your voice. Even though they can’t see you, present yourself as if they can. Sit forward in your chair, with your chest lifted and both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Interviews are challenging, whether phone, person or group. Invest time in your preparation, so you can confidently walk (or dial) into your next interview and make a great impression. Then you will need to ask yourself, “Am I a good addition to their team? Will I enjoy working with them?”
Diana Wyenn, CEO Perspective Group
Impression Management Coach
The CEO Perspective Group has helped leaders excel for decades—providing assessments and advice for the CEO, investor, board or company that wants to be even better. Firms, top and senior executives who don't believe in good enough. People and companies who want both rapid and long-lasting results. The CEO Perspective Group was created for these clients. To learn more, visit us online at www.ceoperspective.com or email Diana at email@example.com.