Regardless of your field or the type of job you’re seeking, you’ll likely encounter–or have already participated in–the phone interview. This deceptively simple interaction with a prospective employer requires, like all actions in a job search, strategy, planning and preparation so that you can secure the job for which you painstaking applied.
So no, you may not want to wing a phone interview.
The goal of a phone interview: move on to the next stage of the interview process, an onsite interview. That’s it. But whether this is or is not your first rodeo, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to phone interviews.
Like many others before me, I’ve had some good phone interviews–even landed an across-the-country job through only phone calls and video interviews. But in addition to gaining some exposure to the other side by serving as an interviewer on several occasions, I’ve experienced many a cringeworthy moment during phone interviews.
In an effort to learn how to rock a phone interview, let’s look at what you don’t want to do.
In order to bomb a phone interview:
Leave your phone in a bar the night before an early-morning phone interview appointment. Not one of my finest moments at the ripe age of 22. To answer your question, yes, I retrieved the phone in time for the interview and yes, I did move on to the next stage in the hiring process.
Don’t prepare. This bears repeating: you may not want to wing a phone interview. Preparation in this case doesn’t necessarily just refer to the research you’ll want to do about the organization, but for the type of work you’ll be doing. I flubbed an interview recently, in part I think because I didn’t come up with enough coherent talking points that would make me appear knowledgeable about marketing (my current day job is in corporate communications).
Preparing in this case also means having materials available to reference. You’re invisible to your interviewer–use that to your advantage by printing out your resume, having the job posting in front of you, jotting down those aforementioned talking points for questions sure to be asked. (Psst, Refinery29 has a great rundown of these types of questions–and I agree, it’s best to know the answers to these questiosn by heart.)
Over-prepare. Let’s not go overboard with the prep work. The interviewer is trying to spot any red flags in your answers and overall phone etiquette that make you out to be an iffy candidate. There’s a good chance you might be asked to speak to what you know about the organization, but this doesn’t require a mastery of the earnings reports for the last three quarters. Spending obscene amounts of time prepping may cause you to burn out and keep you from sounding natural. I recently spent a huge chunk of a long flight preparing for a phone interview (scheduled for later that day…) when part of that time could have been much better spent sleeping so that I’d be refreshed and focused for my conversation. Which brings me to my next point…
Ramble. An interviewer is going to be speaking with a fair number of people over the phone in an effort to weed out those who aren’t the best fit and select only the best candidates to bring onsite. They’re probably talking to you and several others and may be running a tight schedule. Your best course of action: Focus on what the interviewer is asking, and then take your time to pause and think about how to best respond. A three-second pause may prevent you from going down a five-minute rabbit hole of a story about some task you successfully accomplished in a professional situation not entirely relevant to the one you’re interviewing for. You don’t have the social cues available in an in person interview–like, when your interviewer stops taking notes–to tell if you need to cut yourself short. So assume your interviewer is impatient. Wow them with your effective use of time necessary to knock those questions out of the park.
Don’t ask questions. You need to demonstrate interest. Is a prospective employer going to want to bring you in for an onsite interview if you don’t appear to care about the job? Nope. Use this as an opportunity to learn about this place, for your benefit and for theirs.
Ask too many questions–or all the wrong questions. Guilty. It’s entirely possible to drag on what should be a half hour interview with your questions, potentially frustrating an interviewer who’s got several other phone calls to make. Leave the inquiries into the position’s benefits, minute salary, personality of the prospective boss, etc. for now.You’ll have time to investigate at an on-site interview.
Don’t follow up with the interviewer. This golden opportunity to reiterate any points you may have left out also lets you thank the interviewer for taking the time to talk to you. Don’t make the mistake of not reminding them that you exist and that you’re awesome.
Beat yourself up while over thinking your responses. You can’t go back in time. And what you had to say was likely not anywhere near as bad as you think it is. Give yourself a break, then reflect on how you did and what you can learn from your experience.