Think the interview is the first step to landing your next job? Think again. Most jobs start with a phone call; either with a recruiter, HR manager, or hiring manager—and sometimes, all three. So before you’ve chosen your interview outfit or practiced your handshake, you’ve got to cross the first hurdle: the phone interview.
In the age of texting, Snapchat, and hashtags, phone conversations are something of a lost art. It is, however, a skill that can be quickly mastered if you know some of the basics—and plan appropriately. But before you pick up the phone, make sure you’re prepared to show off your best professional self to potential employers. Here are five expert tips that will help you get through even the toughest phone interview situations.
Prepare like it’s an exam—but use a cheat sheet!
While you don’t have the benefit of face-to-face rapport, the best thing about a phone interview is that you can use notes rather than relying on memory to get your points across. Be sure to print out cheat sheets ahead of time, both to help sell yourself, and to show how much you know about the company.
Have you crafted an elevator pitch yet? Now’s the time, and once you’ve got yours, print it out and have it ready to use next to the phone. Also, as soon as you’ve landed the interview, start researching! Look into the company, the role, and the interviewer (if possible). The more preparation you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel on the phone.
“Start by taking a look at their website, read their blog posts, and figure out their mission statement,” says Scott Wesper, hiring manager at Arch Resources Group, a human capital management company in Miami.
“If you know who your interviewer is going to be ahead of time, look them up. This allows you to find out a little bit of information about the person, and maybe even some common ground,” advises Wesper.
Your research should include a cheat sheet of crucial company facts and answers to standard interview prompts, such as “tell me why you want this job,” and even how to answer the always-awkward salary question.
Create a location that puts you at ease
At a face-to-face interview, you’ve got to suit up and show off—and roll with whatever accommodations they offer—usually a grey, sterile, fluorescent-lit office. With a phone interview, you can set the scene that makes you as comfortable as possible. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it from your bed, wearing sweats and a t-shirt. In some cases, people feel more professional dressing up a bit, even if you’re dialling in from home.
Whatever you’re wearing, or wherever you choose to take the call, make sure to find a quiet spot with excellent service (if you’re using your cell—which is fully charged!) at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time. If you have a landline, use it. “Limiting background noise will help you stay focused during the interview and will not be bothersome to the person who is interviewing you,” adds Wesper.
If you’re video conferencing, make sure to find a spot with a great connection, or even better, use an Ethernet connection to minimize the chance of disconnecting half-way through. Find a neutral location with good lighting. Don’t sit in front of a window. This creates a silhouette, and you’ll most likely be in shadows the entire time.
Speak confidently and clearly
You can’t wow an interviewer with your smile over the phone, so you’ve got to convey enthusiasm and professionalism using your voice alone. After assessing a baseline competence, phone interviewers are first and foremost judging your level of interest in the role itself. Nothing is worse than a monotone, dull conversation. So try to speak clearly and with a level of enthusiasm about the opportunity.
“Variation in speech is important for points of emphasis, and you should apply the same principle to your phone interview,” says Jordan Wan, founder of CloserIQ, a sales recruitment program in New York City. “Try adding inflection and emphasis when you’re making your most crucial points.”
One thing that can significantly help your confidence is if you stand. “Even though it’s over the phone, your body posture impacts your voice and audio tone,” says Georgene Huang, founder of Fairygodboss, a workplace improvement company for women based in New York City.
Listen actively and take notes
Listening well is one of the most underrated interview skills, but vitally important skill. Not only does active listening help pace the conversation, but it will also equip you with information you can use later on in the call.
“During the interview, practise your active listening,” says Mary Warriner, senior human resources specialist at BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. But don’t let it distract you from picking up on critical pieces of information. “Take notes while the recruiter gives you details about the job, the process, and company overview,” says Warriner. “This is great information to have to create new questions for additional interviews or at the end of the call.”
Again, one benefit of a phone interview is that they can’t see you taking notes. Scribble away, and use that info later to wow them with your perception and acute observational skills.
End the call with clear next steps
One of the worst parts about applying for a job is feeling like you’ve been left in the dark—not knowing how things went or what next steps to take. The good news is, you don’t have to let that happen to you. Take a moment at the end of the phone interview to ask what to expect. And to make sure you don’t forget, write yourself a note that says “Ask about next steps.”
“The best way to end the call when asked ‘do you have any questions for us?’ is to inquire about the next steps in the process,” says Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com, an online business filings company based in Calabasas, California. “This offers some insight into the timeline of their hiring process and how they will plan to follow up with you.”
Phone interviews can be awkward if you’re not sure what to expect, and the more uncomfortable you feel, the more trouble you’ll have convincing the interviewer you’re the one for the job. But a little preparation can help you shine throughout the entire interview process. Could you use some help planning your answers? Join Monster today. As a member, you’ll get interview insights, career advice, and job search tips sent straight to your inbox. You’ll learn how to impressively answer common (and not-so-common) questions in ways that showcase your strengths and enthusiasm. It’s like having a job coach in your corner every step of the way.