When you are applying for a job, you may have an interview at the company headquarters, in a branch office or at a local Starbucks. But, in recent years there has been a trend to conduct telephone interviews. The following seven tips are for an actual formal telephone interview. However, keep in mind that every conversation with a recruiter is also a job interview for many recruiters give their recommendations along with a resume they may be forwarding up through the company.
Telephone interviews can be less stressful than the old proverbial inquisitional type. But, never make the mistake of taking a telephone interview lightly. Being interviewed in this manner is more than just picking up a telephone, answering questions and hoping for the best. It’s important to set the stage for the phone call and be at the top of your mental game when you dial in for the interview. Following are some tips to consider that will help you nail a great interview hopefully leading to a job offer.
Research — Research the company that you will be interviewing with. This is important so you can form a couple of questions to ask if given that opportunity. For instance, if you are interviewing with a company that provides electronics to European markets you might ask a question regarding whether they are thinking of expanding to the Pacific Rim. Or, you could possibly find on the company website that they have recently won an industry award. For instance, SGIS was a recruiting firm that had won “2009 100 Fastest Growing Private Companies in San Diego” designation. During a telephone interview, you could make reference to seeing that award and are excited at the prospect of working for such a progressive company.
Consider researching key people in the company you are applying to through social media sites. For instance, if you were to pull up my qualifications on LinkedIn, you would find that I worked not only in civilian recruiting but that I also was a 1st Sergeant in a military recruiting setting. If I were your interviewer, knowing this in advance could give you some insight into how to respond to one of my questions. Likewise if you were to find that I once coached a 5th grade soccer team, its possible you could answer a question using a sports metaphor that could resonate with me as an interviewer.
Dress for the Occasion – This advice may seem crazy for a telephone interview. But, consider for a moment how you act when you are in certain attire. What kind of posture do you have when you are in your pajamas and fuzzy slippers as compared with when you are wearing a suit? The way you express yourself is somewhat different in most cases. Maybe you don’t want to wear a coat and tie at your own dining room table…but, at the very least dress as you would for a business casual luncheon.
Location, Location, Location – Ensure there is not any background noise for your telephone interview. Just because you start a telephone interview at 11:00 sitting in your favorite quiet restaurant, what will that restaurant sound like 30 minutes later as more people come in to have lunch? If you are at home, an episode of your favorite detective series may not be the best background noise for your interviewers to hear.
As a corporate recruiter I was tasked with conducting screening interviews, I would often talk with potential employees and could hear kids playing in the background, television blaring and dogs barking. While certainly I understood that my phone call was to them a random event in the middle of the day, I would often ask if there was a better time I could call back and talk. In their eagerness to get a job, they would often say, “Oh no, I am fine to talk now.”
Note: If the interview will be done on Skype or a similar video linkup, ensure the background is something that will complement your interview and not detract. You don’t want the interviewers seeing overflowing laundry baskets or last night’s pepperoni pizza box laying on the coffee table. Think of the industry. If you are interviewing for a Bass Pro Shop position, maybe some fishing gear in the background is acceptable. But, in most cases sitting in front of a bookcase or at a neat desk conveys a more professional image of you. If a bookshelf, be careful what type of titles can be seen. An old encyclopedia set would be preferable to romance novels with bare chest knights in shining armor type men.
Posture – Sit up straight in an uncomfortable chair…I am serious. If you are sitting in the big overstuffed football widow chair you tend to slouch and it impacts voice projection and tone. You want to be sitting straight so that your voice is clear and impactful.
Reference material – Have a printed out copy of your resume and any industry pertinent materials accessible in case you need to reference them.
Ready Some Answers – There are some typical question that you should be able articulate answers to readily. You should type out answers to these kinds of questions ahead of time. This forces your brain to formulate these questions in your mind as they relate to your life. Never, ever read them verbatim during a telephone interview. But, you should certainly glance over them before the interview to refresh your memory. Here are three such questions:
What is a time you failed and what did you learn from it?
What is your greatest weakness and how do you deal with it?
What was your greatest challenge and how did you handle it?
With these questions, ensure you keep the answers within the professional realm. This is not the time to talk about a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest or a weird college fraternity party. But, do keep in mind the industry you are seeking to gain employment through. If you happen to be applying to work for a charity that helps children in a third world country, then possibly an answer to one of the above questions involving a situation with your off duty life with children could be appropriate. But, if you are applying for a systems engineer position with a technology company then it might not benefit you to tell the story of a broken down bus with a church youth group in the Mojave Desert.
Salary Expectations — If you are asked about your salary expectations, do not be too quick to answer with details. Certainly avoid disclosing what your current salary is right away. If you let that cat immediately out of the bag, you can be low balled quickly. I once talked with a candidate in North Dakota. I knew I could pay him as much as $37 an hour for the IT position we were discussing. But, when I asked him how much he was currently making he immediately told me he earned $23 an hour. I knew as a recruiter that I would make a nice bonus for bringing him into our company at a salary significantly below our maximum. I offered $27 and he accepted the offer…a full $10 an hour below the company’s maximum. Had he held out giving a direct answer for just a few minutes, he could have easily have steered me closer to $37 an hour. He wouldn’t have gotten the maximum, but likely we would have settled on around $33.
By the time you are discussing salary and benefits, you have hopefully conducted some research online using various salary calculators. Express to them that you want something that is fair in the area you will be working. At that point, tell them you are looking for a certain amount based upon your research. By their reaction, you will know quickly whether it is something that can be negotiated. However, don’t be disappointed if salary doesn’t come up in the actual interview. They may save that for the point when they call back with an actual job offer.
Always prepare for a phone interview as you would a traditional in-person interview. Do your research and dress for the occasion. Make sure you are in a very quiet location and keep good posture. Have your reference materials handy and have some answers prepared for those kinds of questions that are commonly asked. Know in advance how you will handle the salary probes. And, although its not one of the seven tips for the actual interview…always follow-up with a thank you note. Not only does the post office need the business, it’s your chance to get your name seen one more time by the company’s staff.