You know that feeling when you walk into a great restaurant and you get the first whiff of intermingling smells coming from the kitchen and from the plates of various satisfied diners? You know how hungry that can make you, how it makes you want to dive into a big plate of whatever even before you’ve seen or tasted the food for yourself? Now switch gears with me and come to a darker place. The greasy spoon that you went into because it was the only thing open at 3 in the morning. That unique and unmistakable mix of smoke, week-old bacon grease, cleaning products and cheap perfume that made you turn right around and walk out even though you hadn’t eaten in days.
In both of these situations you’re making a decision about the food even though you haven’t seen or tasted it. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes! It’s the same decision that recruiters and hiring managers are making about job candidates after a phone interview. They’re deciding whether you have the right skills and are the right fit for the job, sight unseen. They’ll either be hungry for more, or they’ll be reaching for the Pepto, and it’s all up to you which one it is.
Since the internet has made it ridiculously easy for job seekers to find and apply to jobs, and as job seekers are getting more and more savvy about finding ways to get their resumes seen, companies are increasingly relying on phone interviews to try to shrink the field of qualified candidates into a manageable number. This means that if you’re looking for a job, the likelihood that you’ll have to impress someone over the phone is pretty high. And the last thing you want to do is to not be ready.
Luckily for you, phone interviews offer you, the candidate, some real advantages that in-person interviews don’t. Namely, you get to have your notes, talking points, and cheat sheets out in the open and you can refer to them as much as you want to. It’s like an open-book test in school. You have no excuse not to ace this. Here are the main points you’ll need to make sure you have covered.
- Make sure your interview is scheduled for a time that you’ll be able to talk. This means that you won’t have to rush back to work, pick up your aunt, walk the dog, or anything else. If the conversation goes over its allotted time, that’s a good thing. Don’t be the one who has to end the call.
- Arrange to be in a good place to take the call. This could be your bedroom, a conference room, your car, or anywhere else that you can be alone and that’s quiet. It should not be the local coffee shop, the bus, or walking down the street. Avoid places with loud people, barking dogs, sirens, or other distractions.
- Put together your list of talking points. Do this by going over your resume and writing out the specific accomplishments or highlights that you want to talk about. Write an outline of your story of how you achieved 150% of quota, how you reduced costs by 30%, how you single-handedly saved your company from ruin. Having this cheat sheet will keep you from having to remember details on the spot, and will give you a list of topics that you should be able to use to answer a multitude of interview questions.
- Write out your answers to those questions you know you’ll hear: What are your weaknesses? When did you have a challenge at work that you had to overcome? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? When I say to write them out, I mean bullet points or outline form – don’t write a full script or else you’ll find yourself reading from it. You want to be prepared, but you still want to sound fresh, not like you’re reading the words off of a page.
- Print out a copy of your resume, so that you can refer to it. If you’re asked about anything specific that’s on it, it’s helpful to be able to actually see what your interviewer is talking about.
- CHARGE YOUR CELL PHONE. Of course if you can use a land-line, that’s preferable (much lower chance for dropped calls, bad signal, etc.) but many times mobile is your only option.
And now you’ve prepared. When the time rolls around for your phone interview, treat it like any other interview. Dress nicely (even though nobody will see you), pre-caffeinate if you need to (don’t eat or drinking during the interview – they can hear that), arrive 5 minutes early (so that you can get settled and lay out your materials), and mentally prepare. I’ve always found it helpful to stand during phone interviews – it can help you convey more energy in your voice than if you were relaxing in a chair. And the last thing to remember for your phone interview is to SMILE. Yes, you may feel like an idiot smiling to nobody. But it will come across in your voice – you’ll sound more pleasant and more engaging if you have a smile on your face. It’s a proven fact. I think.
Keep in mind that if you follow these steps you may not move on to an in-person interview or whatever the next round is. No matter how prepared you are you could still let nerves get the best of you, or you could just not be the right person for the job. But the more prepared you are, the easier it will get, and the better you’ll be positioned to really nail it. If you nail the phone interview, you come off smelling great. And the better you smell, the hungrier that potential employer will be to dig in. So be the feast, people. Be the feast.