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Interviewing
David Spivey

Nailing the Phone Interview

Some of us know to our cost that the phone interview is a very different creature than
the in-person interview. In today’s economy, universities and businesses are relying
more heavily on telephone and electronic interviews than ever before.

The Graduate College staff recently welcomed David Spivey as the new assistant director
for marketing and recruitment. Some of you may know David as a former coordinator
and career and academic adviser at NAU’s Gateway Student Success Center. Taking
advantage of his expertise, we begged this article on how to handle the dreaded phone
interview with assurance.

______________________________________________

Your resume and cover letter did the trick; they got you over the first hurdle of the interview process and on to the phone interview. Now what?

Phone interviews are no longer just a rubber stamp. Having been on both sides of the phone as an interviewer and an interviewee, I can affirm that phone interviews have become an increasingly valuable step in the interview process. They offer the employer an inexpensive and effective way to preview candidates on their knowledge, capabilities, and potential fit to the organization. As a candidate, you should be well versed in phone-interview etiquette if you want to make it to the in-person interview.

Here are some tips to help you succeed:

1. Find a quiet place. Whether it’s locked away in your room or a study room in a library, you need to secure a spot where you will not be disturbed and where distractions are at a minimum. You want to be focused on the task at hand, and you definitely don’t want the interviewer to be distracted by noises coming from your end of the line.

2. Using a cell phone. If possible, plan to use a landline. If you have to use a cell phone, make sure it will get good reception wherever you decide to have your interview: you don’t want your call to go down in the middle of the conversation. Also, check your ringback tone. You may need to change this to something neutral. A simple ring will do.

3. Practice. Finding sample interview questions for the position you are applying for is as simple as an Internet search. You should prepare yourself by creating responses to some of the standard questions. You may also find it useful to practice with someone before the interview. Have him/her ask you the questions and give you feedback on your answers. This will give you some practice and confidence before your interview.

4. Ask a professional. Take the time to speak with one or two people in the field for which you are applying. What types of questions were they asked when they interviewed? Do they conduct phone interviews? What questions do they ask during interviews? Would they be able to give you any pointers?

5. Be prepared. Have your resume and a list of your accomplishments in hand to reference during your phone interview. You may be asked some very detailed questions regarding your experience, and you will want to have the information at your fingertips. You should also prepare by familiarizing yourself with the organization. Prior to the phone interview, do further research on the position’s requirements and the organization. It wouldn’t hurt to have some key talking points on the position and/or organization and how your skills and past experience are a perfect match.

6. Dress up. Yes, “dressing up” as if you were going to an in-person interview makes a difference. The old adage has some truth: “Clothes make the man (or woman).” Putting yourself in the business professional role during the phone interview can set the tone. You want to be in the right mindset, so shaving or putting on makeup and dressing in business professional attire for your phone interview is a step in the right direction.

7. Smile. According to an article by Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, “[Smiling] changes your speech and the tone of your voice. Smiling will project a positive image to the listener.” Make sure you have taken some time to relax and center yourself before the interview. The interviewers won’t be able to see you unless they are teleconferencing in, but being in a positive mood certainly translates over the phone.

8. Speak with care. For a phone interview it is especially important to articulate clearly and speak at a moderate pace. Talking too fast is common, which gives an "out-of-control" impression and exhausts the listener. Realize also that silence is not neccessarily your enemy—feel free to pause a moment to consider a question before answering.

9. Limit to a two-minute response! Plan to spend no longer than two minutes on any given answer. You want to keep your answers concise and to the point. You will have an opportunity to expound upon some of the answers to your questions during your in-person interview, so you can keep it short and sweet here. If you have prepared well in step #5 above, you should be able to answer the main points of the questions with no problem.

10. Keep a pen and paper handy. Write down any questions or comments you may have during the interview. You may address these during the phone interview or during your in-person interview. It shows you are engaged and are an active listener.

11. Ask good questions. Be sure to have two to three questions about the position/organization ready to ask the interviewer. Make sure these questions reference information not included in the job description nor easily found on the website. Show with your questions that you have done your research and are thinking critically. 

12. Close professionally. Ask about the process from here, offer to provide any additional materials or information, and thank the interviewers for the opportunity to speak with them.

13. Send a short thank-you. Write down the names of the interviewers and send them a thank-you message. A hand-written note is always best, but an e-mail will do if the hiring timeline is short. This shows that you appreciate their time, effort, and consideration of you for the position. Always check spellings of names and mailing addresses/e-mails on the organization’s website.

The phone interview is often the first opportunity for employers to get a peek under the hood of your resume to see what you have to offer. The question that interviewers are asking themselves during phone interviews is if you are demonstrating what it takes to invite you to an in-person interview. So it’s vital to put your best foot forward and be fully prepared.


Read More:

Below are links to some useful articles and websites that provide good perspectives on phone interviewing.

"The New Trouble on the Line." Wall Street Journal.

"Phone Interview Tips." About.com.

"How to Have a Good Phone Interview." EmploymentDigest.net.

Career and Job Search ResourcesGateway Student Success Center.


—David Spivey, Assistant Director for Marketing and Recruitment, Graduate College