How to Ace the Phone Interview

Do's and don'ts for winning them over on the phone.

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Karen Burns
Many job interviews these days are conducted by phone. It’s faster and cheaper for both job hirers and hunters. HR folks especially like it because it allows them to screen more applicants in less time. A phone interview may even be your first contact with a potential employer.

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Phone interviews are not, however, the same as in-person interviews. So much human communication is non-verbal! You may need to acquire a few new skills to pull off a great job interview over the phone. To get you started, check out these phone interview do’s and don’ts:

DO:

  • Smile while you speak. It may feel silly, but smiling shows up in your voice.
  • Stand up. It removes pressure from your diaphragm and gives your voice more resonance.
  • Choose a quiet room. No dogs barking, kids whining, music playing, lawnmowers mowing, or TV blaring in the background.
  • Tape your résumé and whatever notes you'll use (say, lists of your accomplishments and strengths) on the wall so you can consult them without having to look down, which can muffle your voice.
  • Have pen and paper handy, along with your calendar (maybe they’ll want to schedule a follow-up!)
  • Remember that your interviewer can’t see you. If you pause to make a note, don’t let the silence stretch out. You might say, for example, “Just one second, please, while I write that down.”
  • If a switchboard operator or an assistant connects you to the interviewer, be nice to that person. Word gets around.
  • Whether you use a land or cell line, test your phone connection with a friend. Choose a phone you can hold to your ear comfortably. If you use a headset or speaker phone, make sure you are not unconsciously shouting.
  • Do a practice interview with your friend. Ask if you say “um” a lot (which is even more annoying on a phone than in real life), or if you speak too slowly or quickly, or if your voice is too loud or too soft. Taping yourself is another good way to get an idea of how you come off.
  • Try setting up a mirror in your phone-interview room. Sounds crazy, but having a human face to talk to may help you to speak with more passion and conviction. Try it!
  • If you have time, just before the call, take a series of long deep breaths. Say a few practice phrases, slowly and in a slightly deeper register than your normal voice.
  • Be prepared. A prospective employer may call when you least expect it. Yes, you can ask to reschedule at a more convenient time but showing you are flexible and can think on your feet is not a bad way to impress people. Keep your phone-interview area set up and ready to go.
  • Close the interview by trying to set up an in-person meeting. It’s that old sales technique of “asking for the sale.”
  • [See the best way to quit your job.]

    DON’T: (Most of these should go without saying but let’s say them anyway.)

    • Don’t eat, drink, chew gum, spit tobacco, smoke, sniffle, belch, or blow your nose. If you absolutely must sneeze, hold the phone as far away as possible, briefly apologize, and turn the conversation back to the interview. (Don’t say, “Whoa, what a honkin’ sneeze!”)
    • Don’t put your interviewer on hold to answer an incoming call.
    • Don’t talk to other people in the room. (Try to be alone when you’re interviewing.)
    • Don’t monopolize the conversation. This is also true for in-person interviews, but on the phone you lack visual cues to tell you when your listener is zoning out. Practice speaking in two-minute increments (use an egg timer, or the timer on your microwave).
    • Don’t interrupt. If you accidentally speak over your interviewer, quickly apologize and let him finish.
    • Don’t fail to realize that a phone interview is as formal as an in-person interview. A phone call may feel casual but—beware!—you are being judged and you need to sound professional. If it helps, try “dressing up” for your phone interview.
    • Good luck. Your next phone interview may be The One. Oh, and don’t forget to follow up with a thank-you note, just as you would after an in-person meeting.

      Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.