Job hunters often think of phone screening interviews as obstacles to be overcome rather than valuable opportunities to gain credibility. However, if you anticipate and meet the needs of your human resources interviewer, you will transform that person into your advocate within the company.
Unlike an in-person meeting with a hiring manager, where many of the details of the position and your background will be discussed, this is more of an overview discussion. Your interviewer will develop a profile for each candidate, along with general impressions. By the way you speak, skilled interviewers will draw conclusions about your ability to think on your feet and communicate effectively, as well as your personality, your attitude, and how you might fit into the company's culture.
Here are four key things to focus on achieving in the phone interview:
1. Convey your personal brand. This should be the response to the discussion starter, "Tell me about yourself." Briefly convey the essence of your professional life. Specifically, highlight the elements of your background that match up closely with the job description, without talking about the job or its requirements. You thereby make it easy for the interviewer to see the relevant parallels that make you a strong fit.
2. Explain why you applied for the job. While everyone knows and understands that job hunters apply to multiple companies at the same time, companies also need to feel that you aren't just interested in any job, and that you have carefully thought about why this job is the right one for you. Demonstrate that you have researched the company and the position. Conveying why this position is a good fit for you makes it easy for your interviewer to come to the same conclusion.
3. Explain how this job fits as a natural part of your career development. Your interviewer will likely focus on the jobs you list on your resume, and the transitions from one to another. Take the initiative to explain why you made each move in your career progression, and demonstrate that you have thought about how this job fits into your long-term career plans. Show that you have what it takes to succeed now, how you plan to continue to develop your skills and education over the course of the next five years, and the contributions to the employer you aspire to make.
4. Proactively deal with red flags. Don't shy away from discussing things like gaps in employment, a salary history that is significantly above or below what would be expected for this position, a long commute, or anything else that might be a concern of the employer. Consider the phone interview as an opportunity to put these things to rest with reasonable explanations that make clear sense.
Most importantly, remember that at this stage of the discussion, it is all about the employer's needs and not yours. When you do this, you make it easy for the interviewer to simply rework your points into their description of you, and you will have the best chance of crossing this initial hurdle on the way to landing your dream job.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.