Recently I received this Twitter message:
Hey Lisa, I did poorly in two recent phone interviews. Do you have any tips on that? I enjoy your podcast. Please help me!
Thanks for your tweet. Unfortunately, it seems you learned the hard way that, today, phone interviews can easily get you knocked out of the race before the competition even heats up. When there are so many desirable candidates in the marketplace, more and more organizations are using phone interviews to quickly and inexpensively narrow down their choices. One small mistake can greatly impact your chances of moving forward through the rest of the process.
In today’s episode I’ll cover the six common telephone interview mistakes people make and my tips for avoiding them.
Mistake #1: Appearing Distracted
First, it’s important to avoid interruptions. To do your best, you’ll need to focus 100% of your attention on the call. Interruptions (like your cell phone ringing or people talking in the background) make you appear distracted and unfocused.
Of course, it’s best to use a landline phone and choose a quiet room in which to talk. Be sure you lock the door and turn off your call waiting, your cell phone, and even the sound on your computer so you can avoid any accidental interruptions.
If you have to schedule the call during your regular work hours, then use your cell phone in your car or in a very quiet place—like an empty cafe. But be sure you have plenty of battery power and are in place that gets good reception. If a recruiter calls you out of the blue, just say, “Right now I have a conflict, would it be possible to reschedule?” It’s important to ensure that you have a quiet, interruption-free environment.
Mistake #2: Not Understanding Who and Why
Next, it’s important to understand who will be interviewing you. Be sure to ask for the name and title of anyone who you’ll be talking with. If it’s an HR representative, most likely the main purpose of the interview is to confirm the facts of your resume, to evaluate your communication skills, and to determine if you are a fit for the organization’s culture. Most HR screenings are about 15-20 minutes.
If it’s the hiring manager that you’re talking with, you’ll likely be on the phone 45 minute to an hour. Hiring managers are generally more interested in determining if your technical skills are a match for the position. Of course, they’re also evaluating your communication skills and whether you’ll make a good addition to their existing team.
Mistake #3: Not Preparing Specific Responses
Phone interviews are no longer filled with softball questions; you need to be as fully prepared as you would for an in-person interview. Use your social and professional networks to learn as much as you can about the specific person who will be interviewing you. The more information you have, the better.
Next, at a minimum, you should prepare and rehearse responses to typical phone screening questions, like “Tell me about yourself,” “What do you know about our company?” and “Why did you leave your last position?”
Most importantly, it is critical that you know which of your accomplishments are the most relevant to the position and therefore the best to highlight in your interview. Then you should concisely articulate your success stories that support these accomplishments. Again, your answers should not be generic but targeted for the position, company, and person you’re talking with. (Unfortunately, in this short podcast, I don’t have time to explain exactly how to do this, but I do cover the entire process in my audio book, The Public Speaker’s Guide to Ace Your Interview.)
For phone interviews, you need ensure that your responses are succinct. Provide clear, concise, answers, then pause. If the interviewer wants to hear more, he or she will ask.
Mistake #4: Poor Communication Skills
As I mentioned, for phone interviews, you need ensure that your responses are succinct. Provide clear, concise, crisp answers and then pause. If the interviewer wants to hear more, he or she will ask. Your ability to answer in an organized and succinct manner is being judged just as much as the content of the response. So it’s important to prepare and practice.
One of the advantages of a phone interview is that you can refer to your notes. Just be sure they are usable. For me, this means writing my notes in a very large font and in bulleted form so that I can easily respond in a conversational manner.
Mistake #5: Not Communicating Confident Energy
Next, it’s extremely important on articulate your messages with energy, excitement, and confidence. Eagerness and enthusiasm can overcome many deficiencies and can be your edge over an equally qualified candidate.
Think about it. Who would you rather have work for you? Someone highly qualified, but less than enthusiastic about the job, or someone who isn’t quite as experienced, but is extremely motivated to excel in the position?
We perceive enthusiasm and confidence mostly from signals like smiling, a fast rate of speaking, and the loudness and quality of our voice. When we talk on the phone we can’t communicate using visible signals—like smiles or nods of the head—therefore you need to be more animated than normal to ensure that the signals that do get through are strong.
You can enhance the quality of your voice by standing up and by breathing properly; I’ve covered proper breathing in a previous episode. It’s also important to smile while talking and to use gestures. Although the recruiter won’t see your smile or gestures they will be able to hear them in your voice.
Along those same lines, some experts suggest that you put a suit on. If certain clothes make you feel more confident and professional, then wear them. Again, the interviewer will hear that confidence in your voice.
Mistake #6: Not Communicating Interest
Finally, you need to show your interest. Be sure to have questions prepared that focus on the position, the company, or the interviewer (and not about your salary, your benefits, or your hours!).
At the end of the interview, if you liked what you heard, then you'll need to explicitly communicate your interest in moving forward with the process. Briefly summarize the experience you have that will help you make an immediate impact in this position—basically why you are a great fit for the position. Then ask about next steps and when it would be appropriate to follow-up.
Often an interviewer will respond immediately if you’ve done well or if your skills didn’t match the position. However, no matter what the outcome, always send a thank-you note. A handwritten note is best, but sending an e-mail is OK too.
So, to summarize, don’t let interruptions make you appear distracted and unprofessional. Be sure to understand who is interviewing you and what the specific position is so that you can choose the most appropriate accomplishments to share. Be sure to prepare and practice so that your communication is clear, concise, and compelling as well as energetic and enthusiastic.
Finally show your interest. Hopefully with these quick and dirty tips, you’ll increase the probability that your phone will ring again; this time for an in-person interview.
This article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips.
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Photo of phone interview courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lisa B. Marshall is the host of the free Public Speaker podcast on Quick and Dirty Tips and author of several books, including Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation.More from this Author