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Mastering the Phone Interview

September 3, 2013

Anna Mathieu

Preparation is key to making sure a telephone interview goes well.  

Preparation is key to making sure a telephone interview goes well.

Almost every company these days will hold phone interviews before any onsite is scheduled. While this means you can keep you comfy slippers on, it doesn't mean you should get too cozy. To perform well on a telephone interview, first you must prepare in much the same way as for an in-person interview (slippers aside). Next, you must put on your phone etiquette and your listening ears.

Basic Prep for Any Interview

First of all, do your homework! There is no way you will be of interest to a hiring manager, if you do not show that you are interested in the job and the company. Obviously you should check out the company's webpage, but don't stop there. Do some research, find out what analysts think. Network to see who you know who works or used to work at the company and get their perspective. Check out LinkedIn and see how the company's employees and clients interact with it online (are there recommendations, a lot of turnover?).

Keep your resume in front of you in case you need to refer to it. Your resume and your dialogue should communicate your knowledge and expertise and demonstrate the results you achieved in various roles. Your objective is to impart the value equation you represent. Have references available in case you are asked. Your preparation should include being aware of any connections you might have with the interviewer directly or through you references or other connections.

Specific to Telephone Interviewing

Practice good phone etiquette. Be courteous and articulate your words so that your message is transmitted clearly. While you do not want to sounds stuffy or overly formal, it is best to use proper grammar and avoid vernacular.

When you are in front of someone, you can pick up on a lot of visual, non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language and eye contact. According to UCLA Professor Emeritus Albert Mehrabian, 55 percent of messages received and processed by your brain are based on your body language. So on the telephone, you are at a disadvantage in terms of understanding and making yourself understood. On the telephone you need to listen very attentively and try to pick up on any cues you can. Listen for repetition, tone of voice, pauses, quick or interrupting responses, laughs or sighs.

Watch the speed of your speech, especially if either you or the interviewer is speaking in a language that is not their mother tongue. Set a pace that is similar to that of the interviewer so that there is a flow and handing off turns speaking is natural. Be mindful that you need enough speed to keep the conversation lively and interactive, but you don't want to dominate; and steer clear of taking such a slow speed that there are confusing silences or that you convey a lack of interest.

If your interviewer repeats information, this is like a yellow highlighter make sure you pay attention and integrate the information. If a question is repeated, you should make sure you address it; if you feel that you have already answered the question, then articulate your answer a different way or ask for clarification as to what information the interviewer is seeking.

Are there background noises that may pertain to your conversation? If the interviewer is shuffling paper, tapping a pencil, or carrying on another conversation, you have lost their interest and better figure out how to get back on track. Quickly evaluate whether this strayed focus has to do with your communication style or content, or whether there is an extrinsic event occurring. If the fault lies with you, try to salvage the call proactively if you've been long-winded, then shorten your answers and stay on point. If you hear that the interviewer is trying to respond to a crisis in the office, offer to re-schedule the call.

Be aware of the noises that may be coming from your side of the telephone. Turn your radio, television, other telephones and electronics off during the time of the interview so as not to be distracted, or cause any diversion or loss of communication. If you feel compelled to be up and walking around, be mindful of any collateral noises you are creating or approaching in your pacing.

Are you hearing ooohs, aaahs, or uh-huhs? This is generally a positive indicator that you are on the right track. If the noises are ugs or neighs, well try to evaluate whether this is spurred by your content or delivery and make adjustments.

Don't forget to make some noise yourself. In a face-to-face interview you can lean forward, you can nod your head, you can smile to affirm your interest and agreement. You need to make sure your enthusiasm and interest come across over the phone. Do not interrupt, but do acknowledge the speaker so that he/she knows you are still there, and that you are interested.

Listen to tone and inflection, the interviewer's and your own. Professor Mehrabian's research shows that 38 percent of messages are processed based on your tone of voice. So how you say something is as important as what you are actually saying. Be expressive, use a tone of voice that communicates the interest and emotion that you are trying to convey. If you smile when you are talking, it will be infused in your voice - a phenomenon that is both psychological and physiological.

Pay attention to the interviewer's tone. Are they even-sounding or are they progressively sounding more or less interested? If your interviewer's voice becomes monotone, you've probably lost them. If his/her voice becomes somewhat high-pitched or emphatic, they are probably enthusiastic. An overly high-pitched tone may indicate disbelief or indignation.

Don't just answer the question and await the next, this isn't a batting cage, it is a dialogue. Lob the ball back once in a while, to clarify the role or dig deeper into the position's priorities, ask about the interviewer's history at the company, or what they value most about the company culture. An interview is between two humans and its purpose is for both of you to evaluate a potential partnership.

About the Author
Anna Mathieu, Marketing Communications Manager
Anna Mathieu Marketing Communications Manager, brings together in-the-trenches recruiting experience as well as years of marketing and sales success in a variety of industries from software to real estate development. She thrives on evangelizing the Redfish brand and communicating Redfish's expert recruiting services, to drive bottom line results.

About Redfish Technology
Nationwide IT Recruiting for the High Tech Industries
Founded in Silicon Valley in 1996, Redfish Technology has been a leading provider of high tech and clean tech professional and executive talent. Partnering with growth mode companies, small and large, Redfish staffs executive functions and builds out the teams below. The company provides services nationwide and has offices in Silicon Valley, the East Coast, and Sun Valley.


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