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Phone Interview Etiquette

Originally published Thursday, 09 January 2014.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared at Words By Mara. Used with permission. All rights reserved

When it comes to phone interviews, they can be tricky. You’re not actually face-to-face with someone, but it’s the most important CRUCIAL step in marketing yourself to the company.

I remember my very first phone interview. I had applied to large companies in the Milwaukee area years ago and most of them were conducting phone interviews as initial steps in finding a candidate.

My phone rang one afternoon as I was preparing for a different, SCHEDULED phone interview. It was a woman from HR at a large corporation where I had applied for a copywriter position.

“Hello Mara? Yes, we are calling around to some of our applicants for the copywriter position. Would you have a few moments to speak with me?”

Okay, okay… little did I know that this was actually a phone interview. She never called it that and also never scheduled it. So I was thrown completely off-guard and had no time to prepare. None.

As I fumbled my way through question after question, I already knew that I wasn’t going to get a call back. It was horrible and being unprepared was the problem.

Afterwards, I jumped in the shower and got ready for my next phone interview. I was prepared for this interview and looking forward to speaking with the hiring manager – whom I had a mutual connection with from a previous job.

The second interview went well. I was dressed in professional attire, had a list of questions and answers in front of me and had done some research on the company. These are all important pieces when preparing for an interview over the phone.

Technically, phone interviews are no different than in-person interviews. Yet, the same rules don’t always apply.

Remember when the HR rep called from the other company and did an impromptu phone interview? This happens all the time! Heck, I’ve even had an impromptu phone interview while walking out the door from an in-person interview. The only piece of advice I can give you in a situation like this is… have prepared answers and KNOW the company or position where you applied!

Tips for the best phone interview:

  1. Dress professionally. I know what you’re thinking… no one can actually see you so why does it matter? It helps to get your mind focused and promotes a professional demeanor. You’d be surprised by the difference this can make in how you conduct yourself over the phone.
  2. Stay in a quiet place and remain seated. I’ll admit that I’m “walk and talker” – I’d prefer to be up and moving while talking on the phone. Do NOT move or walk around during a phone interview. Sit at a desk or table. Conduct yourself in the same manner you would at an in-person interview.
  3. Do not pump gas or order food during a phone interview. Appalling, right? I’ve been told by a few hiring managers that they are just shocked when the candidate is doing anything other than concentrating on the task at hand. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with #2, so treat the phone interview the same as in-person!
  4. Take your time to answer the question. Some people are afraid of awkward silence over the phone, but there is nothing wrong with taking a few moments to collect your thoughts.
  5. Smile. Yes, I know they can’t see you but they can hear it in your voice. Speak with eloquence, enthusiasm, excitement and poise!
  6. Give examples and back it up with an action. What does this mean? After several phone interviews, I wasn’t getting call backs and did not understand why – so I asked one of the companies for feedback and it has changed the way that I interview. My advice… go into complete, thorough details when it comes to work experience and examples. You’re old positions and tasks make sense to you but they need to be explained to the person interviewing you. Come up with examples during your preparation and use examples from different positions in your history (if you have few employers then give examples from college courses, volunteer experiences or internships).
  7. Graciously request timelines. Typically if the interviewer is interested in moving quickly with you – they will ask if you’re interviewing with anyone else and will offer to bring you in for an interview right away. This doesn’t always apply though. If the interviewer doesn’t offer a date for when you’ll get a call back, simply ask and do not demand anything. If HR is conducting the interview, they may need to correspond with the hiring manager before calling you back. If you don’t hear anything within 5 days, they’ve probably moved on.
  8. Be yourself. Don’t lie or try to be someone other than yourself. The interviewer wants to know if you’re a good fit. Don’t force it.
  9. Read my “Basic Interview Tips for more helpful hints on nailing an interview.

Please feel free to email me for any other tips. If I can’t offer the advice your looking for, the least I can do is pray. Write to me at - wordsbymara@gmail.com