June 7, 2010

Your Next Telephone Interview

Filed under: insights — Paul Kilman @ 11:16 am

With the numbers of candidates who are typically applying for open positions today, I am noticing that employers are making increasing use of phone interviews as an initial screening tool in determining who will actually be invited in for the all important full round of face-to-face interviews. There are challenges to properly navigating a phone interview, so I thought I would provide you with some proven advice to consider.

A skilled interviewer knows that a phone interview is an important screening tool in which a limited number of key questions are asked to determine who should be invited in for a full round of interviews. Phone interviews generally last about 30 minutes. Given its limitations, good interviewers know that a phone interview can not accomplish what a full face-to-face evaluation interview can, where more sophisticated distinctions and assessments can be made. Unfortunately, you should know that some interviewers try to use phone interviews in just this way. Given these realities, how should you best prepare?

The advantages of a phone interview for you, the candidate, are that you can first methodically write out, rehearse and refine your responses to the questions you suspect you will be asked. You can also write out the questions you would like to ask the employer – and you should have some ready. You can then refer to these notes during your actual phone interview – something you would not do in a face to face meeting. The disadvantages of the phone interview are the lack of visual cues that exist when people meet in person. The only cues an employer has in screening you by phone is what you say and, very importantly, the sound of your voice.

Let’s consider how to make the most of your next phone interview:

  • By writing out your answers to expected interview questions and rehearsing this material in advance, you can certainly refine and improve what you say and how well you are saying it. Even though phone interviews should be short in duration and focused in scope, you should never assume what an employer will do. Thus, you must prepare yourself for the full range of topics that could be covered in a longer face-to-face interview.
  • I would recommend that you rehearse out loud as hearing your answers out loud will teach you much about how your expression can be improved. If you simply go over answers in your mind without speaking audibly, you will not gain this important benefit.
  • The sound quality of your voice is something most of us do not think much about, but it is a key influencer in a phone interview. Be very mindful of using a warm tone when speaking, with good modulation in your voice – as if you are talking happily to a good friend.
  • For those of you who are reserved by nature, or feel nervous or uncomfortable about your presentation skills, allow me to offer you a few additional tools. A good friend of mine is an improvisation instructor at the famous Second City in Chicago. Using what he has learned in his performance art, he has been successful in helping senior executives significantly improve their presentation skills. The basic warm up exercises that he teaches them are as follows:
    • – First become aware of your breathing. Release as much physical and emotional tension as possible by slowly breathing from your belly. Next, put your hand on your diaphragm and try to feel some vibration there when you speak.
    • – To further build the range of your voice, try rehearsing with the following verbal and physical exaggerations: Exaggerate your voice level and exaggerate your pronunciation. Exaggerate the pitch of your voice to create excessive expressiveness. Use your face in an exaggerated way when rehearsing to support your message – almost like you are “telling it” with your eyes and facial expressions. You can try using excessive hand gestures as well. Most of us would feel more comfortable rehearsing in this way in private. Please know that these simple warm up exercises have been used to great effect to develop the voice capabilities of actors and executives alike. Also, you can use these as a vocal warm-up prior to your phone interview.
    • – Some people find that speaking while standing up helps them to project with better energy and confidence. Try it and see if this is useful for you.

  • Choose to conduct a phone interview in a setting where you are completely comfortable, will not be interrupted and can speak in a normal tone of voice. Have a glass of water handy in case your voice becomes dry. Use a land line where possible as nothing is more annoying than trying to conduct such an important conversation with a bad connection.
  • To ensure that you are not leaving the employer with any inaccurate impressions, before you hang up, ask “After speaking with me, do you have any reservations or concerns that would stop you from bringing me back for another interview?”
  • By the end of the interview, if you are quite interested in the opportunity, tell the interviewer that you are very interested in taking the next step in the interview process. Also ask when a decision about next steps will be made.
  • If you put this information to use, I know that you will be presenting at your best.

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