No matter how old we are or how long we’ve been in our positions, we have questions when it comes to careers. As working women, we want to know how to respond to a rejection letter, how to ask for a promotion, and how to say no to a role that isn’t a good fit. This is why we created Career Counselor, a weekly series in which we connect with experts to answer all your work-related questions. Because while we don’t all have the luxury of having a career coach, we still deserve to grow in our careers.
When it comes to phone interviews, you can’t slack on your in-person interview etiquette just because it doesn’t require meeting face-to-face with a potential employer. Sure, these introductory-level calls can usually be done from the comfort of your home, but that doesn’t mean you can lay in bed and answer the call like it’s your Mom asking how your day was.
Phone interviews are a standard starting point for many jobs, and hiring managers and recruiters alike are trying to put a personality to a résumé while sussing out whether or not you’re fit for the position (or the next round of interviewing). They’re also, realistically, trying to weed people out of the pile. And right now, to help stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), more and more companies are resorting to phone and video interviews to safely assess potential new employees from afar.
While sitting on your cell phone rattling off your skills may not be the most exciting part of getting a new job, knowing how to ace a phone interview is a skill that will serve you throughout your career. Think of these as the gateway to your new company, and a chance for you to learn more about the position, too.
For phone interview tips that will help you knock it out of the park (and get that hiring manager to remember you), we talked to career experts and got their advice.
Phone interview tips:
1Do your research.
If you’re wondering how to prepare for a phone interview—or any interview for that matter—the first step is making sure to do your research.
“This is a great time to really dive deep,” says career coach Carlota Zimmerman, J.D. And we’re not just talking about reading the company’s website, but articles about the company, and articles, tweets, Instagram, and Facebook posts by people in charge at the company as well. “It’s never bad to lead off an answer with, ‘That’s so true, Nancy. I follow the CEO on Twitter, and his latest Post Opinion piece really spoke to me because…’” says Zimmerman.
However, make sure to read through the job description, too. You should even have it in front of you during the call, if you can. This way, you’ll be armed with both the background knowledge of the company’s mission and its goals when it comes to hiring someone for this particular position, so you can target your answers around a plan to help the company achieve its needs.
2Don’t get too cozy.
It’s easy to sound monotone and uncaring if your butt is sinking into your comfy couch. Remember that even on a phone call, location is important.
As career coach Carla Isabel Carstens tells us, “While the couch may be calling your name, make sure to sit at a table during your interview, or, if it feels natural to you, pace the room. Studies show movement is associated with higher creativity. If you lay down while taking the call, it is easy to lose focus. Also, believe it or not, you often hear a difference in a person’s voice when they’re speaking sitting up or while pacing, versus when they’re laying down.”
And while you’re at it, make sure to try to eliminate any background noises or disturbances in your designated interview area, so the interviewer doesn’t get distracted. If you can, take the call somewhere private to set yourself up for success.
3Treat it like a real interview.
Carstens’ big tip is to treat a phone interview with the same respect and attention as you would an in-person interview. “A phone interview is just as important, if not more important than an in-person interview,” she says.
“Typically, phone interviews serve to screen people out of the candidate pool, hence it being the first step in the interview process. If you want to make it to round two, you need to impress, so why would you not take this interview format seriously,” she adds.
Practice talking through your work history, and any questions you anticipate them asking you, such as salary requirements and availability. “If you’ve typically only negotiated salary via-email, it is incredibly important to practice saying your salary requirement out loud until you can say it with confidence,” Carstens explains. “This may sound crazy, but a lot of people really struggle with this, and end up low-balling themselves!”
4Start with a good first impression.
How you greet the interviewer when you answer the phone sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. You know your interview is at a set time, so there is no need to act shocked or overly casual when that unfamiliar number pops up on your screen. Instead, Carstens says to anticipate the call, and set yourself up in your chosen area to answer the phone two to three minutes prior to the agreed-upon interview time.
When you pick up, use a professional greeting, such as, “Hi, this is [your name], or, Hello, [your name] speaking.” Answering with a muffled “…hello?” while you’re running into a quiet area won’t make a great impression.
5Smile! It will make you sound better.
And speaking of first impressions, when you first meet someone, it’s natural to smile. The same should be done when taking a phone interview call because it will actually make your voice sound warmer and friendlier to the person on the other end of the line.
Phones and videos are dampening mediums, meaning they naturally might make you sound more down, Jen Oleniczak Brown, author of Think on Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Jobexplains. Try standing up and smiling when you’re taking a phone interview as it will inject energy into your voice.
“People won’t always remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel,” says Michele Mavi, career coach, director of coaching services and internal recruiting and training for Atrium. “Being able to convey warmth is a skill that makes people stand out during a phone interview. A monotone voice can be very detrimental to your phone interview. Intonation, speech and punctuation are all very important.”
6Ask thoughtful questions.
Thoughtful questions are ones that can’t be answered by the company’s website or a quick glance at the job description (which, as we said, should ideally be in front of you during the call).
Instead, Mavi says to make sure you have any and all important information about the job BEFORE even answering the call and gather a few questions on-hand to ask when you are prompted. Appropriate questions can be about the company culture, the trajectory of the role, and how the position can help the organization’s larger goals in the future.
7Don’t forget to follow up.
Here’s where a lot of people let the at-home nature of a phone interview get the best of them: They forget to follow up. Whether you’ve interviewed with one person or three, you should send an individual email follow-up thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in the role. These emails can even include a note about how you can help the company from something they’ve mentioned in your phone conversation to make you really stand out.
Tiffany Waddell Tate, founder and CEO of Career Maven Consulting says it’s a good idea to write down everyone’s name and title when they introduce themselves at the beginning of the interview. This will allow you to not only remember who you’re talking to and know who to reference individually by name as you direct questions, but this will make it a lot easier to follow up via LinkedIn or email by sending a quick thank-you email after the phone interview “This follow-through will definitely make you stand out in a positive way,” she says.