Many companies use phone interviews as an initial employment screening technique for a variety of reasons. Because they’re generally brief, phone interviews save companies time. They also serve as a more realistic screening alternative for cases in which companies are considering out-of-town (or out-of-state and foreign) candidates.

A phone interview seems so informal on the surface that it can be easy to fall into the trap of “phoning it in” — i.e., not preparing for it as well as you would for an in-person interview. Don’t get caught with your guard down. Be sure to research the company, study the job description, and practice your responses to anticipated questions, just as you would for any other interview. Where is their vulnerability? Do they admit it? Are you a solution? Why?

A very important opportunity in phone interviews is when you are asked, “Do you have any questions?” Most people say “no, not right now”. Not only is this the wrong answer, but it’s also a missed opportunity to find out information about the company and bond with an important decision-maker. It is important for you to ask questions — not just any questions, but those relating to the job, the company and the industry.

Consider these examples: Two candidates are interviewing for an inside sales position.

  • Janice asks, “I was wondering about benefits, and when they would become effective. Also, what is the yearly vacation allowance? And, does the company match the 401k plan?”
  • Assuming this is the first interview, it is premature to ask about benefits. “What’s in it for me?” questions can be interpreted as self-centered and a sign of your lack of interest in the job.
  • The next candidate, Eric, says, “No, I think you just about covered everything I wanted to know. I’m sure I’ll have more questions if I get the job.”
  • This is a very passive response that doesn’t demonstrate interest or imagination. Once you get the job — if you get it — may be too late to ask questions.
  • In some cases, the interviewer will be listening for the types of questions you ask. The will come as a result of listening to the questions the interviewer asks you.
  • A good response to the interviewer asking, “Do you have any questions?” would be: “Yes, I do. From what you’ve been asking during the interview, it sounds like you have a problem with customer retention. Can you tell me a little more about the current situation and what the first challenges would be for the new person?”
  • This answer shows interest in what the problem is and how you could be the possible solution. It is also an opportunity to get a sense of what will be expected.

Be Prepared

What information do you need to decide whether to work at this company? Make a list of at least 5 questions to take with you to the interview. Depending on who is interviewing you, your questions should vary.

  • If you are interviewing with the hiring manager, ask questions about the job, the desired qualities and the challenges.
  • If you are interviewing with the human resources manager, ask about the company and the department.
  • If you are interviewing with management, ask about the industry and future projections. This is your chance to demonstrate your industry knowledge.

Timing Is Important

You will have to use your judgment about the number of questions you ask and when to ask them. Think of this as a conversation. There will be an appropriate time to ask certain types of questions, like those about benefits and vacation. To be on the safe side, concentrate on questions about the job’s responsibilities and how you fit the position until you get the actual offer.

When you begin to think of the interview as a two-way process, you will see it is important for you to find out as much as possible about the company. Questions will give you the opportunity to find out if this is a good place for you to work before you say yes.

Jot down a few notes about the most critical points you want to make with your interviewer(s). Are there certain skills and experiences you want to emphasize? Do you have certain interests or passions you want your interviewer(s) to know about and understand? Be sure these pieces of information appear on your crib sheet. Then touch on them during the interview, even if your only chance to do so is at the end of the session when the interviewer asks you if you have any questions or anything to add. Ask if they would like to meet again.

Focusing on your appearance, just as you would for a normal interview, will put you in the right frame of mind from a psychological standpoint. You won’t do as well in your phone interview if you’re lying in bed, for example, or if you’re draped over your couch in your pajamas. Use a real phone so you are clearly heard. Stand up during the call; you project yourself better when you’re standing up and you’ll feel more knowledgeable and confident.

Phone interviews can be tricky, especially since you aren’t able to read your interviewers’ nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language during the session — a big difference from the typical interview. But if you prepare well for your phone interview, you won’t need to read anyone’s non-verbals to gauge your performance. You’ll know for sure how you’ve done because you’ll be invited to a face-to-face interview, where you’ll have yet another opportunity to prove you’re the best person for the job.

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