TAO Self-help

Title:Phone Interviews: 10 Steps to Success

Author:© Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, potomacbooksinc.com.

Date:May 2014


Many employers use the telephone interview as a screening tool. Not only does a telephone interview save time and money, it can also add personality to a resume. A telephone interview can be tricky however and is worthy of special attention. Follow these ten steps to enhance your chances of success.

  1. Schedule and confirm. Expect an advance call to arrange a mutually convenient day and time, factoring in any time zone differences. Ask for the amount of time to be allotted, determine who is to initiate the call, and verify the phone number to be used.
  2. Homework. Research the company. Learn something about the interviewer, if possible. Be knowledgeable about the position. Be prepared to emphasize your positive attributes that are most relevant to the job. Compose a set of questions. Select them with two things in mind: you want to gather information about the opportunity and you want to demonstrate your interest in the job. Avoid questions that are selfish in nature (salary, benefits or relocation costs, for example). Save questions of that variety for later in the process.
  3. Environment. Decide in advance where you want to be when the phone call takes place. Pick a quiet, comfortable spot where you are unlikely to be interrupted. A desk or table is important because you will be taking notes.
  4. Materials. If you are using a cell phone, make sure it is fully charged. Keep your charger handy and sit near an electrical outlet. Confirm in advance that you have a strong, reliable signal. Temporarily deactivate call-waiting if possible. If not, then plan to ignore it. Make sure you have access to a glass of water, your résumé, your list of questions, background on the company, and writing materials.
  5. Be on time. Being late for any interview is often the kiss of death. Be ready to make or receive the call at the scheduled time. End any other incoming calls as quickly as possible. Keep the line free — the interviewer will not be happy with a busy signal. If the interview time arrives but the call does not, stay near the phone and wait. If the phone fails to ring during the time you have set aside, call the person and offer to reschedule. Likewise, offer to reschedule if you are initiating the call and the interviewer is unavailable. Resist the temptation to be annoyed or accusatory. Allow for the possibility that the error is yours.
  6. Introductions. Once you and the interviewer are on the phone, introduce yourself. The interviewer should return the introduction. If this is a multi-person conference call, ask for introductions to the additional callers. Speak clearly and more slowly than you normally would. Resist the temptation to use the speakerphone. Hands-free is comfortable, but the risks of bad audio or loss of privacy override any added convenience.
  7. Body language. Since body language is out of play, your words, both their meaning and their delivery, are the only tools at your disposal. Having a strong handshake and maintaining eye contact are irrelevant now, but you should still conduct the interview as if you were face-to-face. The fact that you are focused on the conversation, nodding, and smiling will come through in your voice.
  8. Establish rapport. This is critical. Whether or not the interviewer likes you has a major effect on the outcome. Hopefully your natural enthusiasm, sense of humor, and inquisitiveness will serve you well. If given the chance, try to get the interviewer to talk a little bit about his or her background. Do not go overboard — remember who is interviewing whom.
  9. Close the deal. To succeed in any interview, you must state your level of interest and ask for the next step. Since the preferred outcome of a phone interview is often a personal visit to the company (sometimes called a site visit or second level interview), you should ask for this. Conversely, if you are not interested in the opportunity, let the interviewer know why. Perhaps you are misreading something or there is a different position available.
  10. Follow-up. A telephone interview requires the same follow-up as any interview. Timely and well-worded correspondence is an excellent way to express both your level of interest and also gratitude for the interviewer’s time and consideration.
A successful telephone interview is one in which the interviewer not only hears your words but also processes them to your best advantage.

By Tom Wolfe, Career Coach
© Tom Wolfe is an author, columnist, career coach, veteran, and an expert in the field of military-to-civilian career transition. During his career he assisted thousands of service members in their searches for employment, placing more than 3000 in their new jobs. Prior to civilian life, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a surface warfare officer. He teaches transition courses, gives seminars on career and job change, writes about the career transition process, and continues to counsel current and former military personnel. His book, Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, was published by Potomac Books in 2011. Tom lives on the North Carolina coast with his wife, Julie, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Maggie.

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