Acing the Phone Interview

Phone interviews used to be a perfunctory way to throw softball questions at prospective candidates before bringing them in for a “real” interview. But according to the WSJ, increasingly, phone interviews are becoming much more rigorous as companies seek to cut down on travel costs. The advice from the WSJ: be prepared! Do as much preparation for a phone interview as you would for an in person interview.

Phone interviews present unique challenges as well. When you are in person, you have the benefit of seeing the non-verbal reactions of the interviewer. This can provide you with important feedback so that you can fine tune your next answer. It is easier to gauge if you have spoken for an appropriate length of time when you have some visual cues (e.g. if you see a yawn forming or if you observe that the interviewer is looking at his or her watch, that’s a good sign that it’s time to stop talking and ask a question yourself).

Successful phone interviews also require you to be extra vigilant about avoiding distractions. Checking your blackberry is an obvious no-no during a live interview. But it is also a bad idea when you are on the phone. So is eating, being in a room where kids may run in and interrupt or surfing the internet.

I have given interviewing tips in the past where my main message is “be a great listener” (though these were written long before Web 2.0 began to play a major role in the way we communicate with friends and colleagues.) In a phone interview, the challenge of being a great listener is that much greater. Being distracted by electronic media is likely to influence your performance for the worse.

On a phone interview, be extra cautious about going on for too long. It is very important to ask follow up questions yourself before you respond to an interviewer. With no verbal cues, it is the only way you get any sense of what the interviewer is thinking.

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