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How to prepare for a phone interview?

The interview is the final step in your quest for a job. This is where you meet the key people of an organization and have a face-to-face interaction, which will help them decide if you are the right person for the job. Not everyone though is called for an interview. Most companies filter out candidates at various stages right from the time you submit a resume. A telephonic interview is one of the techniques used to filter candidates to decide who should be called for a personal interview. The phone interview is similar in most ways to a personal interview, the difference being that it is conducted over the telephone.

Companies that have many applications for a job would use the phone interview to shortlist candidates for the final interview. A company would conduct a phone interview to talk to a candidate and understand more about him/her.  The objective would be to understand if the candidate is suitable for the job. If the telephonic interviewer feels the candidate would fit the bill, then a second interview is arranged face-to-face. The phone interview is convenient to both candidate and employer. It saves the candidate time in traveling down to the company. It helps the employer do a pre-evaluation prior to the final interview.

If you were looking forward to being shortlisted for the final interview, then you need to make sure you ace the telephonic interview. Many candidates are complacent about a phone interview, as the perception is that it is just a telephonic chat. This is however not the case. An experienced interviewer would be a good communicator and can get to know a lot about you through the phone interview. So, if you were thinking of slouching in your pajamas on the sofa and chatting with the interviewer while watching a movie – you had better think again!

The phone interview is no informal chitchat. It is a professional activity done by a company to find out if you deserve to be called for a final interview. If you are serious about your career, then you need to prepare for the phone interview with the same seriousness as a personal interview. Here is how you can prepare well so that you can pass the phone interview stage and move on to the final stage.

1) Scheduled or unscheduled

A telephonic interview is easy for the interviewer, all he/she needs to do is pick the phone and call the number in the resume. Phone interviews can thus be scheduled or unscheduled. Some interviewers make a schedule for the phone interviews they conduct and tell you in advance when they would call. They may send you an email or a text message with the date and time of the call. This ensures that you would be free and able to take the call. This also ensures the interviewer can plan his/her work schedule better. A scheduled interview gives you a chance to request for a change of time, in case you won’t be free at the designated time. It also gives you ample time to prepare for the interview.

Some interviewers prefer an unscheduled interview. They just pick the phone and call. They may do this because they are free at that particular moment and want to finish off the interview. They may also do it to see how you handle unexpected situations. In either case, you need to be prepared to handle both types of interviews. If you are taken by surprise by the interviewer’s call, you can always request for an alternate time. You could say that you are busy with some other work or not in your desk and would find it difficult to take the call. Most interviewers would ask you if it is a good time to talk before proceeding. You can use this cue to request for a change of time. You may be outdoors, where there is a lot of noise from traffic that could disturb the communication. So, there is nothing wrong in requesting for an alternate time to talk.

When you apply for a job, you should be prepared for the telephonic interview, scheduled or unscheduled. Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage and be taken by surprise when you get a call from an interviewer. You must anticipate it and be ready for it.

2) It is more difficult than a face-to-face interview.

If you felt that a phone interview was a cinch, you are mistaken. It is more difficult to convince an interviewer during a phone interview, then a personal interview. In a personal interview, you can impress the interviewer with your dress, appearance, and other personal traits. The way you walk in to the interviewer’s chamber, the way you shake hands, the way you make eye contact can impress the interviewer. In a personal interview, you can easily make a great first impression. This is not so easy in a telephonic interview. You need to put double the efforts to convince the interviewer about your abilities.

Many people find the phone interview more stressful than a personal interaction. Not everyone sounds good on the phone or has excellent phone etiquette. This would create stress and make you feel nervous. An experienced interviewer can gauge signs of nervousness even over the phone. A telephonic interview thus has more challenges for you. It is like going on an unknown path. Preparing for the phone interview needs more effort than preparing for an interview in-person.

3) Use the checklist method.

There is one advantage the phone interview provides, which is that you can keep notes in front of you or even your laptop while you answer questions. This is not possible in a face-to-face interview. You can thus use this to your advantage. The best thing to do is to make a checklist. You can make a list of all the possible questions an interviewer may ask and jot down how you would answer the questions. Don’t write down the answers! If you read out from a script, it sounds artificial. Have points written down and expand on them while answering the interviewer’s questions. You can thus answer the questions in a natural way and at the same time have notes to help you.

You can also make a checklist of what you want to say. You can list out your strengths and how you can add value to the company. You can highlight key aspects of your education, skills, and experience that you want to project during the interview. This will ensure that you don’t miss out anything during your telephonic talk. It also makes you more confident while answering questions.

4) Ensure the settings are right

In the face-to-face interview, you have no control over the interview settings. The phone interview is where you answer from your home or office, where you are in control. Make sure you have the right settings in place before you take the call. You can keep the following in mind:

  • Sit in front of a desk, don’t slouch on a sofa or a bed. Let the setting be professional.
  • Keep your resume, checklist of points, pen and paper and even your laptop nearby. This would ensure you don’t have to run around looking for information that the interviewer wants to know. All that you would take with you for a personal interview should be in front of you.
  • It is possible there could be some blind spots where the mobile signal is weak. Find the right place, where the mobile signal is strong and where you are unlikely to face any kind of static disturbance.
  • You may not be comfortable talking to an interviewer if someone else is present. So try to find a place where others won’t disturb you. Also, inform your family members that you are on an important telephonic call so you won’t be disturbed.
  • Make sure the doors and windows are closed to avoid external noise. Use a headphone, if needed.
  • Ensure that your mobile phone is fully charged, so you don’t have to face an embarrassing situation of your phone getting switched off during the interview. If you have another mobile phone, keep it on silent mode.
  • Make sure the TV/radio is off. Not muted, but switched off. You wouldn’t want to get distracted during the interview.
  • Don’t be dressed casually. When you are in your pajamas, it affects your attitude and you may tend to be casual. Dress formally, so you feel you are in a formal situation. That would help you be more confident. What if the interviewer makes a video call and you are in your shorts sleeping on the sofa? Don’t take a chance with the all-important phone interview. Make sure the settings for the interview are perfect.

5) Research well

Your goal would be to get called for an interview to meet the employer in person. Prepare for the phone interview just as you would do for the personal one. This would help you prepare for the final interview also. Research for the interview to make sure you are prepared for anything that the interviewer throws at you. You can research and be prepared for the following:

  • Understand all about the job, the skills and qualification required, and the nature of work.
  • Learn about the company. Thanks to the internet, you can get plenty of information. Know its goals, products, history, plans, and performance. An interviewer would be impressed if you convey such information during an interview. You may be asked if you know anything about the company, this research will help you answer the question confidently.
  • If you know who is the interviewer, find out more about the person from the company website, LinkedIn, or any other social network.
  • Go through the company blog, that’s a good way of understanding more about the company and its work culture. You can find interesting information that can help you answer questions better.

Research helps you customize the way you answer questions. An interviewer would be impressed if instead of giving standard answers, you give answers tailor made with context relevant to the company and job you have applied for.

6) Listen, understand, think, and then answer

In any communication, you need to spend more than half the time listening. The same is true for telephonic communication. Listen very carefully. The interviewer may be speaking softly, there may be problems with the telephonic connection, or there may be noise at the interviewer’s end. Make sure you focus and concentrate on what the interviewer is saying. DON’T be in a hurry to answer the question. Never cut the interviewer mid-sentence. Allow the interviewer to complete what he/she is saying and then start your answer.

Understand the question that has been asked, take a moment or two to think about your answer and then start talking. Take a deep breath before you start talking, that can help you feel more relaxed. Don’t be in a hurry to answer. Talk slowly and make sure you clearly answer what the interviewer is asking. Don’t volunteer information or talk too much. Be concise, clear, and specific. Avoid vague or general answers. Be specific with information. Use numbers where possible, for eg: I worked for 5 years 6 months in this domain; I was able to increase sales performance by 35% during one year.

Now that you have understood how to prepare for the phone interview, here are some practical tips that would be helpful:

  1. Be honest, never lie.
  2. If you are not able to hear the interviewer or understand the question, there is nothing wrong in asking him/her to repeat it.
  3. Be polite, firm, and confident.
  4. Keep a glass of water handy if you have a dry throat. Avoid eating or drinking coffee during the interview.
  5. Smile when you talk, it enhances the effectiveness of the communication.
  6. Do a dry run with a friend, practice can make you perfect.
  7. Thank the interviewer when it is over and ask if it would be possible to meet in person. That’s the best way to end the phone interview.