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9 Keys to Telephone Job Interview Success

By Laura DeCarlo

The goal of a telephone interview is an invited to come to the employer's location for an in-person interview.

You typically have just two assets – your voice and your preparation!

Job Interviews on the Telephone

Often you are given the opportunity to prepare for a telephone interview, but sometimes they come out of the blue when you answer your phone!

So, advanced preparation is key.

Since you may not know when to expect the telephone interview, it is critical that you do not wait to begin preparing for the interview until you have the interview. You have to accomplish your goal – selling yourself, your skills, your experience, and your value – with nothing but what comes out of your mouth.

What can you do?


1. Know whether you can take the call when it comes.

Hopefully, you'll be able to schedule the call for a time when you can focus completely. Be in a quiet place where you are comfortable and unlikely to be interrupted (or overheard, if you are not at home).

Sometimes you can't schedule the call. So, if you are driving the kids to school or dripping outside the shower, ask if you could schedule a later time. Of course, you need to feel the interviewer out; if he hesitates to schedule another time, you might want to plunge forward and do the best you can, considering you might not be getting another opportunity to present yourself.

2. Have the documentation you need at your fingertips.

Having easy access to the company and job information will allow you to confidently respond to questions without fumbling regarding which job you are talking about. So have a copy of both the job description and a copy of the resume or application you submitted in front of you before the interview starts.

3. Know your answers to the common questions.

Brief "yes" and "no" responses will not move a telephone interview forward, but will end it quickly. So, start by practicing your answers to the common interview questions now so that you are ready when the unplanned telephone interview occurs. (See the list in the column on the right or at the bottom of this article.)

Paint visual pictures with your words by telling stories that demonstrate results you achieved or contributed to. Answers that express the who, what, when, where, how, and why. Those answers will make you stand out.

The more you prepare now, the less you will ramble and leave out when the interview arrives.

[Related: Pre-Interview Preparation.]

4. Smile while on the phone!

Place a mirror by the phone, and make a point of looking into it and smiling while you are talking on the phone. Start now, so you can become comfortable with it.

You will find that you sound more upbeat and engaged when you do this. Your smiles will be "heard" by the interviewer making for a positive impression.

5. If you have a web portfolio or a complete LinkedIn profile, direct the interviewer to it, if possible.

Imagine this: The interviewer asks you to describe a challenge you have faced. Ask if the interviewer has access to the Internet. If the answer is yes, suggest the interviewer visit your web portfolio or LinkedIn profile (URL's hopefully on your resume), and have her click on your project highlights page. There, the interviewer will see what you have made public, perhaps an outline of key projects and a terrific graph that expresses your results.

Telephone interviews are truly one of the best reasons for creating a web portfolio or making sure that your LinkedIn profile is complete and shows your accomplishments.

This enables the interviewer to see your value while you talk about it.

[Related: LinkedIn for Job Search.]

6. Focus on your language and voice.

Again, you can only go on the power of your voice in a telephone call. Speak clearly, stay upbeat, and use positive language. Smiling (4, above) will help.

Don't trash anyone!

Try to take cues from the interview (does he or she speak slowly and softly or fast and loud?) and modulate your own tone and word choice to make a positive impression.

The mirror (see 4, above) will help in staying positive, but you must remember that the words you choose (your language) and the motivation you put forward (tone, modulation, enthusiasm) will help determine your outcome.

7. Avoid selfish questions during the interview.

Now is not the time to ask about benefits or salary. Initial interviews, until you have an offer, are about selling yourself to the employer until you are the key applicant they want to hire. You do not have any power until that time and will just show that your emphasis is not on being a good fit but just on what is in it for you.

8. Don’t hang up without asking for the next step plus contact information.

The interviewer is bringing the call to an end but there has been no talk of a next step. Speak up! Express your enthusiasm for moving forward and ask about the next step.

If an in-person interview is not scheduled at the end of the call, find out when you can follow up with the employer. Be sure to ask for contact information (name, phone number, and email address) of the person who will be your contact.

[Related: Gathering Information for the Follow-Up After the Job Interview.]

9. Say thank you, in writing.

Sure, it was a telephone interview, but that is no reason for not taking the time to exercise simple but powerful courtesies. Write a thank you letter, and mail it, unless your main communication has been through email with the interviewer. Don’t just say thank you but make a point of reiterating strengths and value for the position.

[Related: Sending Your Job Interview Thank You and Sample Job Interview Thank You Email.]

Bottom Line

These steps will guide you successfully through the telephone interview. Remember, do not leave your interview to chance – prepare now for success!

MORE: For more about phone interviews, read How to Ace Your Phone Interview and Phone Interview Success Tips.

About the author...

Laura DeCarlo is recognized as the career industry’s ‘career hero’ making a difference to both job seekers and career professionals as the founder of Career Directors International. She possesses 11 top-level certifications in resume writing, career coaching, and career management; 7 first place resume and job placement awards; and has written three books on interviewing and job search including Interview Pocket RX, Interviewing: The Gold Standard, Resumes for Dummies,and Job Search Bloopers. Follow Laura on Google+ and Twitter at @careerhero.

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