Phone interviews lack many of the qualities that can make an in-person meeting with a potential employer so stressful. You don't have to make your way to an unfamiliar location and hunt for a parking spot, meet -- and impress --prospective colleagues in the hallways, or figure out an elegant way to hide that spot on your shirt.
As a result, some job seekers approach phone interviews less seriously. That can be a risky move in a job hunt since acing the phone interview is often your ticket to an in-person meeting.
This article outlines a few guideposts to help you walk the line between overpreparing and not being prepared enough. Stay within these lines, and you'll have a better chance of making it to the next round in the hiring process.
Be professional ...
From the beginning, you must present yourself as polished, considerate and professional. That means greeting the hiring manager with, "Hi, Joanna, this is John Douglas. It's a pleasure to speak with you" as opposed to the kind of casual greeting you reserve for close friends. And if your outgoing phone message is casual or goofy, change it in case the employer's call goes to voice mail.
Just before the scheduled interview time, disable call waiting and get set up in a distraction-free environment with a strong cell signal or landline connection. Have your résumé and the job listing in front of you. Smile as you talk to give your voice confidence.
At the end of the call, thank the hiring manager for her time. If she hasn't mentioned the possibility of an in-person interview, ask politely about the next step.
... But be yourself.
Being overly formal can have the opposite of your intended effect. Needlessly officious language can create a barrier between you and the employer. Ideally, you want to find common ground. The same holds true for projecting too much enthusiasm if these feelings don't come naturally for you. It can come across as insincere.
In the likely event that the hiring manager is calling several similarly qualified candidates, he will most remember the one where the conversation was easy and friendly.
Prepare yourself to answer thoroughly ...
Research the company and its current challenges, just as you would for an in-person interview. Swallow your pride and ask a friend to conduct a practice phone interview with you. Ask your friend to prepare standard-issue interview questions as well as a curveball or two.
This dry run can give you invaluable practice talking about yourself while helping to identify weaknesses ranging from the technical ("Your headset sounds terrible") to the substantial ("You seemed evasive about your last job").
Afterward, make a list of key talking points that match up with the position's requirements. Keep it handy during your interview to use as a reminder -- but not as a script.
... But don't overdo it.
During in-person interviews, nonverbal prompts make it easier to carry on a natural conversation. You can generally tell when the interviewer wants you to talk and when to wait for the next question.
That distinction is trickier over the phone; a few seconds of silence can turn you into a radio DJ scrambling to fill dead air. Keep in mind that the interviewer may simply be taking notes, so don't talk just to avoid silence.
Follow the interviewer's lead ...
During the interview, you'll need to pick up on not just the content of the hiring manager's questions but also the tone. Don't be so fixated on your talking points that you miss these cues.
If the interviewer seems relaxed and open, you can take more time answering the questions. If her tone is matter-of-fact and abrupt, focus on getting your points across quickly and economically.
In either case, make sure you're listening, not just waiting for your next turn to speak. Asking a salient question in response to something the interviewer has mentioned can demonstrate your ability to think and talk on your feet.
... But don't lose the thread.
The interviewer may establish the tone and structure of the discussion, but it's your responsibility to tell your story -- however briefly -- within those confines. Make sure your answers don't stray too far from how your skills and experience meet the employer's needs.
These tips may not be black-and-white, but neither are today's phone interviews. In fact, if you take part in several interview calls, you might find that they bear little resemblance to one another. In some cases, you might even be vastly overprepared after the call. If that's the case, consider your preparation a head start on the next round. Just be sure to get that shirt dry-cleaned first.
Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/bloopers or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.
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