In the search for employment, there are several hurdles that need to be cleared before the hiring manager extends an employment offer. Today, it’s becoming more frequent for applicants to be asked to overcome an additional obstacle: the phone interview.
Given the fact that a single job opening can attract dozens or even hundreds of resumes, a phone interview can serve as an early screening process that allows the hiring manager to determine which candidates to bring in for a follow-up meeting.
It’s tempting to think that a phone interview would be easy to ace in comparison to a traditional interview, perhaps because of the lack of formality and the ability to meet with the hiring manager from the comfort of your own home. However, it’s these very differences that can make phone interviews more challenging than you realize. Here are some tips to help you make a positive impression:
Be prepared. Much like you would for a face-to-face interview, prepare for a phone conversation by learning as much as you can about the company ahead of time. Read trade journals, conduct online research and speak to colleagues who might be knowledgeable about the organization so you can get a better sense of the firm’s exact needs — and how you can help meet them. In addition, have an idea of how you’ll respond to common questions, such as those about your exact level of experience and what appeals to you about the job. It also would be wise to develop a few questions for the hiring manager.
Don’t sabotage yourself. A cell phone allows you to field a phone interview from anywhere you have reception, but that doesn’t mean it’s advisable to speak with a prospective employer while in line at the coffee shop. Having a conversation outdoors or when you’re surrounded by other people increases the risk of being interrupted. Plus, there’s always the danger of losing the signal. That’s why it’s best to use a landline, if possible, and to schedule the interview when you know you’re able to sit somewhere relatively quiet. Have your application materials within reach in case you need to reference them. Also, remember to turn off call waiting or at least ignore any calls that come in during the conversation. Your focus needs to be on the hiring manager.
Embrace the silence. Because phone conversations can lead to awkward pauses, especially with someone you haven’t spoken to before, you might be tempted to fill dead air. Prevent yourself from doing so; the interviewer might be taking notes or preparing his or her next question. Rather than overanswer a question, pause a beat or two and wait for the hiring manager to continue the conversation.
Dress the part. It may sound silly, but dressing up as if you were heading to an in-person interview can put you in the right mindset to impress the hiring manager. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should wear a suit, but it might be helpful to put on something other than shorts and a T-shirt.
Get energized. During a face-to-face interview, hiring managers respond positively to candidates who are excited about the position. Over the phone, the person won’t be able to see your facial expressions or body language to gauge your level of enthusiasm. As a result, you need to make sure he or she can hear your positive attitude in your voice. A good trick is to smile while you speak or get up and walk around a little during the course of the meeting.
Consider your image. A trend that has become increasingly common is the use of Skype to conduct initial interviews. A webcam allows hiring managers to mimic an in-person meeting fairly closely. If you are asked to participate in this type of interview, make sure you present a professional image. Set up your computer in an area free of loud noises and distracting backgrounds and wear a suit. When conversing with the hiring manager, look at the camera so you maintain eye contact with him or her.
Participating in a phone interview can be just as nerve-wracking as a face-to-face meeting. But as nervous as you might feel, remember that making it this far means you’ve passed the first part of the hiring process. So go into the interview with confidence; you’ll improve your chances of landing the IT job you seek.
Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.