By Caroline Ceniza-Levine
December 2, 2014

Phone interviews are becoming an increasingly common first step in the hiring process.

For hiring managers, they’re a more expedient way to narrow the applicant pool.

When I was working as a recruiter, I would often ask for a brief call to discuss the résumé, and from that short interaction determine who I would invite for a longer, in-person interview. That way I didn’t waste valuable time on applicants I’d otherwise nix five minutes into an hour-long in-person interview

While a time-saver for people like me, the phoner is yet another hurdle for candidates to overcome on the road to getting a job. To pass the bar with flying colors, you’ll want to do the following:

1. Focus on the words you’ll use.

In a live interview, you have your presence, your hand gestures, your smile, and eye contact. And all those non-verbal cues can be used to establish credibility and develop rapport. Communication is 80% or more about these non-verbals.

But on a phone call, all of this is taken away; you have only 20% of your power. You are left with the words you choose, the pace at which you speak, the inflections you give, and the clarity of your articulation.

It is that much more important that you focus on these verbal communication skills as you prepare for the interview (see steps #2 and #3).

2. Do a practice run

Don’t just wing a phone interview. Practice in advance.

A great way to do this: Leave a voicemail message for yourself with an interview response—talk about yourself or explain why you’re interested in the job.

Then assess how you come across by phone.

Do you sound enthusiastic? Do you speak clearly? Do you have the right volume—not too loud, not too soft? Do you speak at a good pace? Are you concise?

3. Align yourself to the job description

No one gets hired on the strength of the phone interview so you’re not trying to close the deal right away. You’re simply trying to get to the next round, and establish that you are strong potential match for the job at hand.

Therefore, plan what you will say based on how it matches to this job.

When you give an overview of what you’re doing, highlight where your current skills and expertise overlap with the job requirements. When you talk about why you would consider leaving, mention things that this new job offers, thereby confirming your interest in this very job.

4. Remember that it’s a conversation.

In a live interview, you can see that you need to wrap up your answer and move on if the interviewer’s eyes are glazing over, he glances at his watch, or he leans forward to interrupt you.

In a phone interview, you won’t get any such clues.

So keep your answers concise, and leave space to ensure that your interviewer can get in a word and ask the next question. This ensures you’re covering everything the interviewer needs to move you to the next round.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.

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