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Telephone Interviews: Putting Your Best Voice Forward

A woman on the phone using her laptop. By Laura DeCarlo

The telephone interview is do or die – you do not get to see your interviewer and impress him or her with your savvy dress, winning smile, or slick portfolio. Instead, you typically have just one asset – your voice!

In addition, sometimes you are given the opportunity to prepare for a telephone interview, but more often than not, they come out of the blue when you answer your phone!
Preparation is key. Since you don’t know when to expect the telephone interview, it's 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.

Are you driving the kids to school or dripping outside the shower when the interviewer calls? If so, these are times when you might want to express your desire to pursue the interview but ask if you could schedule a call at a later time. Of course, you need to feel the interviewer out; if he hesitates to schedule, you might want to plunge forward and do the best you can, considering you might not be getting another opportunity to present yourself.

2. Keep files for each organization 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. Also, make sure to have a copy of your own resume in front of you for reference.

3. Learn how to answer interview questions now vs. later.

Start practicing common interview questions now so that you’re ready when the unplanned telephone interview occurs. You want to be able to paint visual pictures with your words by telling stories that demonstrate results. Brief ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses will not move a telephone interview forward, but will end it quickly. Answers that express the who, what, when, where, how, and why have punch because they make you stand out. Know that the more you prepare now, the less you will ramble and leave out when the interview arrives.

4. Practice smiling 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 which makes for a positive interview.

5. Steer the conversation to your web portfolio, if possible.

Imagine this: The interviewer asks you to tell her about a challenge you have faced. You ask if she has access to the Internet while you are on the phone. She says that she does so you send her to your web portfolio and have her click on your project highlights page. There she sees an outline of key projects and a terrific graph that expresses your results. Now she is SEEING your value while you talk her through it. Telephone interviews are truly one of the best reasons for creating a web portfolio!

6. Focus on language plus motivation equals outcome (L+M=O).

Again, you can only go on the power of your voice in a telephone call. While you want to try to take cues from the interview (does he speak slowly and softly or fast and loud?) you also need to modulate your own tone and word choice to make a positive impression. The mirror will help in staying positive, but you must remember that the words you use (language) and the motivation you put forward (tone, modulation, enthusiasm) will determine your outcome. Speak clearly, stay upbeat, and use positive language.

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’s in it for you.

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

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. Find out if you can follow up with the employer and ask for contact information if you haven’t received it yet.

9. Say thank you, in writing.

Sure, it was a telephone interview but that’s 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 strictly been through email with the interviewer. Don’t just say thank you, but make a point of reiterating strengths and value for the position.

Bottom Line:

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


Image of Laura DeCarlo

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; seven 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, and Job Search Bloopers. Follow Laura on Twitter @careerhero. This article is reprinted by permission from Job-Hunt.org.

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