10 Ways to Ace the Phone Interview Screening:

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For those who are reading my blog for the first time, I am a part-time career advisor, and also a job seeker.  Recently, I had a phone interview, and I thought I would share helpful hints on preparing for such with my readers.  I have talked to many of my colleagues and mentors at various colleges and private companies, and below is a summary of the advice they gave me on how to prepare for the phone interview.  I also help run a local job-seeking group and talk to many job seekers who have had phone interview experience, learning a lot about the phone screening process.

One thing to consider when preparing for a phone interview is that you will not be able to read body language of the interviewer. For that reason, it is extremely important to limit your answers to between 45 and 60 seconds maximum, as you will not be able to determine if you answered the entire question, and if the person on the other end is giving you non-verbal cues to help you determine when to stop.  Interviewing with multiple people on the line at the same time can also be tricky, as it is hard to determine when someone is finished talking, in order to avoid cutting them off.  If you have a chance, practice a mock phone interview with multiple people. That is the best way to prepare.

Employers are using the phone interview as a way to save time and money, so it helps to be prepared to the best of one’s ability.  Some employers will schedule these interviews, and others will call you unannounced on the spot, looking to potentially screen you out.  If this happens, and you are not prepared, politely ask the employer if they can call you back at a mutually determined time, and then follow the below steps:

  1. Prepare your STAR stories (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) on index cards, with one sentence for each element of the story.  This will help you keep your answers to 60 seconds or less.  I suggest coming up with 5 to 7 stories of workplace accomplishments.  If you do this, you will be able to answer just about any situational question.
  2. Practice reading your answers aloud – but don’t memorize them.  This will help you answer questions smoothly.
  3. Be ready to answer why you want the jobDo your research.  Why do you want to work for this organization and department?  Look at their mission statement.  Research current and past employees on LinkedIn.  Even review the profiles of the interviewers to determine if there is commonality.  Find the company on Facebook, YouTube, etc. Call up a friend or connection at the company to get insight.
  4. Prepare answers for your greatest weaknesses and strengths – Ask current or former supervisors, or even your friends, what areas of improvement you may need.  Scour your letters of recommendation, including LinkedIn, for strengths that may set you apart from other candidates.  Also, prepare to answer the inevitable and (in)famous “tell me about yourself” question.
  5. Have thoughtful questions ready – Through your research, develop thoughtful questions that show your interest in the organization and the department.  These questions are crucial to demonstrate your interest in the company, and may provide you with invaluable information to prepare for the hopefully soon-to-come in-person interview.
  6. Watch a YouTube video of your favorite comedian right before the interview – A colleague recently told me that laughter loosens up your voice cords and helps you relax before an interview.  George Carlin “Losing things” worked for me.
  7. Smile – Hard to believe, but true!  Smiling is evident through the phone call by the tone of your voice.  Practice by talking in front of a mirror. Memorize what it feels like to intentionally smile.
  8. Dress for the interview as you would for an in-person interview – You will feel more confident if you are wearing your most professional attire while talking on the phone, and not your pajamas.  Also, sit up straight or, better yet, stand.  This will help to project your voice with more energy.
  9. Take the call on a land line, and avoid using the computer, in a quiet room with no distractions– Cell phones are still not 100% dependable, so plan to take the call on a land line if at all possible.  Turn off call-waiting, and be sure to choose a quiet place without distractions such as children, dogs, etc.  Avoid using the computer during the interview.  You may be looking at the company’s mission statement, but the employer will likely think you are updating you Facebook status when they hear the mouse and the keyboard clicks.  Not having access to the computer will require preparing ahead of time by printing out old-fashioned paper copies of your resume, cover letter, the job description, and highlights of the company’s website.  Be sure to also have a pen and paper ready to take down notes, which will help you in writing your Thank You letter and/or email later (more on that subject at another time).  Be sure to be in a quiet room with no distractions, no kids, pets, etc.  The interviewer will be able to hear background noise.
  10. Send a Thank You email / letter within 12 hours of the interview – Be sure to send a Thank You note.  It will set you apart from the competition.  I have talked to recruiters who told me they look for a Thank You note between 12 and 18 hours after the interview, and they compare them with Thank You notes to the other interview panelists.  Be sure to customize your Thank You note for each panelist.  Also, include a rational for hiring you.  If there was a point you did not get to make in the interview, now is the time.  If you asked the question, such as “what are the key qualities the right candidate should possess”, here is the perfect time to connect the dots, and show the employer that you have the qualities they are looking for.

Finally, from one of my readers: “DON’T forget to ask if ‘based on today’s interview, can we move forward? Do you have any reservations?’  This is a crucial step as you don’t want to find out, later, that the interviewer had an unstated concern. Especially when you could have effectively countered it during the original call.”

Please share with me your experiences. How did you prepare? Did you get called in for an onsite interview?

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About Rachelle Lappinen

​Rachelle Lappinen is a Career and Academic Consultant and a Green Energy Ambassador. Currently, Rachelle serves as an education advocate for MassEdco working with high school students on college and career navigation. Rachelle also consults working with MIT on a research program, researching the effects of long-term unemployment on the middle class and developing best practices to help this population. Rachelle has worked at Mount Wachusett Community College, the YWCA and Becker College as a Career Development Counselor. Before becoming entering the field of workforce development, Rachelle spent over 10 years working as an insurance underwriter. Throughout her coaching and volunteer experiences, Rachelle has been noted for her determination and persistence to help those in need of career guidance. As a volunteer, Rachelle is actively involved with the non-profit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Leominster and Fitchburg and the Center for Women and Enterprises. Prior to entering the coaching world, Rachelle was a senior group insurance underwriter for Unum, and sales representative for Prudential Financial. She actively involved with the Career Counselors Consortium and is a member of the Career Resource Rachelle M. Lappinen, MBA, GCDF, CPRW
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One Response to 10 Ways to Ace the Phone Interview Screening:

  1. For my recent phone interview I choose the master bathroom. Just like everyone sounds better singing in the shower a large bathroom with its tile floor and other hard surfaces give your voice a deep richer sound. It’s good to be able to look at yourself to check if you are still smiling, plus standing up keeps your energy up. With a large triple pane mirror there is plenty of space to tape your resume, STAR/PAR statements and questions to ask at eye level so they are easy to read. If you have a cordless phone set have another unit with you just in case your battery runs low. Should you need to switch remember to turn the second phone on before turning off the first.

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