Sunday, November 15, 2009

Phone Interview: What It Means, How to Do It

You have an appointment for a telephone interview with a potential employer. What does that interview mean to the company? What are they looking for? What can you do to make the interview go great for YOU?

What It Means

Your interviewer could be the hiring manager, a young HR rep, an executive recruiter. The quality of the interview will vary widely. It could be a crisp 20-minute conversation, an unfocused 30 minutes, or an hour-long behavioral interview. They should tell you about time and type, but be sure to ask. Here's what the call for a pre-screen interview means:

1. You could be one of 5 or 25 they're telephoning. Depends on the job and the extent of the search.

2. You've made it past the first stack of resumes. You have the essential qualifications they'd arrayed in a grid. They have a few questions.

3. They want to see how you tell your story. Do you communicate well? How do you answer the questions they had about you? (an element of your experience; why you left a promising position; the depth of your technical/functional knowledge). Do they like what they hear about you (a subjective but important piece of information about you)?

4. The main question: Should we take you to the next level in our hiring process? For an executive or search position, that could be the in-depth behavioral interview, which is a phone interview with a scalpel. . .and you're the patient. For other positions, the "next level" is an in-person interview.

How to Do a Phone Interview Well

Your very best has to come across in these few minutes.

Note: If this is to be a Skype or video interview, some of the following won't apply. Pacing, for example, would be bad. You must prepare as if this were an in-person interview.

1. Be prepared. In general, you won't be given a chance to ask questions about the company or the job, but learn about the company anyway. It'll INFORM your responses.

2. Be prepared. Ask how long the interview will be.

3. Be prepared. Know your story. Imagine what they're looking for and how you should convey your possession of those qualities in those few minutes. The night before the interview, have someone "mock interview" you. Practice giving a chronology of your work experience (in 10 or 15 minutes). Answer the question you hope they don't ask. The role of the interviewer is ONLY to ask you those two things, and at its end to ask YOU how you felt you did. Most people don't know what interviewers are looking for and will give you bad advice. THE POINT OF THIS IS FOR YOU TO GET COMFORTABLE TELLING YOUR STORY. If they have SPHR behind their name (a professional HR designation) AND they've interviewed a zillion candidates, it might be okay to hear their counsel. Trust me, your mom won't know.

4. Be prepared. Set up a private interview space. You cannot be ON if children have access to you; if someone's playing Wi next to you; if "Dancing with the Stars" is competing for your attention. Stay away from your computer, too. It's a distraction (and I promise your distraction will be experienced by the interviewer, not in a good way). Go to your bedroom or basement. Have only things around you that make you feel great (you might have to make your bed). You are NOT to be disturbed unless aliens have landed and figured out your garage door code.

5. Be prepared. Your voice is your primary instrument here. Give it its best chance. A couple of hours before the interview, go for a run or brisk walk or workout, exercise that will get your heart pumping and lungs swelling. This energy will jump through the phone. Take a shower. Sing your favorite songs at the top of your lungs. You want to feel alive and fine. . .and to convey that.

6. Be prepared. Put on business casual clothes so you FEEL business-like. The subtle comes across 'way stronger than you might imagine.

7. Be prepared. Interview while standing, if you can. . .THAT energy also comes across. Or have a chair that requires you to sit up. Have eyes shut if it gets you more focused on the other. Pace, if that helps (but no stomping or heavy breathing!) Do whatever makes you feel THERE with the interviewer. When I do phone coaching with clients, I have to be seated at a desk with pen and paper at hand, and I take notes. They get my best attention that way. What works for you?

8. Be prepared. Respect the time given to you. You will NOT charm the interviewer if you go on and on. You could be cut off in the midst of your favorite story about yourself. Let the driver decide if s/he wants to stretch out the time.

9. Be prepared. At the end of the interview, ask what the next step is. Will they be contacting you? Should you check in with them? Thank the interviewer, by name, and express your appreciation for the opportunity.

10. Oh, and. . .be prepared. Your level of understanding and preparation will get you into that company's office faster than the next smart phone upgrade.

Good luck!

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