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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 24, 2018

How To Crush Your Phone Interview.

Julie Q. Brush

An interview…is an interview…is an interview. Right? Wrong. While all interviews are important – and should be treated as such, they each have their own fingerprints that require a unique approach. The Phone Interview is the first mile marker in The Job Interview Marathon. It’s a special situation because it’s not face-to-face and relies more heavily on the imagination.  This creates a different dynamic with a different set of rules and expectations. No need to worry about eye contact, a firm handshake or your smile…at this point. But you do need to be on your game in other ways. So, what should you expect?

HR conducts most phone interviews, but sometimes it’s the hiring manager who will take the lead on the initial screen. HR tends to work through a checklist (literally or figuratively) to evaluate your legal background, conversation ability and culture fit. An interview with the hiring manager will differ. This is his/her hire and the person with whom s/he will be working closely. So the level of scrutiny may be a bit more intense. Your substantive skill set will be assessed using the hiring manager’s priorities and visions for the role. Hypotheticals are possible. And your phone manner will be carefully scrutinized for your ability to effectively communicate with internal/external clients. “Likeability” will also be a healthy factor for a hiring manager at this early stage.

The Phone Interview lasts between 30-45 minutes and tends to be shorter than in person interviews – giving you less time to dazzle. So you need to be clear and succinct in your communication – and use the time wisely to establish a good connection with your telephone counterpart. In order to increase your chance of success, it’s critical to be prepared and organized. Below are a few suggestions to help:

  • If possible, don’t schedule your interview right before lunch or quittin’ time. Instead, select another time when you are at your best (i.e. morning person=morning call). Studies indicate that candidates fair more poorly when interviewers are hungry or want to go home. If you have no choice and are stuck in a suboptimal time slot, make it a point to be extra clear and succinct in your communications.
  • Block out an additional 45 minutes after your call is scheduled to end…just in case. Phone interviews can run long just like in person meetings. So build in a time cushion to mitigate distractions that may arise from the need to attend to your next commitment.
  • Take your call from a quiet place that is void of background noise where you will not be disturbed. Obvious? Yes. But you’d be surprised by the locations people choose to conduct professional calls (“Iced grande nonfat latte for Julie is up!”).
  • Use a landline if possible. Nothing is more annoying than being on the other end of static, intermittent connection or dropped calls. If your cell is a must, use a location where good reception is guaranteed.
  • Review the job description and articulate how your experience aligns – specifically. Be prepared to discuss why you are seeking a new role and interested in this opportunity. Research the employer and your interviewer. Prepare thoughtful questions and know your compensation expectation response if asked. Have your materials in front of you for easy access and recall.
  • Cultivate a good phone manner. It’s a must. Use a strong voice, project confidence and exude enthusiasm. Listen carefully…and don’t interrupt. Good phone manner is also about conversational give and take. So read the verbal cues and use your judgment when it comes to taking the floor.
  • Don’t ask about money or title (unless they raise it). This is not the appropriate time to cover these topics.
  • Take notes.
Doing so will make you more focused, a more active listener and it will trigger more thoughtful questions. Plus, the information you memorialize will be a valuable resource for your next round of in person interviews.
  • Don’t be afraid to be funny. 
When people are nervous; they can be stiff and act in ways that are different than their natural selves. There’s nothing better than a little humor to break the ice and get things started on the right foot. So go ahead and be funny!
  • If your interviewer is awkward, it’s ok to be proactive with information about your background and questions for the interviewer.
  • Don’t feel compelled to talk during pauses. Most every conversation has its pauses, which are entirely natural. When this occurs, it can be tempting to fill the space with chatter in order to avoid awkwardness. But it often has a more negative effect. So if you encounter The Pause, take a deep breath and let the moment pass – and the interview will engage and more forward.
  • At the end of the call, express thanks and appreciation for the interviewer’s time – and reiterate your interest. It’s also fine to ask about the process going forward, but do so tactfully.
  • Send a brief thank you via email within 1-2 days of your conversation. Always.

While The Phone Interview may seem like an easy exercise, it’s faaaaaar from it. Time is precious and employers have high expectations from your conversation. So prepare diligently and don’t take your chat for granted if you want to move your candidacy forward…and really give them something to talk about.

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