Phone interviews are often the first part of the job screening process. Here are some useful tips and things to keep in mind when on the phone with a potential employer:
- Phone interviews usually weed out candidates who don’t have specific skill sets.
- Be prepared to answer questions about your specific experience.
- Disconnect your call waiting.
- Smile: It improves the timbre of your voice.
- Beware of over familiarity when using their names — consider using Mr. or Ms.
- Slow down your speech and enunciate clearly. We tend to speak more quickly when we’re nervous, which is only amplified over the phone.
- If you’re expecting the call (i.e., it’s been scheduled for a specific time) make sure you’re prepared a few minutes early and that you’re in a quiet location (background noise is also amplified).
- If you’re called unexpectedly, take a moment to gather your thoughts by saying, “Thank you for calling, Mr. Jones. Would you wait just a moment while I close my door?” Take a few deep breaths, locate your file/resume/company research, and proceed. If it’s a really inconvenient time, say so immediately: “I’m afraid I’m headed out for an appointment. Can we schedule a time for me to call you back?”
- Allow the interviewer to guide the conversation, but be prepared to ask some thoughtful questions:
- What are the three major responsibilities in this job?
- What will be the first project(s) I tackle?
- Who succeeds in this job and why?
- What are the most important skills and behaviors that determine success in this position?
- When you learn more about what the company is looking for, you can follow-up with directed questions such as, “Would it be of value if I described my experience in the area of office management?” or “I recently completed a project just like that. Would it be relevant to discuss it?”
- Give subtle verbal clues to show you’re paying attention — “great,” “yes, yes,” “uh-huh,” “that’s interesting.”
- Try standing up for the interview. It can calm the adrenaline a bit, helps with breathing and sounding more confident.
- Most interviewers will wind-down the interview with a question such as, “What would you like to know about us?”
- If you don’t have any other specific questions regarding the job, ask about the next steps in the hiring process or, “What is the time frame for filling this position? How many other people are in consideration at this time?”
- Don’t ask about the schedule, work-from-home options, benefits or salary. These are not appropriate topics for a first interview.
The good news is that if you’ve made it to this stage, you’ve passed the first screening process. It also means that there will be slightly less emphasis on your qualifications and more on “fit.” Consider this breakdown of how hiring managers typically evaluate a candidate during an interview:
- Attitude: 40%
- Image/Appearance: 25%
- Communication (verbal/nonverbal): 25%
- Job Qualifications: 10%
Here are some surprising mistakes interview candidates often make:
- Not bringing copies of their resume to the interview. When asked about something on the resume, the candidate responded, “I don’t know what version you’re looking at. May I see your copy?”
- Going into too much detail. I expect more than a “yes” or “no” answer, but if you go on and on, I’ll begin to wonder if we’ll ever get any actual work done.
- Making unnecessary derogatory remarks about a former employer. We know there were issues; otherwise, why would you have left? Just limit your comments to those absolutely necessary to adequately communicate your rationale.
- Sharing that they had other offers on the table. This leaves me wondering why you’re interviewing with me if so many others are interested.
- Not asking any questions. An interview is a two-way street. At the very least, ask about the organizational culture, what others like about working at the organization, etc. Even though the interview isn’t about me, I’ll be flattered that you asked.
Preparing for the Interview
- Know the exact place and time of the interview, the interviewer’s full name, the correct pronunciation and his or her title.
- Learn pertinent facts about the company such as annual sales revenue, principal lines of business and locations.
- Find out why the hiring manager is interested in your qualifications.
- Determine how the opportunity will impact your immediate and long-term career development.
- Come up with questions to ask during the interview.
- Put your best foot forward. Always wear proper attire and greet your interviewer with a firm handshake and an enthusiastic smile.
During the Interview
During the interview process, employers pay much attention to finding a person who is a good fit for the existing environment and can also adapt to changing requirements. It is imperative that you be prepared with thoughtful answers that provide specific examples of your skills. The focus of your answers should be on giving facts — the specific stories that describe events from your previous work history — not opinions. Instead of describing what you might do in a situation, describe what you have actually done. Give real examples with plenty of details.
“So, why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
“So, why don’t you tell me about yourself?” is the most frequently asked interview question. It’s a question that most interviewees expect and the one they have the most difficulty answering. Though one could answer this open-ended question in a myriad of ways, the key to answering this question or any other interview question is to offer a response that supports your career objective and highlights your strengths, achievements, and qualifications for the position. This means that you shouldn’t respond with comments about your hobbies, spouse or extra-curricular activities.
- Provide a brief introduction. Introduce attributes that are key to the open position.
Sample introduction: Now that I’ve graduated, I’m looking forward to applying both my theoretical knowledge as well as my strong hands-on technical skills.
- Provide a career summary of your most recent work history. Your career summary is the “meat” of your response, so it must support your job objective and it must be compelling. Keep your response limited to your current experience. Don’t go back more than 10 years.
Sample career summary: Most recently, I did an internship at Columbia Water Council. While there, I was challenged with helping to integrate a new IT system –– both hardware and software. Before that, I worked as an independent computer consultant doing trouble-shooting and small-scale networking for small companies. I’ve developed an expertise in being able to explain highly technical information in straightforward terms, as well as providing excellent customer service under stressful situations. I’m proud of the 3.7 GPA I maintained while working part time.
- Tie your response to the needs of the hiring organization. Don’t assume that the interviewer will be able to connect all the dots. It is your job as the interviewee to make sure the interviewer understands how your experiences are transferable to the current position they are seeking to fill.
Sample tie-in: Because of my dedication to learning new skills and taking on new challenges, I’m excited about this opportunity at ABC Company because of the IT challenges you’re facing with the acquisition of Precision Manufacturing.
Negative Factors Evaluated by an Interviewer
- Personal appearance that is less than professional
- Overbearing, overaggressive or egotistical behavior
- No positive purpose
- Lack of interest and enthusiasm — passive and indifferent
- Lack of confidence and poise; nervousness
- Overemphasis on compensation
- Evasiveness; making excuses for unfavorable factors in work history
- Lack of tact, maturity and courtesy
- Condemnation of past employers, managers, projects or technologies
- Inability to maintain a conversation
- Lack of commitment to fill the position at hand
- Failure to ask questions about the position
- Persistent attitude of “What can you do for me?”
- Lack of preparation for interview — failure to get information about the company, resulting in inability to ask intelligent questions
Questions to Ask During an Interview
Here are some of my favorite questions that have come out of my years of coaching professionals through the interview process:
In your experience, what do you feel makes someone successful in this position?
Especially if you’ve found out that the last person in the position only lasted a short time or was promoted — this will tell you a lot about management styles and the organization’s culture.
Describe your management style.
Ask your potential colleagues to describe the management style of your new boss too.
What kinds of people seem to succeed at this company/in this department?
Like working with driven, ambitious people or do you prefer a more relaxed and supportive environment? Look for clues here.
What do you like best about working here?
Great tool to compare/contrast their answers and your experience to determine what rings true for you. Don’t buy the hype — ask follow-up questions too.
What changes do you anticipate in the next year or so (due to a merger, changes in the industry, significant management shifts, etc.)?
Be on the lookout for opportunities and red flags. “Know thyself” too — if you’re not one who enjoys change, you might not want to work for a company that’s undergoing significant reorganization.
What would you like to be able to say about this position one year from now?
This might reveal their true expectations — good and bad.
What are the top five challenges/opportunities you see this position facing during the first year?
How does their answer fit with what else they’ve shared? Do you get the sense that there might be unrealistic expectations? Or, if it’s a new position, is it being created to solve a particular problem? Ask follow-up questions here.
What is the typical career path of this position? In other words, where do people go when they move on/leave?
Look for clues as to opportunities for advancement, or if this would be an opportunity to gain experience to meet a long-term career goal.
How will the hiring decision be made?
Don’t be afraid to ask! This should help you gauge the timeline as well as a glimpse into the process they use to make decisions —whether by consensus or by committee.
Above all, listen carefully to the answers. Jot down key words or phrases. Ask follow-up questions that flow and make sense.
Closing the Interview
- If you are interested in the position, let the interviewer know. If you feel the position is attractive and you want it, be a good salesperson and say something like, “I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen here today –– your company, its products and the people I’ve met. I am confident I could do an excellent job in the position you’ve described to me.” The interviewer will be impressed with your enthusiasm.
- Don’t be too discouraged if no immediate commitment is made. The interviewer will probably want to communicate with other people in the company or possibly interview more candidates before making a decision.
- If you get the impression that the interview is not going well and that you have already been rejected, don’t let your discouragement show. Once in a while an interviewer who is genuinely interested in you may seem to discourage you as a way of testing your reaction.
- Thank the interviewer for his or her time and consideration. If you have answered the two questions —“Why are you interested in this position?” and “What can you offer?” — you have done all you can.
- Negotiation happens once the job is offered and prior to acceptance of the job.
- Do not accept an offer without discussing the salary and benefits. Be sure to discuss the full compensation package.
- Whenever possible, let the interviewer bring up the topic of salary and benefits.
- If the interviewer doesn’t bring up the subject of salary, you must.
- Aim for a salary that equals the peak of your qualifications. Remember, the higher you start, the higher the offer is likely to be.
- If the interviewer brings up the salary subject too early in the interview, delay discussion of the topic until you’ve described your qualifications.
- While discussing salary, always return to your assets.
- Do your homework. Once you state your salary range, do not back down.
- Do not discuss other sources of income or complain about your expenses.
- Ask about the frequency of salary reviews and what criteria are used to determine compensation increase.
- Approach the negotiations for a win-win solution, keeping the employer’s needs as well as your own in mind.
What can be negotiated? Here are just a few things candidates can negotiate:
- Start date
- Salary, of course
- Profit-sharing plans
- Vacation or other time off
- Professional memberships
- Expense accounts
- Education reimbursement
- Cost-of-living adjustments
- Health insurance
- Non-compete agreements
- Relocation expenses
- Performance review timing (if tied to additional compensation)
- Flexible working arrangements, including telecommuting
Salary Negotiation Scripts
Interviewer: “What is your salary requirement?”
If too early in the interview (i.e., you haven’t adequately covered your qualifications), delay your response.
Applicant: “Actually, the position itself is more important to me than the salary. Could we discuss the position a little more?
If you believe you’ve described your qualifications adequately, showing how your abilities match the needs of the position, you can say:
Applicant: “What figure or range is the company offering for this position, and what benefits are included in the full compensation package?”
Interviewer: “The figure depends of the skills, education and experience of the candidate.”
Applicant: (Emphasize your qualifications first.) “As we’ve discussed, I have the educational background required for this position and the specific skills outlined in the job description as well as the personal traits preferred. In addition, my three years of part-time work and my internship in this field have given me relevant experience important for performing well in this position.”
Interviewer: “So what figure are you looking for?”
Applicant: (Demonstrate your research and state your salary requirement in a range.) “The national average for a person with my experience, education, and training is $___. Considering the cost-of-living factors here, I would expect a salary in the upper $___.”
Interviewer: “Based on your qualifications and experience, I can offer you $___.”
If the figure is acceptable to you, you can say:
Applicant: “That’s fine. I would be happy to be a part of your organization and am looking forward to working with you.”
If the figure is close, but you want to know more about the salary growth potential, use this option. Keep the employer’s needs in mind, as well as your own, and strive for a win-win solution.
Applicant: “I was hoping for a little higher salary. I understand you are looking out for the best interest of the company, but I believe my accumulated education and experience place me in a higher salary range.”