Good call: How to prepare for a phone interview

Joyce E.A. Russell
The Washington Post

In today’s job market, applicants can expect to undergo numerous interviews for jobs. While savvy applicants often spend hours practicing their face-to-face interview skills, many pay less attention to their phone skills, despite the fact that many interviews start with a call.

Here are some tips for pulling off a successful phone screen or interview.

Before the call

Prepare for a phone conversation just as you would for a face-to-face meeting. Have your notes available for questions you want to ask as well as key points about yourself that you want to make. Keep a pen and paper handy to take notes.

What not to do

Don’t engage in conversations when you are driving. For a job interview, you need to be able to focus and concentrate. Plus, background noise does not sound professional.

Don’t use slang language and avoid saying “huh?” “yeah,” “um,” and “uh.”

Don’t eat, drink or chew gum while you are on the phone.

Clean up your voicemail greeting. Listen for how it might sound to a prospective employer. Get rid of cutesy phrases, strange songs, etc. Have someone call you and report how professional your voicemail sounds.

Practice how you sound on the phone. Record yourself and listen, or have someone else listen and provide feedback.

Make sure your phone is high quality and is not going to fail during the call.

Get dressed up for the call so that you will project a more confident image. You might even want to stand during the interview to feel more confident.

Make sure you have time to talk. If you don’t, allow the employer to leave a message and then call back when you are in a quiet place and can talk, preferably later that day.

During the call

Treat a phone conversation like you would a face-to-face meeting. Start with a positive and pleasant strong voice.

If you are the caller, show courtesy by asking if the time is convenient. Make sure the person you’re calling is prepared for your conversation. You might ask, “Do you have my materials, or do you need me to email you any additional information before we get started?”

If the employer’s gatekeeper answers your call, be nice to this person. Often, people in this position are in charge of screening employers’ calls. Learn and use their names, show respect and be personable yet professional.

Take your time when speaking. Be polite, and err on the side of being more formal when addressing the interviewer, using Mr. or Ms. and the last name. If people want you to use their first name, they will tell you.

Get the caller’s contact information. This is important because you’ll want to follow up later or send a thank-you message.

End the conversation with a wrap-up as if you were there in person. Make a personal comment (e.g., “Good luck in your charity golf tournament”) and end on a personal, positive or forward-looking note. Make sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time and insights.

If you have to leave a message, make it clear, concise and short. Leave times when you can be reached; provide your phone number and repeat it.

Send a thank-you note to employers you talk with as well as any gatekeepers who greatly assisted you. Remember, phone interviews are critical for determining whether you will advance to the next stage in the interview process or whether you get the job. Treat them as professionally as you would a face-to-face meeting for best results.