How to Prepare for a Phone Interview

The telephone continues to be a popular and powerful audio medium for conducting job screening interviews. Recruiters commonly use phone screening interviews to home in on your possible lack of qualifications for a position. They ask about your experience, skills, competencies, education, your inconvenient geography, and whether your financial requirement is too low or too high for the job’s predetermined compensation range.

Sometimes recruiters purposely try to catch you off guard, hoping surprise strips away the outer layers of your preparation, exposing genuine, unrehearsed thoughts and feelings. Recruiters also see unanticipated calls as useful for measuring your ability to think on your feet.

Because most people don’t prepare for screening phone interviews as rigorously as they prepare for face-to-face meetings, the casualty fallout is heavy. When the caller is trying to reduce the list to a few finalists, expect a future hang-up on your candidacy if the screening call doesn’t go well.

Keep your phone area well-stocked

Stash one phone in a quiet room stocked with all your interview essentials. Must-haves include:

  • Current resume

  • A list of professional accomplishments

  • Background information on the employer

  • Questions about the company and position

  • Outlines of brief stories that illustrate your qualifications, competencies, and problem-solving abilities

  • A calendar, with all scheduled commitments and open dates

  • A notepad, pen, and calculator

  • Water and tissues

Make phone appointments

Whenever possible, don’t answer questions on the fly when the call comes in. You won’t be prepared and you won’t do your best. Schedule an appointment for your phone interview. Say that you’re walking out the door to a meeting across town and will call back as quickly as you can:

Thank you for calling. I appreciate your attention. I’m very interested in speaking with you about my qualifications. Unfortunately, this is not a good time for me — I’m headed out the door. Can I call you back in an hour?

If a recruiter insists on calling you back rather than the other way around, do what you would do for any other interview: Be ready early as a reminder to interview as a professional. Change out of your jeans and into the type of outfit you’d wear in a business meeting. Most importantly, treat the call as an overture to an in-room meeting.

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