Monday, February 24, 2014

The Ins-and-Outs of Telephone Interviews

Telephone interviews pose certain challenges for a candidate, but due to today’s busy schedules, long commutes, and the desire for expediency, they are definitely a fixture in the current hiring process.  So how can you prepare for one?  And what steps can you take to come across as a great candidate over the phone?

Take it seriously.

A phone interview is often your chance to make a great first impression.  Even though it’s a just a stepping-stone, it can lead to serious discussions about a job opportunity, so make sure that you take it seriously.  Find a quiet place (with good reception) so that you can hear the questions clearly and the hiring manager can hear your answers.  Make sure your phone is fully charged and you have left plenty of time for the conversation.  If things are going well you don’t want to have to cut the interview short due to a low battery or a scheduling conflict.  And don’t ever interview while driving!  You will be distracted and it will show.

Be Prepared.

Make yourself a “cheat sheet” with bullet points that you can refer to during the interview.  This will help you to stay on track with your talking points and not go off on a tangent.

Think of common questions that are asked and prepare a clear, concise answer for each of them.  Several common questions are:
-What are you looking for in a new job?
-Why are you interested in opportunities with our company?
-Why are you looking for a change?
-What was your favorite project over the past few years?

Take the time to actually rehearse your responses to common questions, as well as any others you think may come up during your phone interview.  This will help you have a more fluid response, especially in the case of a language barrier.

It’s also a good idea to be prepared for some specific and technical questions that may arise, even during the first phone interview for a high-tech position.  For example, you may be asked for your ideas on how you would debug a certain problem (like a slow performing system), design objects to model the functionality of an application, or set a certain testing environment.   Preparing your response to this type of question will help keep you relaxed and on-point during the interview.

Be Clear & Concise.

The most challenging thing about a telephone interview is the lack of visual cues and body language.  Without those, it’s hard to know if the person on the other end is engaged, wanting you to continue with what you are saying, or trying to end this part of the conversation and move on.  Your goal is to have a dialogue with the person on the other end – not a monologue!  So keep your answers short (limit yourself to one minute at most) and listen for a response.  If more detail is needed, a follow-up question should be asked.

Often in today’s high-tech world, there is also a language barrier to overcome.  This is especially difficult over the phone.  Take the time to make sure that you are using the correct terms in your conversation.  We have had one client mistakenly use the word “project” for “product” and it created a good deal of confusion with the hiring manager. 

Play it Safe.

This is probably your first opportunity to get your “foot in the door” and get invited to visit this company for an in-person interview.  Play it safe and don’t come across as negative.  Do your research on the target company and make certain your answers don’t conflict with its culture.   Be careful not to come across the wrong way.

Make sure that you only speak about the positive aspect of things; you don’t want to seem like a negative person.  So if you are asked, “What do you dislike the most about your current position?” you can mention that you like your current company but are exploring this new one because it offers new challenges (and be specific here) that align with your interests.

Some last thoughts:

While a telephone interview isn’t the ideal way for you to express your desire to meet the team, it’s a common feature in today’s hiring world.  Do you best to be prep for it and view it as an opportunity to make that great first impression.  Your energy, knowledge, and enthusiasm can absolutely come through over the phone, so make sure that you start the conversation in the right frame of mind and with a positive attitude!

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