Phone Interview Tips
Companies often use phone interviews as the first step in the hiring process. An interviewer’s goal is to determine whether the candidate possesses the technical skills for the position, can speak to the desired qualifications and accomplishments, and is truly interested in the opportunity. The candidate’s goal is to gather information about the role, company, and hiring manger while also trying to make it to the next step. The phone interview will be the first impression made. Ensure a positive impression by following these phone interview tips:
1. Conduct Thorough Research.
Most job seekers know that researching the company is a must. However, stand-out candidates do a deep dive into the granular details of the company, position, people, corporate objectives, team goals, and desired attributes.
Companies generally hire when they are launching a new initiative, an employee leaves or is promoted, or to fill a skills gap. They have a set of tasks and goals in mind for the new employee.
Attempt to answer the following questions when conducting company research:
- When is the interview?
- How long will it last?
- Who will conduct the interview?
- What is their background?
- What type of candidate will impress?
- What are the basic facts: history, size, locations, divisions, etc.?
- What products or services do they offer?
- Who are their competitors?
- What is their industry reputation?
- Who are their clients?
- What are the job requirements?
- Why is this position open?
- What are desired milestones and accomplishments for the role?
- What are the challenges in the role?
2. Anticipate the Interviewer’s Questions.
An experienced interviewer will cover a range of topics specific to industry knowledge, technical skills, company familiarity, and skills related to the job content. The job description is the best indication of questions that will be asked; Blue Signal can also provide insight on the hiring manager’s personality, interviewing style, and potential questions.
Interviewers across various industries also pull from a pool of common questions to gauge a candidate’s interview preparation. Candidates should rehearse answers to these frequently-asked questions.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Often the interviewer is as nervous as the candidate, and will ask this neutral, open-ended question to get things going. The best answer is substantial, brief, and provides a few key details about how the candidate’s past experience has led to this opportunity. In general, give a 90-second overview of the past 10 years, mentioning experience and skills that are relevant to the position.
“What experience do you have that relates to—?”
The answer should focus on the identification, prevention, or solution to problems within the candidate’s area of expertise as they relate to this position. Demonstrate prior success to hiring managers using stories that give specific examples of the experience in question. See additional tips in the next section.
“What are your strengths?”
Target the top skill requirements of the position. Consider soft skills (e.g. preventative problem-solving) and describe solutions with examples that are specific to the role.
“What are your weaknesses?”
There is no need to give a hiring manager additional obstacles or apprehension. Avoid the cliché of camouflaging a strength to look like a weakness (e.g. “I work too hard”). This approach is transparent and disingenuous. Instead, discuss a true weakness with a progress plan already in place to correct it. For instance, a candidate whose technical knowledge is out of date may indicate that he is taking a training course to learn the newest industry software. A candidate with shaky presentation skills may describe how she availed herself of public speaking seminars and now successfully presents at the company’s monthly cross-departmental meetings.
“What do you know about our organization?”
Regardless of the job, clients are looking to hire self-starting, motivated, professionals. Before interviewing, candidates should know:
- The company name
- Who owns the company, and their status (public or private)
- Their size in terms of revenue and number of employees
- Their products and services
- Their competitors
“Why are you looking for a new opportunity?”
Be honest, stay positive, and focus on the new opportunity and challenge. Avoid speaking negatively about colleagues or employers, no matter how bad the situation is. Be brief, and do not go into unnecessary detail. If possible, discuss unsatisfactory job elements that are impossible to change, such as commuting distance, company size, industry focus, etc.
“If we hire you, where do you see yourself in five years?”
“I’m looking to grow with a company,” is a safe answer. Direct answers, e.g. “I hope my performance will result in at least one promotion by that time,” convey enthusiasm and ambition. Avoid describing unrealistic advancements (“I hope to be CFO in five years”), which appears overreaching.
“What can you bring to our team?”
Before answering, be absolutely certain of what the company actually needs and what it currently has. Candidates may describe their strengths in glowing terms, but if it does not match with the hiring manager’s perception of the company’s needs, the candidate will not secure an offer.
Understanding the company’s true needs is an interpretative art that depends upon carefully reading the job description, listening to the recruiter, and accurately listening to the interviewer. If the company’s most-desired requirements are unclear, answer with a corollary to show good listening skills. Examples are below:
- “Your job description indicates you are seeking someone with strong technical skills who can also lead a team. I can deliver this to your team based on my experience as the lead developer in my current role, where my responsibilities include…”
- “You mentioned earlier in the interview that the company values strong problem-solving skills. At my current role, I have taken the lead on many complex problems that have arisen during the product development project, such as…”
Stay positive, and focus whenever possible on measurable results, increases in sales, and performance. Connect past experience with the ability to solve the company’s problems today.
3. Prepare Strong Answers: the STAR Method.
Evidence defeats doubt. Each question is an opportunity to remove objections in the interviewer’s mind. Stories are an effective way to answer a question; they are enjoyable to hear, make facts easier to remember, and tend not to get interrupted. Using the job description as a guide, build six or more “glory stories”—success stories demonstrating job-related skills in action—to ensure a structured, thoughtful response to a variety of questions.
Use the STAR method to structure answers:
S – Situation or problem: set the scene
T – Task or Target: give specifics of what was required, who was involved, when, where, etc.
A – Action: explain steps taken, skills used, behaviors, characteristics
R – Result: frame the outcome positively, even if it did not according to plan
A STAR story should take about 2 minutes to tell. Deliver each story with energy and enthusiasm about a real experience. It does not have to be a work experience, as long as it describes a skill or behavior relevant to the job. This method addresses tough work-related questions in an organized, detailed, and compelling manner. Listeners will remember more detail surrounding the answer and the message within it, because the response is structured logically in a style that is easy to follow and understand.
Further guidelines to answering questions:
- Avoid negative answers!
- Keep answers targeted and specific; include relevant facts and figures, and ensure all information aligns with the resume.
- Use examples to answer questions. This conveys an ability to identify and analyze a problem, weigh options, and implement a solution. Hiring managers look for these skills.
- As the interview winds down, give even higher thought to answers and word choice. These answers (and the candidate’s delivery of them) will resonate longest.
4. Ask Good Questions.
“Do you have any questions?”
Interviewers generally leave time at the end of the interview for the candidate to ask questions. This is an essential opportunity for candidates to differentiate themselves to the interviewer. Target the conversation to demonstrate research and to highlight relevant skills that have not yet come up in the conversation. Be sure to show strong interest in the company with every question.
Bring 12 or more prepared questions to the interview—although there will not be time to ask all of them, many will be answered during the course of the conversation, and it is important not to run out.
A candidate’s questions say a lot about them—listening skills, research, consideration of the opportunity, and more. In a phone interview, avoid self-centered questions regarding money or perks, such as, “Where will I park?”, “How much vacation do we get?”, and “Will I have an expense account?” Concentrate on questions about how the company is growing and how to grow with it.
Ask for opinions, not absolutes. It will get better answers and build rapport faster. For example:
WEAK: “What are A&E’s strengths?”
STRONG: “In your opinion, what is great about working at A&E?”
WEAK: “What is A&E’s competition?”
STRONG: “Who do you feel are A&E’s biggest competitors?”
Questions exhibiting strong research will demonstrate intelligence, competence, and preparation. Most importantly, they show enthusiasm.
GOOD: “In your opinion, what is great about working at A&E?”
BETTER: “I saw A&E was recognized as one of the New York area’s best places to work. In your opinion, what is great about working at A&E?
GOOD: “Who are A&E’s local competitors?”
BETTER: “ABC Corp looks like a major A&E competitor in the Northeast region. In your opinion, are they? Why so?”
5. Practice Good Communication.
A bad phone connection can quickly kill an interview. Candidates can only control their own phone line, so make plans to ensure a problem-free connection. Additionally, access to e-mail and the internet often comes in useful during an interview.
Before the call:
- Find a private area without background noise or interruptions.
- Use a land line if possible.
- Leave extra time in case the interview runs long.
- Keep a copy of the resume, questions, info, and a notepad close at hand.
- Try to have access to the internet, just in case.
- Conduct the interview in a place where it is possible to stand up and walk
- Have a mirror to gauge facial expression and posture while on the phone.
- Use a headset, if possible.
A candidate’s voice is arguably the most important element of preparation. The hiring manager’s first impression depends on the voice they hear when the interview starts. So warm up! Sing a few bars, say the Pledge of Allegiance, or read a page from a book. The quality, tone, and speed of speech all convey personality. Enthusiasm and interest are two of the greatest strengths a candidate can convey when talking on the phone.
In a first interview, strive to do more listening than speaking. Focus on what the interviewer is saying; be sure to fully understand questions or statements to avoid saying something inappropriate. Listening is as much a part of communication as talking. Do not interrupt or cut off an interviewer; allow them to complete questions fully before giving an answer.
- Talk directly into the phone.
- Relax and speak naturally.
- It comes across even over the phone.
- Sound cheerful; enthusiasm is contagious.
- Standing or moving often helps convey a relaxed and conversational tone.
6. Establish Rapport with the Interviewer.
Time is short and the interview purpose is business, not pleasure; therefore, avoid irrelevant topics. Research the interviewer’s background, such as work history, alma mater, and industry specialties, as this provides important data on potential common ground and what is likely to impress. Mentioning a common interest or experience can establish a quick connection.
As the interview progresses, actively listen to identify the interviewer’s personality—are they dry and to the point? Does the interviewer have a sense of humor? Do they speak quickly or slowly? Do they speak straightforwardly with simple language, or use complex sentence structure and vocabulary? Make an effort to align each response and its accompanying pace, tone, and volume with the interviewer’s style for a smoother conversation.
7. Avoid Discussing Money.
Money should not come up in a first interview, especially not over the phone. While money is a key factor in accepting a job, career experts agree that discussing salary during a phone interview is premature. The brevity of a phone conversation makes it difficult to gauge a fair salary for the position, and discussing compensation at this early stage usually puts the candidate in a weaker negotiating position.
If the interviewer brings it up, emphasize the opportunity for a career move, not merely a job change. If the interviewer presses the issue, a candidate may volunteer their current salary, provide their target salary range, or simply ask, “What is the salary range for the position?” If the interviewer names a number, the candidate may indicate if their salary falls within their target range. If not, continue the interview and discuss the issue after the call with Blue Signal, who can conduct negotiations.
8. Close in on the goal.
The goal in a phone interview is to advance to the next step. The next step could be and on-site interview, a Skype interview, a second phone interview with a different hiring authority, or even a request for references. Keep this goal in mind.
Other goals include:
- Answer questions well
- Learn from the stories and information that the interviewer shares
- Gauge personal interest in the position
- Establish rapport with the interviewer
- Enjoy the interview
At the conclusion of the phone call, the hiring manager may invite the candidate verbally to the next step which might include a face-to-face meeting. It pays to come prepared with several possible dates for this purpose. If the interviewer does not offer a follow-up meeting, consider asking about next steps.
If the interview has gone well, and the candidate intends to pursue the role, it is a good strategy to directly ask the interviewer, “In your opinion, am I qualified for this role?” This triggers an opportunity to review weak points and answers that need further clarification to persuade the interviewer. Answer the concerns as fully as possible with proof of the skills required to be successful in the position. If the interviewer brings up objections that are difficult to answer without some reflection, say, “I would love to discuss that with you at our next meeting,” or address the concern in the thank-you note.
9. Call Blue Signal.
It is important to call Blue Signal as soon as the interview ends. Most hiring managers follow up with their recruiter within an hour to ask them for their opinion on moving forward. It is important that they know how the interview went from the candidate’s perspective, so that they can manage this conversation effectively.
Completing an interview is a high-adrenaline moment, and Blue Signal recruiters are specifically trained to talk to people at this moment. Hearing the candidate’s raw emotion will help both the recruiter and the candidate themselves determine if this is a good fit.
10. Send a Thank-You Note.
Candidates who fail to send a thank-you note miss a big opportunity. Few companies today rely on just one person make a hiring decision—usually a team of people will decide on a candidate’s fit. Therefore, when the interviewer discusses a candidate with their team, it pays to arm them with extra evidence that the fit will be a good one.
Within 24 hours of the interview, e-mail a thank-you note—a brief letter detailing a few experiences that align with the role. Emphasize success in the areas of need that arose during the discussion. Provide any follow-up information requested by the interviewer, such as references or portfolio samples. Ensure all grammar and spelling is correct. Double-check the spelling of the interviewer’s name and title in the follow up thank-you note.
Performing well in a phone interview depends primarily on good preparation. Interviewers can tell when a candidate has invested extra time into their research and personal presentation. Take time to address each aspect of the interview to improve the odds of success. Good luck!