Survive the Screening: Mastering Telephone Interviews

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

The phone interview has become a popular screening tool for busy engineering managers. Within an hour, he or she can speak with several contractors, ask about their relevant skills and experience, and pare down the number of contenders for an upcoming project.

But phone interviews can be nerve-racking especially for novices, since you can’t make eye contact with the manager or temper your answers by observing their body language. Instead of blaming your jitters on Alexander Graham Bell, conquer your fears and score more jobs by following these tips.

Be on time

Treat a phone interview like an in-person interview. Be ready to go at least 10 minutes ahead of your scheduled time, so you have a chance to relax, review your notes and focus on the task at hand.

Select a quiet, private location

You may need to discuss compensation or personal information, so pick a quiet, secluded spot to take the call. Turn off email, call waiting or other distractions, and wear a reliable headset or hands-free device, so you don’t have to juggle the receiver to take notes. Use a landline instead of a cell phone whenever possible. If you’re taking the call from home, keep family members, quarreling kids and barking dogs at bay. Confirm who is calling and get their number just in case you’re disconnected.  Always test your equipment and charge your batteries well before your interview. Remember to answer professionally, even if you’re taking the call from home.

Do your homework and prepare

Your recruiter can help you prepare by filling you in on the manager’s hot buttons and interviewing style. Most phone interviews last about 15 to 20 minutes. Study the job description, scope of work and the firm’s website to anticipate the manager’s questions. Have those documents handy along with a copy of your resume. Also print a list of talking points, including details about your previous projects and key accomplishments. Assuming your goal is to pass the screening and get a full interview, come up with a few questions of your own which put you in a good light. Avoid questions that might put the interviewer on the defensive. Have ready a glass of water, a clock, pen and paper, and your calendar.

Speak clearly, enthusiastically but not too quickly

Although the purpose of the call is to discuss your experience, availability and salary, not to establish rapport, you don’t want to sound blasé or disinterested. That said, establishing some rapport will help you.  Smile or stand up to exude energy and enthusiasm. Avoid ‘ums and ahs’ because bad speech habits have a tendency to magnify when you’re speaking over the phone. Address the interviewer by name from time to time. Modulate your tone, pitch and the length of your answers by rehearsing with a buddy or recording a mock session. Finally, don’t interrupt the interviewer; wait until he or she is done before you respond. This is just good manners, and is especially critical if you’re speaking with several people over a conference line.

Express interest and follow-up

If the project sounds good, say so. Remember, the manager can’t see your facial expressions. At the end of the interview ask about the next steps and timeline. Obtain the contact information and titles for the interviewers, and send them each a thank-you note or email soon after the interview concludes. Send any follow-up information immediately, including references, project descriptions, links to your professional portfolio, blog and etc.

Other information of potential interest

How to Write a Winning Resume

How to Ace a Video Interview

Help PEAK find the right placement for you:  Submit or Update Your Resume


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