How Can I Get Past The Initial Phone Interview?
You have read great articles on this site by my esteemed colleagues on how to write an impressive resume full of measurable accomplishments and industry-specific keywords. You have put these tactics in motion and even landed a few phone interviews. Congratulations! But sometimes that’s where the train stops and it’s frustrating, isn’t it? Why can’t you get an in-person interview?
Studies show about 10% of applicants are called upon for initial phone screenings. Of those 10% between 20-50% are passed along to the hiring manager for in-person interviews. Let’s put that into numbers. For every 100 applicants, on average about 10 will be selected to be interviewed by phone. Of those 10, between 2-5 candidates will be asked to interview in person. It sounds a bit hopeless, doesn’t it? It’s not, if you put these simple tips in place.
1. Do your homework – Research!
If you want the best chance for moving forward in the interview process (besides having the right skills and experience) do your homework before the interview.
- Who is the interviewer? Who is the leadership team? Research your interviewer and company leaders to better understand their backgrounds and what is important to them.
- What is the job? If you have applied for many jobs and you are not sure which one you are being asked to interview for, ask the person calling you. It’s better to risk a little embarrassment with the caller than with the hiring manager.
CAUTION: Some career services companies use job boards as lead generation tools to solicit their fee-based services to unsuspecting job seekers. Don’t be afraid to ask.
- What is the company culture like? Are you sure it is a company you would like to join? Use sites like Glassdoor.com and company social media sites to learn about company culture.
2. Establish yourself as a thought leader
Have topics and questions ready to discuss and impress during the interview. Research and take notes on the following:
- What are the current industry trends?
- What opportunities/challenges is the company, department, division, etc. facing?
- Who are the company competitors?
3. So, tell me about yourself
Have a succinct 60—120 second answer (commonly called, elevator speech) ready when your interviewer asks you this question. This is not an opportunity to tell your interviewer about where you were born or what your hobbies are. This is your chance to grab their attention. What makes you stand out professionally? What are your strengths/skills as they relate to the job? How many years of relevant experience do you have? What are you known for professionally? How do you do things differently from your competitors? Write it down, review it, edit it, and practice it. This exercise will also help you engage in meaningful and purposeful networking encounters.
4. Memorize your resume
It is surprising to hear how many recruiters and hiring managers complain that candidates can’t explain something written in their own resumes. Go through everything on your resume and prepare an accomplishment-filled story, example, or explanation for each of your experiences and responsibilities, especially as they relate to the job description for which you are applying. Make sure this information is written down on your cheat sheet (no. 5) and ready to not only communicate it to the interviewer on the phone, but also reiterate it in your follow up email.
5. Prepare a cheat sheet file
Your cheat sheet file should include resume, accomplishment stories, elevator speech, questions, and research each clearly marked to retrieve the needed information quickly. Have intelligent, thoughtful questions ready to ask the interviewer about the job, company, challenges, or opportunities. Do not ask about company benefits, hours, vacation, etc. in the phone screening. There will be plenty of time to ask these questions when you are offered the job. Use your research to develop a cheat sheet and use what little time you have during the phone interview to impress the caller with your thought leadership.
6. Know your voice
Do you know how you sound on the phone when talking business? Are you all business? Monotone? Too quiet? Mumble? Laugh too much? Record and review yourself answering common interview questions to improve your tone. The majority of communication comes from nonverbal cues which puts you at a disadvantage when interviewing by phone. However, you can improve your verbal communication style by listening to yourself answer questions. Many smart phones and home phones today have built in recording capability or you can download an app. Some phones even allow you to transfer the recordings to your computer.
You should have an upbeat, positive tone of voice which reflects your enthusiasm for the position. You should also sound knowledgeable about the position and the hiring company, using the industry-specific terminology found in the job posting and by the interviewer. Never say anything negative about your current or former employer.
7. Schedule the phone screening on your own time
If you are currently employed and conducting a confidential job search, ask for the interview to be scheduled before or after work. You can also ask to interview during lunch if you normally go off—site for lunch. Do not conduct a phone interview at your current job. You will show your professionalism and character if you ask to talk outside of normal work hours. It is best to show that while you are interested in learning more about the position, you have a job to do and it has top priority. You will gain much more respect if you are honest and upfront about this request.
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