Whether you are an employer looking for a new hire or a future employee trying to find that perfect job, you likely recognize that interviewing is an inevitable part of the process.
What you may not realize, though, is that phone interviewing is still a practiced and valuable step in establishing employment. Some businesses do prefer to interview all of their candidates in person; however, many use the phone interview as a way to gain a first impression of a potential employee and narrow down their pool of resumes.
Sometimes, an employer will choose to conduct an informal phone interview before asking a candidate to come for an in-person meeting. These calls are typically unexpected on the employee’s end and have the potential of catching the possible new hire at a bad time.
If you receive a call like this as an applicant, keep in mind that this is your first true impression. Your resume paved the way, but nothing replaces the first time a potential employer hears your voice. When you know that you’ve applied for a job, it is best to answer any new number in a professional manner. “Hey,” or “What’s up” are probably not the first words you’d like a future boss to hear.
Express your appreciation for the call, but if it is truly a bad time - you have a screaming child in the background, for example - it is appropriate to politely ask for a scheduled time when you can devote your attention solely to speaking with your interviewer. If they cannot reschedule, do your best to answer each question as adequately as possible and be honest about any distractions you may have at that time.
As a hiring manager, be aware of the possibility of not having a fully attentive candidate on the other end of the phone if you choose to conduct a phone interview in this way. Try to be understanding if your candidate needs to reschedule, but at the same time, use this opportunity to gauge the applicant’s ability to handle an unexpected, important event. Take note of the tone, professionalism, and manners of the possible new hire, and use that information to decide about a second, officially scheduled interview.
Alternatively, a formal phone interview is typically scheduled in the same manner as an in-person interview and should be handled with the same planning and professionalism from both parties as would be expected face-to-face. Below are some tips for both employers and future employees to keep in mind when participating in a scheduled phone interview.
1. Know your end goal
Are you trying to narrow a large pool down to five or less candidates to bring into your office? If so, you will want to make sure you have enough structured questions to gather the amount of information you will need to make that decision. As with any interview, natural flow of the conversation will help you determine which questions to ask ask.
Are you planning to interview in-person all candidates who make a good impression in their phone interview? If so, specific structure within the meeting is not as important. It is still helpful to have some key questions prepared that you know you’d like answered, but overall, you can approach this meeting as you would a natural conversation. You will still be able to get a feel for the potential employee’s phone presence and professionalism, while leaving the deeper questioning for your in-office time.
2. Conduct yourself in the same manner as you would in-person
Call your candidate on time. Speak articulately and professionally. Be able to describe the job you are hiring for and relay the responsibilities of the position. Be present in the conversation and make sure you don’t have any distractions.
A phone interview can be an extremely useful tool when hiring. You should approach it with the same dedication that you would give to a face-to-face encounter. This means making sure that you aren’t dealing with other tasks within the practice. Pretend that you are sitting in a room with the applicant who can see whether or not you are attentive and engaged in your meeting.
3. Give the applicant closure
When you complete the phone call, it is best to give the candidate some indication as to how the interview went. If you know you will not be pursuing them further, politely express that you appreciate their time, but that you don’t feel that they are the right fit for the position. If you know for sure you’d like an in-office interview, go ahead and set up that encounter before you hang up.
It is okay to be unsure after your phone interview. Maybe the candidate had some wonderfully positive attributes mixed with some blunders within the conversation. Or possibly you have other potential hires to call before you make any decisions. That is completely within professional reason, but you should remember to still give the interviewee some sort of guidance.
It is appropriate to tell your candidate that you appreciate their time, decisions will be made soon, and those with whom the company would like to move forward will be contacted.
By wrapping up your interview with one of these three scenarios, the employee will have an idea of what to expect next. While not mandatory, it is an appreciated gesture that will garner respect for your professional manner.
4. Avoid asking off-limit questions
Remember that there are certain things that are not legally allowed to be asked during interviews. This applies to any and all forms of interviewing, not just the face-to-face type. Some things that you cannot ask are:
- Marital and family status
- Physical attributes - height, weight, how often sick, presence of any disability
- Nationality, including whether or not English is his/her first language
- Type of military discharge
- Sexual orientation
- Alcohol or drug use - you CAN ask if they use illegal drugs currently
Basically, steer clear of any question that could identify your interviewee as part of a certain group or be misconstrued as discrimination, should they not be selected. Keeping your questions geared toward the applicant’s qualifications and ability to perform the demands of the position will, in most cases, keep you in the “interview safe zone.”
1. Be prepared
First and foremost, be sure that the phone you are using for the interview is reliable. A cell phone that constantly drops calls or breaks up could potentially ruin your interview. If you are concerned about this, consider relocating to a place with better service or choosing a landline.
Next, make sure you’ve printed off your resume and any other information the person interviewing you has access to or that you might want to remember to tell him or her. Having these in front of you will make sure that your conversation is fully aligned with your submitted documents and help give you direction if your nerves get the best of you.
In addition, do some research on the company with which you are interviewing prior to the conversation. It does not instill confidence in your employer if you state that you’d love to work for them but cannot say why or answer a question such as, “What do you know about our company?”
2. Be free of distractions
Do not schedule the interview during a time in which you cannot be completely present and uninterrupted. Children and pets should not be in the room with you when you are interviewing as both can create noise and pull your focus away from the call. Make sure the place you choose to do your interview is quiet and somewhere you are comfortable with. One of the perks of doing a phone interview is being able to be somewhere where you feel completely yourself.
Also, try your best to time the call when you won’t be rushed. Though most of these types of interviews are fairly short, it increases your stress level and can make you come across short and hurried if you are working against a clock.
3. Look the part
You’re probably thinking, “Why does it matter what I look like? They can’t see me…” You’re right. They can’t (unless you’re doing a video interview, but that’s a different topic). BUT….by preparing yourself as you would for an in-person interview, you will feel more confident, prepared, and present during the event. You don’t necessarily have to break out your suit, but change out of those pajamas, shower, and put on something professional. The effort will pay off.
4. Let the interviewer lead
Phone interviews are meant to be a stepping stone to reach a face-to-face meeting. Therefore, make sure you answer all questions you are asked articulately, concisely, and professionally. Be complete in your answers, but do not ramble. If the conversation naturally progresses into a more relaxed dialogue, that’s fine, but pay attention to the cues from your interviewer.
Keep in mind that phone interviews are not the time to ask about compensation or perks. There will be an appropriate moment for that should you land a second interview. Asking too early can be interpreted as selfish or money-centric, neither of which will work in your favor.
5. Express appreciation and desire to proceed
Make sure that you end the conversation by expressing your appreciation for the opportunity to have the meeting, regardless of whether or not you feel that you’d like to proceed with the company. Many offices receive a plethora of resumes when hiring, sometimes in the hundreds, and out of those options, the employer chose to spend time speaking with you.
Be proud of that, but also remember to be sincerely appreciative. You may even want to follow-up with a thank you note or email.
Beyond saying thank you, the end of an interview is also a great time for the next meeting to be established. If conversation is wrapping up and you feel that the position would be a good fit for you, express your interest by inquiring - politely - about the next step. Many interviewers will mention this without you having to bring it up, but if he or she doesn’t, make sure to let your desire to proceed be known. Sometimes, the employer will need more time to decide, but often you will get an answer regarding whether or not you have landed a coveted in-office interview before you hang up.
Both employers and employees have to practice and constantly build on their interview skills. Sometimes, nerves throw an unexpected curve ball, but by remembering these tips, putting your best self forward each time, and continuing to learn with every experience you have, interviewing in any form will become a strength that will help you land the job or employee you’ve been looking for.