Before employers call candidates in for an in-person, onsite interview, they often narrow the pool of final contenders by conducting a round of short, straightforward screenings by phone. In order to find a needle in a haystack, companies and recruiters often use these quick phone screenings to get rid of most of the hay; two or three strategic questions may be all they need to identify red flags and spot obvious mismatches. Those who make it past the initial screening are later called in and presented with more open-ended or philosophical questions about their work history and capabilities.
If you're scheduled for a phone screening, you may not need to sweat this event quite as much as the looming in-person session…but you'll still need to clear this hurdle before you move onto the next stage. Here are a few tips that can help.
When you're interviewing by phone, your only tools will be your words and the power and inflection of your voice. These are the only things you can use to make an impression—you won't have the advantage of your smile, posture, or body language. In order to get used to this, practice your elevator pitch aloud once or twice before the call.
2. Control your body language anyway.
When you answer the phone, smile. Even if you're alone in the room and nobody can see you, your callers will hear the smile in your voice. Stand up during the conversation if you can, and if not, be sure to sit up straight. Try not to doodle or fidget while you talk.
3. Don't be afraid of pauses.
Conversational pauses always feel awkward to the candidate during an interview, and this effect tends to increase during phone conversations. But keep one thing in mind: these pauses are not actually so awkward on the other end. In fact, where you hear an eternal, cringe-inducing silence, your interviewer usually hears a calm, confident person taking a moment to gather her thoughts so she can articulate them in an intelligent way.
4. Take notes.
Don't doodle and fidget, but do take down the important details your interviewer may share about the job. These details may help you prepare for the in-person when it takes place. They can also help you better understand if this job is the right one for you.
5. Keep your answers brief and clear.
During phone interviews, employers and recruiters like to keep the conversation simple. Instead of asking your to describe your work ethic or talk in an unstructured way about your past, they'll ask you questions like the following:
"I see you live in New Jersey. This will be a really long commute for you…Will you be willing to move closer if you work for us?"
"I see you have far more education and experience than this job requires. Sometimes overqualified candidates get bored in this role…Will this be a problem for you?"
"I see you have a bachelors degree, but this job requires a masters. Do you plan to continue your education?"
Answer these questions succinctly and don't wander off track. If you have volumes of nuance and detail to add, save it for the longer in-person interview. For now, just state the facts.
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