In an age where hundreds of people might apply for the same role, phone screens are increasingly popular. These quick surface interviews allow HR personnel to take a large number of candidates and rapidly narrow them down to a more manageable set to bring to the team for more traditional interviews. (Translated: they are looking to eliminate people.)
This means a phone screen is really a 10 minute sales pitch in which you’d better be prepared to tell the interviewer why you deserve a next-step interview. If you’re struggling to get past initial phone screenings, you may need to reevaluate what kind of first impression you make. Here’s how to make a strong first impression on a phone screening:
Even if an interviewer can’t see you, they can “hear” you. Sit up straight at a table or desk and make sure you smile; the smile will come through in your inflection, tone, and annunciation. You are also more likely to talk professionally if you are dressed professionally; that’s not to say you need a suit and shoes if you are home, but wearing sweats makes a difference and puts you in a more casual state of mind.
Keep your answers concise and focused.
Your time is limited, so be sure not to ramble. If you are prepared, you should be able to answer a question in a few sentences. But what really sets you apart is then asking, “Could I share a short story/example illustrating this?” If they say yes, keep your word and keep it short.
Let them interrupt you.
It might be uncomfortable, but if the interviewer interrupts you, stop talking. There are several reasons they might interrupt, such as they can’t hear you clearly, they want to refocus the conversation, or they need clarification on something. No matter what the reason, if they try to interrupt, and you keep talking, they likely won’t be listening anyway…and worse, they might get annoyed.
Resist the urge to fill in dead air.
Don’t be afraid of moments of silence. It’s hard to know what’s going on with the other person, and they might be writing something down or scanning their notes. Give them a chance to do that and give the conversation a chance to breathe a little.
Be conversational and approachable.
Sometimes when you’ve done all the prep work or you’ve had many interviews, you can start to sound rehearsed. Try to maintain a professional, but friendly and conversational tone. Speak slowly and clearly. Remember the interviewer is not just looking for someone with the right skills, but someone who will fit into the culture of the company. If you struggle with this, consider practicing with a friend or family member or even recording yourself on your phone and playing it back.
Don’t be afraid of small talk.
Start off by thanking the recruiter for the call, and then ask them a non-business question, like how their day is, or make a comment on something like the weather. Choose something brief and appropriate; stay away from things like politics or polarizing current events. Engaging in polite small talk will put both of you at ease, and build a rapport. This not only helps the interview go smoother, but goes a long way in making you a more memorable candidate.
Of course, a lot of the same in-person interview prep applies to a phone screen. Practice your answers, be very familiar with the job posting, and research the organization and role. You only get a few minutes to sound smooth and confident, so the more prepared you are, the better. Know as much as you can about the job, and tell stories to demonstrate how you are qualified. Be prepared to very clearly outline exactly how you can solve a problem they have, or contribute greatly to their team. Have materials such as your resume, cover letter, copy of the job description and any other notes you’ve made handy and you can use them as a cheat sheet during the call.
You get 10 minutes; make the most of it.
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