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Candidate Resources - The Telephone Interview

Telephone screening interviews are becoming more commonplace as companies seek to cut hiring costs and streamline the selection process.

The telephone interview can be either a brief screening interview or surprisingly in-depth. Whichever you encounter, it is better to be thoroughly prepared to reach your goal which is to obtain a face-to-face interview.

Phone interviewing is unique. You can't count on visual stimuli such as good looks or power suits, eye contact or body language, to aid your presentation. Neither can you rely on visual signals to interpret the interviewer's response. In this context, faceless conversation takes on an added dimension of importance. Both strengths and weaknesses, as conveyed by voice, are magnified through the phone. Your voice personifies everything about you.

HR professionals and hiring authorities listen for a relaxed style that communicates confidence, enthusiasm and intelligence. This is reflected in a smooth conversation flow devoid of clichés or verbal catchalls to stall for time as well as other negatives.

The more convincingly you make your case over the phone will determine further interest in you as a job candidate.

The following techniques will help you prepare and handle any type of telephone interviewing situations.

If you're currently employed, arrange for a phone interview in the evening rather than during the workday. Confidentiality and discretion may be at risk if you interview during working hours; you never know who might barge into your office unannounced or overhear something by accident. In the privacy of your home, you can be more at ease and in control of your surroundings. You should always make sure you will not be interrupted.

Before the actual interview, it will help to know the topics to be covered, objectives to attain and the basic information regarding the position to be discussed. It also helps to rehearse: Try to think as the employer, what key information is the interviewer looking for? What questions is he likely to ask? What things do you hope he doesn't ask?

It's also advisable to prepare for possible scenarios that might unfold. Hypothesize a bit; suppose the interviewer asks questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Answer these and any questions as briefly and directly as possible without being negative. Offer a positive "mini story" about yourself and your accomplishments.

Example: "I heard the District Manager who you report to, is difficult to get along with."
Answer: He's been very cooperative with me. I had some difficult times with a customer recently that we needed to turn around. With his cooperation we accomplished that and increased my sales by 25%. Warning!! Never answer in a negative way.

Suppose the interviewer rambles, is easily sidetracked and doesn't allow you to sell yourself. How do you subtly take control of the conversation and target pertinent issues? Take control by asking specific fact-finding questions that would require an explanation in the answer to put him/her back on track. Follow up with other important, pertinent questions

The worst case scenario would be that the interviewer would not call at the agreed time. In this case do not call the interviewer, call your recruiter so that he/she can investigate the situation and get back to you with another interview date and time.

Some questions the employer might ask:
Why do you want to leave your present company?
Answer as truthfully as possible without being negative about your current company. If it's for a better opportunity, state this and why.

What can you bring to us that we don't have now?
Answer affirmatively, such as you know you can increase sales or production.

If we hired you, where do you see yourself in five years?
Again, answer positively. Be straightforward, not clever. I hope my performance will reflect at least one step up by that time.

How many positions have you held?
State the number that is on your resume or data sheet.

What do you know about our company?
Do your research and mention at least two or three positive things that you've learned.

Why do you think you would fit into our company?
Based on what I have learned about your company so far, it sounds like it would be a very comfortable and profitable transition.

Keep the following tools handy to aid you in gathering information and facts:

  • A copy of the version of the resume sent to the interviewer.
  • A note pad and pen.
  • Five or six carefully worded questions you'll want to ask.
  • Company literature with pertinent information highlighted.
  • A calendar.
  • A watch or clock.
Phone Personality
The need to make a good impression on the phone cannot be overemphasized. The telephone screening interview is a make-or-break proposition. It is your one chance to convince the interviewer that you are worth serious consideration. The interviewer will be listening carefully to determine three factors: your sincere interest in the job, how you verbalize your qualifications and how aggressively you pursue the position.

Voice reflects personality. A well-modulated, controlled voice communicates authority and heightens the verbal impact you want to make. The quality, pitch and tempo of your speech convey a certain attitude, energy level and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm and excitement are the biggest selling points a candidate can use when talking on the phone.

Talk directly into the mouthpiece. Hold the receiver approximately three inches from the mouth, not below your chin or above your nose. Speak in a relaxed, conversational style, as you would talk to someone in person.

Avoid grasping the phone in a vise-like grip. This will add a note of stress, and your voice will communicate that uneasiness. Standing opens your diaphragm to a smoother airflow and imparts a feeling of liveliness. Getting up and moving around introduces an element of action, which instills a relaxed, conversational manner and reduces fatigue.

Pay attention to the interviewer's voice patterns. Does he/she speak slowly or rapidly? Try to match the cadence so that the conversation flows smoothly. The average person speaks at a rate of 160 words per minute. Adjust your speaking rate, voice volume and phrasing to be more in rhythm with the interviewer.

Sound upbeat. If you had a bad day and came home to other problems, put them out of your mind. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. Smile to show a sense of humor. After all, the interviewer may have had a bad day too.

Be a conversationalist. Listen carefully to get the big picture and to avoid saying something that indicates any momentary mental distraction. Allow the interviewer to complete questions. Do not finish his/her sentences or blurt out answers prematurely

Handle any trick questions in stride. The interviewer may throw in several to test your alertness or mental keenness. Showing verbal adeptness is a sign of how quickly you can "think on your feet." Be cautious: the interviewer may say something that puzzles you or that you firmly disagree with. Show enough respect to voice your thoughts in a professional manner. A defensive posture or argumentative tone is the surest way to alienate the interviewer and eliminate your candidacy.

The Home Stretch
After 30 minutes, both parties should know how much of a "fit" there is. Provided the job interests you, express your desire to proceed to the next step: A face-to-face interview. If this is arranged at this time be sure to look at your calendar to help you arrive at a mutual date and time.

A Final Concern: The interviewer may ask you what salary range you're expecting, but don't introduce this subject yourself. It's best to mention that at this point you are not altogether certain what the job is really worth. Example: "I would feel more comfortable discussing a salary figure after meeting the key people I would be working with and knowing more about the position." If the interviewer continues to pressure you for a figure, specifically ask, "What salary range are you working within?" Chances are 50/50 that he/she will tell you.

Respond by indicating that your desired salary is in that range (if that is correct). If the dollars are a little low, don't despair or defend what you feel you are worth. Tell the interviewer you'd like to discuss this with your MRI recruiter before committing yourself. Call your MRI Recruiter and let them handle this, as they are aware of how much flexibility the company has and will negotiate on your behalf.

Interview Conclusion
If you are sincerely interested in the position and are satisfied with the answers given, you should ask the interviewer if he/she feels that you are qualified for the position. This gives you another chance to review points that may need clarification. Illustrate confidence in your abilities and convince the interviewer that you are capable of handling the position successfully.

**Your recruiter must hear from you when you complete the phone interview to let him/her know your interest level and if you wish to pursue this position. Also, indicate at this time if the individual you talked to discussed a face-to-face interview.

Establishing rapport at the beginning of the phone conversation sets a favorable tone. During the first few minutes mention something that shows commonality of interest or similarity in background.

Note the person behind the voice. Listen for a sense of humor or a direct forthright manner. Does their speech sound "canned" or "hurried". Are they listening to what you say or just asking another question quickly. Whoever the interviewer is, pay attention to their explanation of the job and what potential it offers.

The purpose of the phone interview is to identify areas of mutual interest that warrant further investigation. In other words, whet their curiosity and give them good reasons for wanting to invite you for a face-to-face interview.

Mentally, he/she is making the connection between the company's problems and you as a problem solver. Give relevant facts and figures only. Don't overwhelm them.

Recite stories that document your ability to analyze a dilemma, weigh alternative responses and choose the appropriate action. By selectively highlighting turnaround situations you spearheaded, you are communicating a willingness to tackle similar problems for his/her company.

Tactfully take control and introduce the subject matter that you need to have discussed or further elaborated. Example: "That's a good point. Can we come back to it a little later? I have some additional thoughts on the subject we were discussing a moment ago."

As the conversation winds down, become less talkative and give more thought to what you say. Your final words will generally have greater impact and be remembered longer. Careful word choice and voice inflections will under-score the significance of your remarks.

By contrast, a machine-gun volley of words will likely put the listener on the defensive or turn him/her off altogether.

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