“I’ve heard (or read) a lot of advice about interviewing in normal situations, but what advice do you have for acing a phone interview?”

You know, in hindsight I don’t think I’ve dispensed nearly enough advice about this topic, even in my Job Search PhD workbook and other standard interview prep materials.  After conducting a few mock phone interviews lately with various clients, however, it’s clear that there are major differences between how one should approach a phone interview versus a face-to-face interview.  So let me use the newsletter pulpit to elaborate on these differences for those of you out there who may be interested…

When gearing up for a phone interview, compared to an in-person meeting, I’d recommend that job seekers adopt the following seven strategies to get the best results:

1)  Talk HALF as much. With only the audio channel in play, and no other sensory inputs to rely on, phone interviews can easily drag on and seem much longer than a face-to-face conversation, so remind yourself (using a silent timer, if necessary) to talk much less than you would in a traditional interview — and to get the conversational ball back in the interviewer’s court at least every minute or so.

2)  Talk FASTER than you normally would. For the same reasons outlined above, speed up your answers and “get to the point” faster than you would in a full flesh-and-blood hiring conversation.  Don’t rely on the interviewer to have a long attention span in these situations, since they might only have a short period of time (15-20 minutes) to complete the phone screen event, and again, their mind might tend to wander if you’re going off on tangents about your great work back in the nineties and how you worked your way through college and wow it’s a beautiful day outside — and did I forget to turn the iron off this morning?  And pick up my dry cleaning?

3)  MODULATE your voice more than you would normally. Since you won’t be able to use body language and gestures to emphasize your key selling points, and the phone transmission will compress your vocal frequencies, make sure to modulate your voice in an exaggerated way when providing your answers over the phone — and to use more flair in responding then you would normally.  Many people report that standing up during the phone call helps out quite a bit in this regard, as does looking into a mirror while you talk or consciously smiling throughout the conversation.

4)  Use the INTERVIEWER’S NAME frequently. Not only does everybody love the sound of their own name, on almost any occasion, but referring to the interviewer by their first name fairly often (although not creepy-often) during the phone interview will help create rapport, keep them engaged, and provide a helpful cue as to when you’re wrapping up your answer — and it’s time for them to start talking again.

5)  ASK QUESTIONS to create engagement and interest. Similar to the tip above, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer some appropriate questions throughout the phone interview, yourself, to get the other party to participate more in the discussion and help you gain a better understanding of the opportunity at hand.  If they shut you down or seem to be on a tight timeline, however, you should respect this and pull back a bit in this regard.   But try your best to create a dialogue, not a monologue.

6)  Have your RESUME, NOTES, and RESEARCH in front of you. One of the greatest things about phone interviewing versus traditional interviewing is the fact that it’s an open-book test!  So before the call comes in, make sure to have all of your materials laid out in front of you, in easily-accessible fashion, so that you can refer to them easily throughout the course of the conversation.

7)  Make HELPFUL REMINDERS for yourself. Another benefit of phone interviewing is that if you struggle around any of the six tips above, or there are any interview questions that routinely stump you, you can make up some little reminders on paper — or index cards — and prop them up in front of you during the conversation.  Having a few table tents that say things like “keep smiling!” or “wrap it up; no rambling!” will help you break your bad habits and ensure you practice good phone etiquette!

In closing, there’s no question that the phone is a tricky medium to master — and I can appreciate how frustrated some job seekers get at having to present themselves to companies using this method, initially, versus sitting down with the hiring manager directly.  One of the lowlights of my own professional career, in fact, was when I was doing a call-in radio show a few years ago on a local NPR station and totally blanked on the question I was answering — right in the middle of my response!  Not my proudest moment, I can assure you, but it certainly reinforced just how difficult it is to stay engaged on the phone when only one sense — your hearing — is in play.  So don’t underestimate this important part of the “getting hired” process and do your best to prepare appropriately, using the tips above, to make a great first impression over the phone when the opportunity arises!