The Phone Interview: What You Need To Know

Woman preparing for phone interview

Some companies disqualify as much as 75% of their job candidates based solely on the phone interview. The phone interview is just as important as a direct one-on-one interview or a panel interview as it is the only one that gets you through the door. Taking the time to prepare your answers to possible interview questions and to understand what the company is trying to get out of the interview will put you at an advantage.

What is the purpose of the pre-screen phone interview?

The main purpose of the phone interview is to assess your communication skills and to clarify any unclear items in your resume. Your resume should already highlight your experience, education and skills, but the interviewer wants to hear from you why you are qualified and to explain any frequent job changes or gaps in your resume. The interviewer may also want to know your salary demands.

How is the pre-screen phone interview structured?

The answer to this question varies by company, but most companies will organize their call in a similar manner. Telephone interviews last about 15-30 minutes. The call is generally broken down into 4 sections:

  1. Introduction. The interviewer will likely start the conversation speaking about the company and about the job that you are applying for in detail. Pay attention and write down any questions that you may have. You will need them as described in section 3 below.
  2. The Interview’s Questions. The interviewer will ask you about 3-5 questions. The questions will most likely be about your resume -experience, education, skills, etc. – and why you want to work for the company. Re-read your resume and try to find gaps or areas that may be confusing to an interviewer. You will most likely be asked a question to clarify the confusion.
  3. Your Questions. DO NOT SAY THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE ANY QUESTIONS. Even if you do not have any questions, come up with something. Lack of questions is viewed as a disinterest in the company and candidates that show interest will be given preference.
  4. The Closing. The interviewer will thank you for your time and should provide the next steps. Do not be surprised if the interviewer says that you should hear something in the next few weeks. It sounds like a long time, but the company may have a lot of resumes to filter through. Make sure you thank the interviewer for their time and say that you are available to speak if any further questions should arrive. Now is the time to also express that you are very excited about the opportunity and the company and that you will anxiously wait a response.

When is the best time to schedule a phone interview?

The best time to schedule a phone interview is when you have quiet time. Sounds obvious, but recruiters have turned down many candidates because of background noise as it is viewed as unprofessional. It’s not a good idea to have a screaming baby in the background, the wind muffling your voice in your cell phone or the background of a bustling coffee shop. The interviewer wants to know that you are taking this position seriously, so take the time to find 15-30 minutes of quiet time.

What if my pre-screen phone interview is by video?

All of the information above applies to video interviews as well. You will need to find a location without any distractions or background noise. Some companies will even rent an office space for you to conduct your interview. The interview will most likely be structured as described in the previous question.

One big difference of a video interview over a phone interview is that you need to pay attention to is YOUR APPEARANCE. You will be judged on your choice of attire and overall cleanliness of your appearance. If you are unsure whether you should be wearing a suit, wear one. It is better to be overdressed for an interview than underdressed. Do not chew gum, eat or drink anything during the interview except for water, if needed.

You will also need to make eye contact. When the interviewer is speaking to you make sure that you are engaged. You will not only be rated on your communication skills but also your listening skills. Eye contact is an important part of listening skills.

The words and other content provided in the blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as professional advice (please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information).

Alicia H. Lillegard, Esq.

Alicia Lillegard has over 20 years of experience in employment law, human resources and insurance, working with with large blue chip companies, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Lillegard is currently Managing Director of New England Human Capital, a human resources consultancy which advises small and midsize businesses on Human Resources compliance, including employment procedures, employee relations and employee benefits. She holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School.

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