Telephone interviews often are a make-or-break situation and must be taken as seriously as an in-person
interview. They usually are used by prospective employers to screen candidates to determine whether or not
to spend the time and money for a face-to-face interview. Phone interviews can be especially useful in
situations where the candidate lives in another city from the employer, or to determine whether the
candidate possesses a specific, possibly esoteric, expertise, which would create a reason for a personal
interview. At minimum, an initial telephone contact will validate statements made on the resume, and be
used to assess the candidate’s personality, oral communication skills, and level of interest in the employer
and the opportunity. As a candidate, your objective is to assure the prospective employer that an in-person interview is warranted.

In most cases telephone interviews are scheduled in advance. You must determine whether it is best to have
the interview at home or in your office, whether you will be making or receiving the call, the exact time
(taking into consideration time-zones), and the name(s) and phone number(s) of all parties who will be
involved. When scheduling the interview, take advantage of any time-zone differences to allow you to have
the interview at home before or after work, but still within the interviewer’s regular business hours. On the
other hand, a prospective employer might just pick up the phone and surprise you with a call, so it is best to
be prepared. In that case, if it is not a good time or place for you to talk, ask whether you may call back,
and make appropriate arrangements, as outlined above. If you determine to take the unplanned call when it
comes, ask the interviewer to hold a few seconds, take a deep breath, center yourself, and forge ahead.

A quick word about technology: During your job search, make sure that you have a message machine or
voice mail available, and that the outgoing message is professional sounding (i.e., no music, sound effects,
jokes, funny voices, or children). And, check your messages frequently. Use a static-free phone, preferably
not cordless, nor a cell or speakerphone, which can cut out or sound hollow or tinny. Ask your secretary to hold calls or, if at home, ignore your call waiting.

The most important advice regarding telephone interviews is: BE PREPARED! Research the companies and
positions for which you are applying (see Job Search Tips ), and have that material handy. Also have your
resume by the phone, including a listing of representative transactions or cases, notes regarding points you
would like to make and questions to ask, along with your references’ names and telephone numbers. Keep a
pad and pen handy to take notes during your phone interview. Have your calendar within reach in order to schedule the follow-up personal interview at the end of your conversation.

If the interview is scheduled, set aside at least a half an hour. Have a glass of water by the phone and be
ready five minutes early. Be in a quiet place, turn off the television or music, banish any barking dogs, and
ask your co-workers, family, or roommates to be quiet and not disturb you during this important phone call.
Stand up and get your energy going, warm up your voice, and smile (it can almost be heard over the
telephone). Dress in a businesslike manner to put yourself in the proper frame of mind, and sit or stand with
good posture. Although your interviewer cannot see you, these things affect the quality of the image you
project through your voice. You want your interviewer to imagine you perfectly groomed and sitting in an
office, rather than lounging around in your pajamas. If, for some reason, the interviewer does not call or is
unavailable at the appointed hour, be sure to call the interviewer and leave a message expressing your interest and request to reschedule the interview.

The primary disadvantage of a telephone interview is that all non-verbal communication is lacking.
Everything has to be communicated through your voice. Therefore, speak slowly and clearly, with moderate
volume and plenty of enthusiasm, positive energy and inflection, keeping your mouth about an inch away
from the mouthpiece. Do not eat, chew gum, or smoke (yes-we can hear you puffing away through the
phone!). Always answer your phone in a professional manner, whether at home or at work, because you
never know who may be calling. After the initial introductions and pleasantries, open with a positive
expression of your interest based on what you have learned about the opportunity and the firm, then say “I
am looking forward to a personal meeting with you. In the meantime, what can I tell you about my
qualifications?” Be prepared with a brief “commercial” summarizing your strengths and accomplishments, tailored to the position you are seeking.

Throughout the interview, use interesting, descriptive language and proper grammar-not slang (“yes” rather
than “yeah”). Do not use profanity under ANY circumstances, even if your interviewer does so. Avoid fillers
such as “ums” and “errs”. Try to avoid yes or no answers; answer in short, complete sentences. Conversely,
do not run on at the mouth. Let your interviewer speak the majority of the time. You might want to ask a
trusted friend for feedback on your telephone technique, and/or practice with a tape recorder.

Let your interviewer know you are listening. Make sure you get all parties’ names with proper spelling and
pronunciation, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers (sometimes there are several interviewers on
speakerphone). Periodically use their name (their surname until invited to do otherwise). Say “yes” or “I
see”, repeat their words, ask follow-up questions. (See: Interviewing is a Two-Way Street for suggested
questions.) Do not rush, interrupt, or contradict the interviewer. Listen carefully and make sure you
understand the question before you answer. Answer directly, and ask if the interviewer needs additional
information. Take notes of the major points of the conversation and, if the interviewer is interrupted, say,
“we were discussing . . . “) Compliment the firm and its achievements (this shows you’ve done your
homework, and often is taken as a compliment of the interviewer personally), and agree with the
interviewer as much as possible. An excellent technique for establishing rapport is to match the interviewer’s rate of speech, volume, and pitch, within your own personality range, of course.

During the interview, most of the same rules of in-person interviewing apply. (See: Job Search Tips ). Never
say anything on the telephone you would not say in person. Don’t chitchat; stick to business, and don’t let
your guard down. Never bad-mouth your current or past employers or ask about compensation. If you are
asked directly about your compensation requirements, try to sidestep by saying “While salary is important, I
am more interested in the opportunity at this time.” If asked again, state what you are currently earning
(breaking out base, bonuses, and benefits) plus when and how much of an increase is expected. If your
current geographical region or type of organization has markedly different salary scales than the potential
employer’s situation, let the interviewer know that you are aware of the differential. Tell the interviewer, “If this is a good match, I am confident that we can come to an agreement.”

Go for the close: summarize your qualifications and ask for a face-to-face interview. Say something like,
“This seems to be an interesting and challenging opportunity. With my background and expertise, I believe I
could make a valuable contribution to your firm. When can we meet to discuss the position in further
detail?” And, offer some dates which would be convenient for you. Remember, the best way to get a real
feel for a firm is through a face-to-face interview. Therefore, even if you are not excited about an
opportunity at the end of the telephone interview, do not jump to conclusions. It could be that the caller is
not a good phone interviewer and you do not have all the information you need in order to make a decision. Hence, if you are lukewarm, ask for that personal interview anyway.

Before hanging up, confirm any agreements such as in-person interview arrangements or that you will be
sending requested follow-up materials such as writing samples or transcripts. Thank the interviewer at the
end of the conversation. Also, follow up with a thank you note mentioning some of the points discussed, and
reiterating your interest in the opportunity. Send any requested material immediately. If, after reviewing
your notes, you have some questions, a follow-up call is appropriate. Just make sure that they are legitimate, intelligent questions, not merely an obvious excuse for a call.

In summary, the telephone interview is just like a personal interview, but shorter and without the benefit of
non-verbal communication. Since it most often is used by employers to narrow the field of candidates, it can
be one of the most challenging aspects of the job search process. The telephone interview can be used to
your advantage, however. If you take the telephone interview seriously, prepare thoroughly, listen carefully
and respond effectively, you should achieve your objective–landing that face-to-face interview.

Good Luck!