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The phone interview is such a crucial part of the hiring phase because if you can’t make a good first impression over the phone, your chances of being invited for an in-person interview are nil. Here are 7 tips to keep in mind for successful phone interviews.

1. Choose a quiet environment. Make sure you take the call in a place where you will not be distracted and where there is no background noise such as television, radio, barking dogs, children crying, etc. For example, if you are surprised by a call on your cell phone while at the grocery store, ask the person if you can return the call immediately or put it on hold until you can find a quiet, secluded place to talk. Better yet, ask the caller if you can schedule the interview for a time convenient for both of you, preferably when you can be away from the commotion and take notes.

2. Prepare as you would for an in-person interview. You can be the type that can answer questions on the fly, and maybe you know the job description pretty well by heart. Still, it’s best to prepare ahead of time and have your notes, job description, resume, and any other reference materials handy. Most telephone interviews are efficient screening calls made by recruiters. They want to know if you fit the criteria of the job description and if your salary is in the stadium. Experienced recruiters can usually determine this fairly quickly. However, some recruiters may prefer to have a more in-depth conversation with you, and sometimes it is the hiring manager who conducts the telephone interview. Just in case, you should prepare as you would for a full-blown in-person interview.

3. Be prepared to answer screening questions. The typical purpose of the telephone interview is to select candidates. The interviewer looks for red flags. He or she is trying to narrow the field of candidates and select the best candidates to invite for a face-to-face interview. You will receive questions such as:

  • Why are you looking for a new position? (Respond positively no matter how unhappy you are about your situation!)

  • Explain your background to me. Why did you leave here, why did you leave there …? (Always put a positive spin on why you left. Talk about what you did in your past experience in relation to the position in question.)

  • What are your strengths / weaknesses?

  • What was your greatest achievement during your last position?

  • What specific projects have you worked on?

  • Why are you interested in our position / company?

4. Get involved with good questions. First of all, definitely ask questions. However, don’t ask what might sound like “it’s all about me” questions. Also, at this stage, it is best for the interviewer to bring up the money or benefits. These are topics that you may need to address when asked about them during a phone interview, but are best left, if possible, for the later and / or final stages of the hiring process. Your only goal at this point should be to convince the interviewer that your skills and experience match your needs. Ask the interviewer how success is defined for this position. Ask the interviewer what the most important elements of the job description are. Ask the interviewer why the position is open. These are examples of good questions for a telephone interview. And of course, listen carefully to their responses, taking notes if you can.

5. Speak clearly. This may be obvious advice, but it is such a vital thing to remember with telephone interviews because it is through your words and your tone of voice that you have the opportunity to make a big impression. Keep the mouthpiece close to your mouth. Do not chew gum, eat, drink, or smoke. Sounds are amplified through the phone – sounds of hitting, chewing, swallowing and inhaling / exhaling are sure to be picked up. Also, if your mouth is busy with that other activity, you won’t be as coherent as you need to when you need to speak.

6. Use the name of your interviewer. Write down the name of the interviewer when you first hear it and use it occasionally during the conversation. People like the sound of their own name, and this simple tip will go a long way to helping you build rapport. However, be careful not to overdo it. The key word here is “occasionally”. Using a person’s name every time they respond can sound artificial and unnatural.

7. Smile. Let the interviewer “hear the smile” in your voice. Some experts say that you should prop up a mirror where you are interviewing so that you can observe yourself and therefore remind yourself to smile. If you’d rather not do that, at least have a sticky note with the word “smile” written on it and post it where you will see it during the call. Telephone interviews deprive you of the opportunity to communicate your enthusiasm and interest through your facial expressions and eye contact. Your voice is the only way you have to project positive energy and convey how you feel. Naturally, you will feel more enthusiastic when you smile and your voice will definitely reflect your smile.

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