With a higher applicant pool these days, the telephone interview is by far becoming more and more popular.  Many employers and staffing firms are conducting phone interviews in an effort to screen out candidates who might not fit in well with the company or client.  Companies are so inundated with job applicants that phone interviews can provide a relatively fast, cost efficient, screening tool to assist in the hiring process.  Working in the IT staffing space, I have experienced many of these types of interviews.  Some have gone very well, while others not so much.

Job seekers should prepare for a phone interview as seriously as they do for an in-person one.  In the past, the phone interview was a preliminary step that allowed an employer to give a candidate the once-over and from there schedule an in-person interview. But in this market, many recruiters are using the phone interview stage to pose the kinds of in-depth questions previously reserved for finalists.  In fact, in our industry due to time constraints, hiring decisions and offers are even being made at this stage. 

Whether scheduled or unscheduled, the best phone interview tip is for you to be prepared.  Preparation breeds confidence.  You should more or less memorize what your resume contains just in case the employer suddenly calls. Likewise, keep track of the companies that which you have submitted job applications to or working with recruiters on, with emphasis on their line of business/industry.

Here are a few additional phone interview tips to keep in mind:

Eat a cough drop before the call. A medicated cough drop (especially one with menthol) will be good for your voice.

Use a land line, and disable call waiting. Interruptions caused by dropped or incoming calls just add stress you don’t need. Unless you’re sure your cell phone service is going to be perfect, consider using a landline rather than your cell phone to avoid a dropped call or static on the line.

Stand Up.  Stand up, walk around, and smile during the call. All these things make a big difference in the projection and quality of your voice.  Hiring managers and recruiters pick up on enthusiasm.

Have a photo of your interviewer on your computer screen. This could be from LinkedIn, Facebook, the company website, or anywhere else your interviewer’s face might appear online.

Have a list of questions prepared. Well-thought-out questions show you’re really interested in the company and the job. Also, have your resume in front of you. Make sure it’s the same version the interviewer has.

Never interrupt. Silently count to two or three seconds after the interviewer stops talking before you start.

Avoid saying “um” or “ah.” Try replacing those sounds with a pause.

Avoid negative words. Stay away from negative verbs like ‘can’t,’ ‘haven’t’ and ‘don’t’.  Potential employers want people who can offer solutions, not potentially create problems.

Recap your “fit” for the job. Be ready with a 30-second summary or “elevator pitch” of why you’re right for this job, using an example or two from your work history.

Ask about next steps. At the end of the call, ask how well your qualifications meet the company’s needs. This will give you a chance to address minor issues immediately. Then ask when you can meet with them in person.

Say thanks. Follow up with an e-mail or a handwritten note. While you’re at it, briefly remind the interviewer how your skills and achievements can help the company meet its goals.

Take notes. Write down topics and questions that seem to be of particular interest to the person interviewing you, so you can touch on these when you send your thank-you.

Studies show that the first five minutes of a phone interview are the most important, since only about two out of ten candidates will still be under consideration beyond that.  With an average of eight applicants for every job opening, phone interviews are every bit as critical as personal interviews.  So be prepared right from the start to make the most out of the limited time you’ll have.