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Phone Interview Preparation

In today's world, the interview process is a multi-staged event. In the first stage, you put together a great resume that highlights your skills and experience. You apply to job postings and eagerly await a call. Your resume gets noticed and you get a call or email from the recruiter. Having convinced the recruiter that you are worthy of additional consideration, you are recommended for a phone interview. It used to be that most employment offers came down to a face-to-face interview. However, some times, especially when working with contracting situations or on a national basis, success is determined by the phone interview. Since your ability to manage this interview can be the make-or-break of getting you "in" or moving you "out", you need to maximize this short conversation opportunity so that it takes you to the next level. 

Here are the “Five A's" that will highlight yourself from the rest of the pack: 

1. Always be prepared.

Do this interview like it's the one chance you have to "shine".  It is.  Dress comfortably.  Set up in as "office-like" of a setting as you can.  Avoid noisy areas and places full of distractions.  Don't interview on your cell phone in the car if you can avoid it (it's amazing what all you can see and be distracted by when you are in a room surrounded by windows).  Use the restroom beforehand and have a drink close by to keep your voice fresh.  Have your TV and music turned off.  Be someplace quiet.  Have the kids someplace else, this is a business phone call.  Make sure to have a notepad and writing surface available, you’ll want to take notes.   Imagine this is a sales call where you are selling a very important service to a stranger...you are!  If your recruiter sent you review material to look over before the interview, then be sure to read and study that.  The recruiter isn't here to waste your time; they are an experienced professional that knows what works in interview situations.  Have a plan for the interview.  Write it down and have it in front of you while the interview is going on.  Check things off as you carry out your plan.  Consider the plan to be a "cheat sheet" that nobody but you can see.  You can even anticipate certain questions and have prepared and rehearsed answers (but make sure you don't sound like you are reading).  Being prepared will make you come across confident and will set you apart from the crowd.

2. Always be patient.

Wait your turn.  Don't interrupt.  Don't let your excitement about the job cause you to try talking over the hiring manager when they are talking.  Consider this... the more the hiring manager is talking, the more comfortable they are with you.  I know this because they are on a schedule and the more they talk, the less time they leave to learn more about you.  So if they are doing the talking, that is a good sign indicating that they are feeling comfortable with what they already know about you.  Trust me; they will leave plenty of time for you to speak as well.  And never, ever, ever engage the hiring manager in an argument - now is not the time.  Remember though, conversations involve two people talking ...and listening.  "S-I-L-E-N-T" and "L-I-S-T-E-N" use the same letters.  Before you can do anything to help your new employer, you will need to listen to instructions telling you what it is that they want you to do.  Use the time that your interviewer is speaking to demonstrate that you are a good listener.  When you get a chance to answer, be responsive to the question.  Answer completely and also look for opportunity to use your answer to make another "selling" point as why you are the best candidate.  At the same time, don't bore them with rambling - stay concise and to the point.

3. Always be enthusiastic.

 Smile!  I don't know how many times I've said this to candidates..."Smile".  Your smile sets your attitude – and your attitude permeates through the phone.  You want your interview to come across as a conversational infomercial about yourself.  Be outgoing and friendly.  Pretend that you are speaking with someone who you've been waiting a lifetime to talk to.  Invest your energy into the phone call, letting the hiring manager know that you are excited about the opportunity and their company.  Let them know you see value in using and developing the skills that you bring to the job.

4. Always be proactive.

Anticipate their questions, but don't answer them before they are asked. Do your research on the company.  Impress them by knowing their product line, recent success, and corporate goals.  Once you know these things, you can relate your abilities in terms of how you can help them achieve their goals.  Have answers ready on your cheat sheet for questions such as:  "Why do you want to move to our area?" and "What do you like about us?".  Have two or three examples ready for "Tell me about a time when you did 'such and such'."  Know how to answer the follow-up questions such as, "What challenges did you face?", "What was your role?", "What did you accomplish?", and "Why was this example important to you?"  Think about the questions and write out the answers.  Read them through prior to the interview.  Read the answers out loud and try to make them sound conversational when practicing.  Being conversational allows you to appear likeable and personable ...the kind of person that others like to work with.

5. Always be ready.

Take notes during the interview.  Be ready for the "close". Take particular notes of items that the hiring manager brings up as goals that they (or their team) are trying to accomplish.  Ask for more detail about these goals if necessary, but what you are trying to find is three good, solid points of "where you can help".  Once you have these 3 points, show that you can 'think on your feet'.  By the end of the interview, you are ready to do what most candidates will never do ...a concise summary of why they need "you".  It goes something like this...  "So, if I heard right during our conversation, what you are really looking for is someone who can (a) _______; (b) _______; and (c) _______.  Is this correct?"  Now, wait and let them respond.  If they redirect one of your points, that's fine.  You will simply adjust one of your responses.  Once they have made sure that you are both on the same page, then continue... "Well, based upon my understanding of your needs, this would be my specific plan of action:  In order to take care of (a) ______, I would do ________.  In order to take care of (b) _______, I would do _______.  And finally, to really make life better, this is what I would do to take care of (c) ______.  Is this kind of what you are looking to accomplish?"  Again, give them time to respond. 

Finish it up with "I look forward to moving this process forward so that I can join the team and make these goals become reality!"  Usually this is the point where they will explain the next step of the process (if they haven't already).  If they don't, be sure to ask what you might expect their next step to be, and ask when to expect it. Always, be professional and remember to thank them for their time.

It's really that simple.  You have all the chips stacked in your favor.  You have a job description. You have your resume and knowledge of what you can do.  You prepared for their questions and answered with charisma.  You demonstrated that you can listen.  You have shown that you can plan.  They've experienced that you can think on your feet.  ...and you are now the one candidate who they can’t live without.