Networking

Win an in-house interview by acing your next phone screening

Phone interviews are getting more common and job-seeking IT managers need to be prepared. Here are some key tips on making sure you make the most of your next job-hunt phone screening.

If you've spent any time looking for a job, you've probably had a phone interview or two. And if you haven't, you very likely will as more companies are using phone screenings to weed out candidates in a more efficient manner.

When put in this situation, IT managers need to ace the phone interview to reach that first job-seeking goal—an invite for a face-to-face meeting.

While it may seem trivial to those who’ve been managing, knowing how to handle a phone interview is crucial these days, as it can be the make-or-break part of the job-seeking process. While you hope your experience and skills will spur an in-person interview, it’s worthwhile to make sure that poor phone manners or lack or preparation don’t thwart that from happening.

Put on the interviewer’s hat
To see what types of questions you might be facing during a phone interview, check out this TechRepublic phone interview cheat sheet. This download is geared towards IT managers who are interviewing job candidates over the phone, but you can use it to get an overview of a phone interview so that you’ll be ready the next time an interviewer calls.

Tips for phone interviews
While some of the following phone interview tips seem elementary, it’s good to refresh and remind yourself of what to do and what not to do so that you don’t ruin a great opportunity by forgetting one of the basics.

Tip 1: The setting
Make sure your interview setting is quiet, that you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and that the phone set up works. Obviously, you should not plan to take a phone interview at work. If the interview must be in the middle of the day, arrange to leave your office for a few hours. If you're at home full-time, make sure your family understands that you'll be busy and cannot be disturbed during your interview. Put the pets outside, and lock your office door. If you can turn off call waiting, do so. And don't forget to shut off your cell phone.

Tip 2: The tools
Get a pen and paper handy. You may want to take some notes during the interview. Make sure the pen works. Better yet, have a spare or two within easy reach.

Make sure your resume is right in front of you, as well as a good list of questions you want to ask the interviewer. You’ll also want to compile a separate list of your skills, along with their corresponding dates and places, so that your entire technical background is easily accessible.

It’s also a good idea to keep a mirror near your desk to remind you to smile. Your facial expressions do carry over the phone and, if you smile, you'll come across as more positive and upbeat. Don't, however, make jokes. Without the benefit of body language, it's easy for your humor to be misinterpreted.

Tip 3: The voice
Speak clearly, and don't rush your answers. It's natural to be nervous, but try to slow yourself down a bit. If you rush through your answers, it will be difficult for the interviewer to understand you. If you are nervous and stumble over a few words, stop, take a deep breath, and say, "I'm sorry. Let me try that again." No one will judge you for being slightly anxious. Just don't let your nervousness control you.

Tip 4: The answers
Listen closely to the questions you're being asked. Pay attention to the interviewer's choice of words. Does he or she speak mostly in technical terms? Make sure that your answers demonstrate your familiarity with those terms—but also make it clear that you know how to communicate with regular people. Don't limit your answers to jargon—let the interviewer evaluate your "ordinary" communication skills. Don't be afraid to think for a moment before you answer a question. Since, however, the interviewer can't see you, you should give some sort of verbal cue, such as, "I want to give you a thorough answer. Give me a moment to collect my thoughts."

Tip 5: The thank you
Don’t forget, at the end of the interview, to thank the interviewer for his or her time, and ensure that the interviewer has the right phone numbers to reach you during the coming weeks (this is crucial if you’re planning to travel or will be out of reach on certain days).

After the interview
As soon as you hang up the phone, write a brief thank you note that you should either e-mail within an hour of the interview or send by snail mail that day.

In the thank you note, it’s important to reiterate your appreciation for the interviewer’s time and again offer to answer any additional questions. If you realize there was an important experience example you didn’t discuss during the interview, the thank you note is the perfect place for offering that additional information.

Once the note is mailed, make a notation in your e-mail calendar or desk calendar on when to follow up on the call. Keep in mind, if you haven't heard anything after a week, don't automatically assume the worst. You know how busy your own work schedule is; your interviewer is probably swamped as well. Go ahead and call but don’t leave multiple messages. The follow-up call should be an inquiry on whether any decisions have been made for in-person interviews or when you might hear something. If you can get a target date, you're golden.

Job phone interviews can be intimidating—especially for managers who haven’t experienced one before or are new to the job search. But if you prepare properly, you can make sure that your talent and ability shine through the phone line.

 
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