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University of Connecticut School of Business Business Career Center

Telephone Interviewing Skills

Why a Telephone Interview?
How You are Evaluated on the Phone Interview
How to Prepare for a Telephone Interview
Tips on Making Your Interview a Success


Phone I nterviewing Skills a Must for J ob Seekers

As employers increasingly rely on telephone interviews to screen job candidates, students need to be
prepared for that possibility. It is not enough to be comfortable talking on the phone. In fact, students
may be too comfortable with the medium.

Vanessa Singleton, assistant director of recruitment and special projects for the Federal Deposit
Insurance Corporation (FDIC), says she can tell right away that candidates arent going to work out if
they have music or video games playing in the background, are obviously chewing gum, chronically
hesitate or say um or uh during the interview, or arent available to take her prearranged call.

Accordingly, career services practitioners may want to remind students that a phone interview is as
serious as the face-to-face variety.

Jacquelyn C. Larson and Cheri L. Comstock, recruiters and authors of New Rules of the Job Search
Game, reveal just how serious it is. They call applicants twice: once for an interview that candidates are
prepared for, and once for an impromptu discussion. By catching candidates unprepared, they can
assess how quickly candidates think and process information, how honed their communication skills
are, and if they are well suited for a particular position and the company culture.

Larson and Comstock look for candidates with initiative, a positive attitude, quick-thinking and
problem-solving skills, coach-ability, creativity and adaptability, interdisciplinary knowledge, and
superior communication skills. They say that they can gauge candidates suitability in seven areas
through a 30-minute phone interview. For instance, they:

Judge tenacity in a candidate by not returning the candidates phone call. Tenacious candidates,
they say, dont give up. Instead, they persist in calling every 10 days, re-expressing their interest
in the position and the company even when their messages go unanswered.
University of Connecticut School of Business Business Career Center

Identify candidates with positive attitude by asking about worst boss horror stories. They
claim that true positive thinkers avoid divulging such stories and instead will focus on best
boss anecdotes.
Get a sense of how quickly candidates think on their feet by role-playing during the phone
interview. They view quick thinkers, such as those who can appease a persistent, irate customer,
as an asset to any organization.
Find out whether candidates accept criticism and have a desire to improve, or get defensive.
Test candidates adaptability by suggesting alternate ways of getting work done or solving
problems. For example, they ask what candidates would think of performance evaluations that
were done by peers or clients, or how they would feel working in a specific geographic location.
Ascertain which candidates have a thirst for knowledge and a desire for expanding their
horizons by asking what books they have recently read, what electives they studied in college,
and what their hobbies are.
Determine which candidates have superior communication skills by asking them to leave voice-
mail messages stating why they are right for the position. Such messages indicate how
effectively they can articulate their position and how well they will function when hired.
Taken from Jobwire by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)

The Phone Interview as a Tool

The telephone is a valuable tool for job searching. Aside from networking and contacting employers, it
is often used to conduct interviews. Most interviews will be scheduled for a specific time, but its a
good idea to be prepared for surprise. The following information will help you have successful phone

Why interview someone over the phone?
Human resources will often use phone interviews to pre-screen applicants.
Companies may want to save on travel expenses.
After a company runs an advertisement and receives hundreds of resumes, phone interviews can
be used to screen the top candidates.
After the initial interview, an employer may use phone interviews to gain more information or to
decide which candidates to ask back for second interviews.
After being recruited or giving credentials to a particular organization, you may receive a call; it
could be about a specific project or about your aspirations.
A conference call may be utilized in order to facilitate and interview with staff in a variety of

University of Connecticut School of Business Business Career Center

How You are Evaluated During a Phone Interview
Rather than making your first impression with body language and a firm handshake, your first
impression will be your initial greeting on the telephone. You will be evaluated by your enthusiasm and
tone of voice. The interviewer may use the following questions after an interview to evaluate you as a
job candidate:
Did you have an enthusiastic voice?
Did you answer questions vaguely or directly?
Did you research the company well, or did you ask simple questions?
Did you express interest in a second interview?
Did you follow up with a thank-you letter?
Did you pursue this opportunity with a phone call or e-mail?
Did you send supporting material (rsum, portfolio, etc.)

Note that many of these are the same criteria used by interviewers to evaluate candidates after face-to-
face interviews. Knowing how to interview effectively in person will assist you with telephone
interviews as well.

Whats the Difference?
(Telephone vs. Face-to-Face Interviews)

In order to understand how to prepare for a telephone interview, you need to understand the actual
differences between a phone interview, and a face-to-face interview. The primary difference is the loss
of certain senses. During a face-to-face interview, you have the potential to utilize all five senses: sight,
hearing, touch, smell, and even taste. Two of these senses are non-existent during a phone interview.

Sight In a face-to-face interview, the tone is often set by what you can see. For instance, what the
interviewer looks like and what he or she is wearing can greatly influence the tone of an interview. In
addition, non-verbal cues are visible and often obvious. During a telephone interview, however, you
cannot use any of the non-verbal cues, as they do not exist. It is said that nearly 90% of communication
is non-verbal. If that is true, you are only able to rely on 10% of your potential ability to communicate
Hearing While you will still be able to hear over the phone, the tones and clarity may not be the
same as they would face-to-face. In addition, the use of a speakerphone may also cause hearing clearly
to be more difficult.
Touch A first impression is made in a face-to-face interview beginning with the handshake. While
the touch may be subtle, it is an important part of the impression an interviewee makes. Over the
phone, there is no opportunity to shake hands; therefore the potential impact of this ritual disappears.
Smell The sense of smell is not clearly as crucial during any kind of interview, but it can affect your
ability to process information. For instance, if there is a foul smell in the interview room, it can be
distracting. When interviewing over the phone, you have the ability to control your own environment
and to ensure that the smells around you are not distracting.
Taste Often during an interview the candidate will be offered something to drink (coffee, soda,
water, etc.). It is important to have a beverage available during a phone interview as well in the event
of a dry mouth or an attack of coughing.
University of Connecticut School of Business Business Career Center

How Can You Prepare For a Telephone Interview?
1. Other than having to wear your business suit, treat the phone interview the same as a traditional
face-to-face interview. Be just as prepared and professional.
2. By including your phone number on your rsum, you are telling an employer to contact you at
that number. It is your responsibility to insure that messages be taken properly and accurately if
you are not available. Be sure that anyone who might answer your phone knows that you may
receive important employment related calls. Leave a pen and pad handy and ask others to be
sure to note who called, when, company name, phone number, and when to call back. Anticipate
that any call could be from a potential employer. Answer your phone with a simple hello.
3. Once you start circulating your rsum out to companies, research both the companies and the
positions you are applying for. Have a list of intelligent questions to ask regarding the company
and nature of the work. BE PREPARED.
4. The interviewer has a copy of your rsum. He/she is already aware of your strengths and now
may probe you regarding your weaknesses. Anticipate negative questions and be prepared with
positive answers.
5. Have a copy of your rsum, your files of job-hunting information, and notepaper and pen
within easy reach.
6. Also have a calendar or appointment book nearby in case you need to schedule a date for an
During the interview:
1. Be in a private place where you feel comfortable. If other people are present in the room, or
circumstances are such that it would be difficult to conduct a business-like conversation, ask the
person calling to hold for a minute. Then ask others to leave, turn down the stereo, close the
door, or pull yourself together. If it really is impossible to carry on a meaningful conversation,
tell the caller that you cannot speak freely at the moment. Ask if you can call back in a few
minutes or at another specific time. Be sure to get the persons name, company, and phone
2. During the conversation, answer questions just as you would in a face-to-face interview. Take
time to organize your thoughts, be sure you understand the question, focus on your interest in
the job and your qualifications for the job.
3. At the conclusion of the conversation, be sure you understand the follow-up. If in doubt, ask!
Should you send in a rsum or transcript? Should you expect another call or should you call
back? Should you schedule an in-person interview?
4. Thank the caller and express interest. Be sure you have the persons name, correct spelling, title,
company, address, and phone number.

After the call:
1. Write down a few notes who called, what was discussed, next steps, etc. Keep all this
information in your job-hunting file.
2. Write a follow-up letter thanking the interviewer, restating one or two key points, and
reaffirming your interest.
3. If you think that you did not handle the phone interview well, it would be worthwhile to call the
person back the next day. You could then indicate that you appreciated the call, but were
distracted during the conversation and forgot to mention(a special project, a summer job,
etc.). Again, reiterate your interest in the position.
University of Connecticut School of Business Business Career Center

Tips for a Successful Phone I nterview
Practice may help. Arrange with a friend or business contact to role-play a phone interview with
you. Taping the call may give you insight into your phone manner.
Have a self-confident and enthusiastic voice. Smiling while you talk helps.
Speak succinctly. Dont be long-winded, but avoid yes or no answers.
Enunciate your words carefully and speak directly into the phone.
Speak slowly as rapid speech is magnified over the phone.
Dont allow dead air. Have a list of questions to fill time.
Knowing that you will be deprived of at least two senses, you must listen carefully.
Dont smoke, eat, or chew gum while interviewing.
Have a professional-sounding message on your answering machine.
Do not take other calls during the interview, (ignore or disable call-waiting)
Do not use a cordless phone unless necessary.
Your posture can be determined by the sound of your voice; sit in an upright position or remain
Avoid nervous habits that will create noise, such as clicking a pen or scratching your head.
Dont turn on a water tap; it can sound like a waterfall over some phones.
Treat the phone interview with as much preparation as you would an on-site interview.

Adapted from several sources.