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The 10 Most Important Things You Can Do in a Phone Interview

With time and money at a premium, many companies now conduct phone interviews to screen potential candidates and help them to determine who warrants a face-to-face interview. Have you ever wondered what it takes to make the final cut? Here’s your chance to find out.

We recently turned the tables and interviewed two tenured training and recruiting experts at Aerotek: Becky Wallraff, Training Specialist, and Jami Wheeler, Senior Internal Recruiter. Check out their insights and you’ll be ready to ace your next phone interview.

1. Do your homework
"Preparing for a phone interview is no different than preparing for a face-to-face interview," says Wallraff. "Remember: This is your opportunity to make a strong first impression. The phone interview could be your gateway into further interviews and consideration for the position."

Prior to their phone interviews, Wheeler tells candidates to study the company website and the job description carefully. "Understand their mission and values. Do they align with yours? Is the position in sync with your professional goals?"

Wallraff recommends candidates conduct pre-interview research on the prospective interviewer. "Check out LinkedIn to learn whatever you can about the interviewer’s background," she says. "Look for commonalities between you and the interviewer. These can be great ice-breakers and may help to create an alliance."

2. Be strategic
Provide examples of skills, qualities and professional experiences that are relevant to the job at hand. "Consider past work experience and be able to articulate how it is transferable to the current position," says Wheeler.

3. Know what to expect
Anticipate what questions may be asked, and be ready with good answers. Typical questions include, "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" "What is your ideal work environment?" "What are your short- and long-term goals?"

"Be clear and articulate in your responses, and avoid words and phrases such as ‘like,’ and ‘you know,’" says Wallraff. Role-playing your answers to tough interview questions is a great way to prepare, she adds.

4. Use your cheat sheet
One benefit of a phone interview is that you can refer to your notes without the interviewer knowing. Take advantage of this opportunity by having them handy.

Be prepared with the answers to likely questions, as well as facts about your background that you want to mention. Even if you don’t end up using them, having notes in front of you may make you feel more confident.

Wallraff suggests using the STAR method to answer questions: "Tell the interviewer about the situation or task with which you were confronted, describe the action you took to handle it and share the results of your action."

5. Dark suit optional
Believe it or not, dressing for the phone interview may improve your performance. While the idea of interviewing in your pajamas may sound tempting, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be sleeping on the job! If being showered and clothed in business attire will help you be more alert and present a more professional image, it’s worth getting dressed.

6. Prepare your environment  

Prior to interview time, find a quiet spot; make sure you have minimized the possibility of any noise or distractions such as children, dogs and doorbells, as well as competing phone calls. Be ready to receive the call at least five to ten minutes early. Ensure your phone is fully charged. Have a pen, your resume and notes in front of you. And consider having the company’s Web site and the job description up on your computer—you may need to refer to them at some point in the conversation.

7. Be passionate
Don’t tell the recruiter you are looking for just any job. "Recruiters want to see your enthusiasm about this particular job and company," says Wheeler. "If you are an entry-level candidate who doesn’t have a clear career path in mind, try saying something like, ‘My current goal is to get my foot in the door at a stable company with opportunities for professional growth.’" That response gives the recruiter the sense that you have put some thought into your career goals.

8. Be inquisitive
Whether the interview is by phone, Skype or face to face, it’s crucial to have thoughtful questions about the company and position. When interviewing with a recruiter, "It’s a good idea to ask questions about job requirements, how the team functions and what the manager is like," says Wallraff. "It’s always worthwhile to ask the recruiter if they see any red flags in your profile that might prevent you being a good fit for the job. And, I always suggest that candidates prepare more than five questions just in case a few of them are answered during the course of the conversation," she adds

9. Be true to yourself
"Don’t simply tell recruiters what you think they want to hear," says Wheeler. "Be honest about yourself and what sort of position you seek. We want to understand how we can help you to find the job that is the right fit for you."

Being honest may keep you from getting a particular job, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It could save you from a far worse fate: taking a job you dislike that could hurt your professional growth in the long run.

10. Don’t forget the next step
Thank the interviewer for his or her time and let him or her know you enjoyed the conversation. Here’s the time to ask about next steps. Where are they in the interview process? When do they expect to hire someone? Do they need any additional information from you? These questions will provide you with some clarity, and indicate to the employer that you’re serious about this job.
As a final touch, follow up with a thank-you note as well. It’s the next best thing to an in-person handshake—and its impact lasts much longer.

Have some of your own advice to share? Drop us a line on our LinkedIn or Facebook pages.