Job-Hunting: First Telephone Interview

By Aruna Papp

A telephone job interview is offered because the employer has decided that you have met the basic job requirements for the position they need to fill. Today, national and international employers place a great deal of emphasis on telephone interviews because it helps them to save resources and ensure that they hire the right people.

Telephone interviews also help to screen candidates and decide if they are appropriate for a face-to-face meeting, determine the candidate's current employment status and check if they have the qualifications needed. Information collected at these interviews then help the employer to decide which candidates will be invited for a second interview.

Telephone interviews can be more difficult for some people than face-to-face interviews. For many new immigrants, this might be their first such experience. Not being able to see the interviewer and read their body language can be unsettling. The important thing to remember is that, as a candidate, you need to prepare just as carefully as you would for a face-to-face interview. This may be your only chance to make a memorable impression.

One of the first things you need to do is prepare the home environment for the telephone interview. This means during the interview your roommates, children, and pets should be someplace else. Put a “do not disturb” sign on the front door. It is most important to plan ahead so that every distraction is removed well before the time set for the interview. Often the interviewer will send an email or phone to set an interview time, but if they call and ask for an on-the-spot interview it is quite acceptable to tell the person you have certain distractions in your home at present, ask if you may call them back in an hour, set a time, and be prompt about returning their call.

Preparation for the telephone job interview can make the difference between success and failure. The stakes are high and the competition is stiff, so begin the process by getting dressed in work clothes. While the interviewer cannot see you, there is extensive research that suggesting that getting dressed for a telephone interview helps prepare the candidate emotionally and psychologically. It also helps to build your confidence, and mentally put you in a workplace environment.

You only have your voice to convince the potential employer of your suitability; therefore, you need to speak clearly and with enthusiasm. Enthusiasm does not mean you have to laugh a lot or make small talk. But try to sell yourself by demonstrating a knowledge about, and eagerness for, the position.

If you are applying for a position, find a friend who has experienced a telephone interview and practice with them; or use a tape recorder so that you can learn how you sound, and polish your responses. The interviewer might have difficulty understanding you if you have a strong accent. Practice with a tape recorder is helpful.

During the interview, avoid smoking, eating, drinking or chewing gum. Smile as you speak. The listener can tell from the sound of your voice whether you are enjoying the interview. Smiling changes the tone of your voice and projects a positive note. Speak slowly and clearly, and do not interrupt the interviewer. Before the interview, review any available online information about the company and the trends in the industry. Make a fourth list with questions you want to ask about the company. Make sure you have read any recent press releases so that you are aware of the company's status in the larger market.

If you are unsure of one of the interviewer’s questions or did not hear it fully, ask for clarification. However, asking the interviewer to repeat every question is not a good idea. If you have given the answer to the question, and there is silence on the other end, ask the interviewer if you have given the right answer. "Did I answer your questions?" is quite appropriate.

During the telephone interview, avoid discussing pay or other benefits. The telephone interview is the first step in the hiring process and you probably do not have enough information to estimate the appropriate salary for you and your experience.

If you are supposed to call the employer, call on time, but don’t call more than five minutes or so before the scheduled time. If the job is located outside your area, be prepared to discuss whether you are willing to relocate. This lets the employer know that this is a worthwhile opportunity for you. When the interview has ended, send the interviewer a letter thanking them for giving you the opportunity, and identifying three or four important points you want the interviewer to remember about you.