Phone Interview? 13 Tips That Will Help Get You an In-Person Meeting

Dwight is bewildered on the phone

Dwight from The Office is bewildered on the phone. | NBC

Remember when you were younger and scared to death to call up your crush? That same psychological vice grip can rear its ugly head later in life in the form of the phone interview. Typically, a phone interview is the first step in the job-interview process. It’s a screening of sorts, meant to help winnow the pool of applicants to a handful an employer actually wants to meet in person. It can be stressful. But it can also be a chance to separate yourself from the pack.

Because you’re not suiting up and physically heading into an employer’s office, it can be easy to blow off a phone interview. But employers take them seriously. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to work your way through a pile of resumes. If somebody can’t manage to get on the phone and have a pleasant, constructive conversation, what hope do they have of coming in and knocking it out the park in-person?

For that reason, you should take the phone interview as seriously as you take an in-person interview. There are big differences, of course, such as having a choice about whether you want to wear pants while you interview on the phone. But how can you make sure you’re adequately prepared? A new infographic from NetCredit runs through the entire phone interview process — from the preparation to the post-call follow-up.

“You can turn the situation to your advantage if you use the conditions wisely,” the NetCredit team writes about the phone interview process. “With careful preparation and a few sneaky cheats, mastering the phone interview can be a breeze. Now stand tall and breathe deep — show the recruiter that you’re the one.”

We have 13 tips, but you should use these first five tips to get ready before you’re actually on the horn with an employer.

1. Fix your voicemail

A young woman trying to figure out her voicemail situation

A woman tries to figure out her voicemail situation. | iStock.com/nandyphotos

You might remember Jesse’s voicemail message in Season 1 of the show Breaking Bad. It went something like this: “Yo yo yo. 148-3 to the 3 to the 6 to the 9, representing the ABQ, what up, biatch?!” Many people think this kind of thing is funny. And maybe it is. But a recruiter or potential employer probably won’t find it funny. Rerecord a voicemail message that’s friendly and professional. You don’t even need to overthink it.

“Open with your name, ask for a return phone number, and give an expected time frame for your response,” the NetCredit brief said.

Next: Improve your odds of success by using a cheat sheet.

2. Prepare a ‘cheat sheet’

A man compiling his notes

A man compiles his notes. | iStock.com

An employer calling for a phone interview already has intel on you. You gave them a resume, after all. You need to do the same for the company you’re interviewing with. Prepare a “cheat sheet” for the interview — a document that you can reference on the fly. It’ll help you answer questions. And perhaps even more importantly, it’ll allow you to ask educated questions as you go. Don’t forget the interview is a two-way conversation.

3. ‘Arrive’ 10 minutes early

A man preparing for an interview

A man prepares for an interview. | iStock.com

A phone interview might not be taking place at a physical office, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t “arrive” early. Figure out where you plan on taking the call, and get situated. Have all of the necessary materials ready and within reach, and give yourself a few minutes to calm down. “One thing you can control in a phone interview is your environment,” the brief said. “When you are comfortable and undisturbed, you will be free to be yourself.”

4. Warm up

Excited woman with laptop talking on mobile

A woman talks excitedly on the phone. | iStock.com/CentralITAlliance

It’s odd to think of “warming up” for an interview — especially a phone interview. But you should do it. In the case that you’re interviewing over the phone, your voice is the only thing that’s going to come through (unless it’s a video call). Because of that, you want to make sure you’re speaking clearly and confidently. Do some humming, recite some tongue twisters, and get your vocal cords ready to rock.

5. Shut off notifications on your phone

A man shutting off distractions

A man shuts off distractions. | iStock.com/stevanovicigor

The final pre-interview tip? Shut off all the push notifications on your phone. You might end up being on the phone for a while, and you’re bound to get emails, calls, text messages, Facebook messages, etc. These things can and will distract you. Do what you can to turn them off before jumping on the call. You can always turn them back on immediately after.

This next batch of tips is for the actual interview itself.

6. Keep the job description nearby

A man references a job posting during a call

A man references a job posting during a call. | iStock.com/imtmphoto

In addition to your cheat sheet, make sure you have either a physical or digital copy of the job posting you applied to. This is incredibly important, as it should guide any questions you have about the company and individual position. Knowing what an employer is looking for gives you the opportunity to explain why you’re in a unique position to fill those needs.

7. Take notes

A man takes notes

A man takes notes. | iStock.com

It’s like being in class all over again. Keep a pen and paper handy, and jot down anything that catches your ear. It might be the names of managers or executives that you can reference later, or something said might spawn a question in your mind that you want to ask later in the interview. Writing things down will keep you engaged and help you later in the process.

8. Maintain good posture

A man with poor posture

A man sits with poor posture. | iStock.com

When you’re on the phone, it’s easy to lose awareness of your posture. But body language can be important even when you’re in a room by yourself. “Research shows that power poses can actually increase your confidence on a hormonal level and make it easier for you to identify ’empowering, positive’ traits about yourself,” the NetCredit brief said. So try to remain mindful of any slouching.

9. If a distraction pops up, roll with it

Man shouting and losing his cool during a call

A man loses his cool during a call. | iStock.com/Tomwang112

It’s a phone call, and sometimes things happen. The call might get dropped. Your dog might come bursting through the door, eager to play. Or maybe somebody shows up at your door? The fact is distractions might pop up, and instead of trying to play it cool, explain what’s going on. If you need to ask for a minute to relocate or deal with something, be honest and take care of it.

10. The dismount: ‘What are the next steps?’

A handshake -- technically not possible during a phone interview

A handshake is technically not possible during a phone interview. | iStock.com

Eventually the interview will wind down. It’s at this point where you’ll want to ask any outstanding questions you have for the employer, and then go for the dismount. The best way to do it? Ask a simple question: “What are the next steps?” This tells the employer you’re shooting for the position and are taking the process seriously. Ask for a time frame and when you can expect to hear back.

The final three tips are for after the interview’s over.

11. Send a follow-up

A young woman sends an email on her phone

A woman sends an email on her phone. | iStock.com/beer5020

Now that you’ve completed the phone interview — and presumably the first step of the interview process — you’ll want to touch base. Sending a thank-you note or follow-up is important, though you might not hear back. That’s OK. The important thing is to show you’re “organized, proactive, and polite,” the brief said. Make sure it’s short, sweet, and sent within a few hours.

12. Stay cool on social media

logo for LinkedIn

Update your LinkedIn with accurate information. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You’ll also want to keep your cool on social media accounts. Don’t immediately jump on LinkedIn, for example, and start sending contact requests to all of the people you just spoke to. Save that for later. What you can do, however, is add links to your profiles in your thank-you email, so an employer can check them out if they feel the need.

13. The thank-you note

A man preparing to write a note

A man prepares to write a note. | iStock.com/anyaberkut

Back to the thank-you note. You’ll want to send one (not merely a post-interview follow-up) at the end of the process — even if you didn’t get the job. It’ll show you’re grateful for the opportunity and can handle rejection. “Industry professionals talk to each other. How you deal with rejection is an important part of developing your reputation,” the brief said.

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