11 Actually Helpful Phone Interview Tips From a Career Coach

Updated 01/31/18
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From writing a cover letter to selecting the perfect interview outfit, there are so many elements to the job application process that sometimes you're tempted to grin and bear your current position rather than going after your dream job. If just the thought of updating your résumé is making you feel anxious, we're here to assure you that the job application process doesn't have to be nearly as difficult or painful as you might think.

To help assuage your interview fears, we asked career coach Rose Keating all our most pressing questions about phone screenings. "The most important thing to remember is that this is an interview and to prepare just as seriously as you would for an in-person interview," she advises. From easy ways to boost your confidence before the call to the proper follow-up etiquette, Keating's insider tips are sure to score you an in-person meeting.

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Q: Phone screenings are par for the course in any job application process. What are some tips to help land the on-site interview?

"A phone screen has a few distinct differences from in-person interviews. We know from Albert Mehrabian's communication theory that roughly 55% of the messages we receive when someone is communicating come from their body language, 37% from the tonality of their voice, and 7% from the actual words used. The most important thing to remember with phone screens is that unlike in-person meetings, all physical communication signals are lost.

"As a result, the tone and energy of your voice become more significant. It's critical to ensure that you have energy in your voice (so you sound upbeat and excited about the role) and that your tone is varied rather than monotone so the interviewer can tell what the most important part of each story you share is. I always recommend that my clients stand up during phone interviews instead of sitting down, as it affects the tonality of your voice.

"It's also important in a phone screen that you've researched the company and role, and have prepared some questions that demonstrate you're truly interested in the company and aren't just looking for any job. One of the quickest ways to be disqualified in a phone screen is to not ask any questions or to ask basic questions that could have easily been answered through online research."

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Q: What are some logistical things to take care of before the call?

"It may seem obvious, but ensuring that you have a quiet place to take the call is important. I've worked with MBA students who have been disqualified for the next round of interviews because they did a phone screen on the street where there was a lot of background noise.

"Ensure that you're clear on whether the recruiter will be calling you or if you're expected to call them. Review every bullet in the job description (responsibilities, not just qualifications), and write some notes about what you've done in the past that demonstrates you can do that responsibility or have that skill.

"If you're using a cell phone, make sure you have strong Wi-Fi signal in the location. Otherwise arrange to use a landline for the call so you don't risk losing Wi-Fi. If you're in a conference room in an office or in a busy home, make sure you put a note on the door to let everyone know not to come in and interrupt."

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Q: What are the best ways to boost your confidence before the call?

"There are many ways to boost confidence before a call; the best approach depends on each individual's preferences. For some people, doing power poses—such as the ones Amy Cuddy describes in her TED Talk, 'Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are'—helps to boost their confidence.

"I personally have two specific inspiring songs that I like to listen to before doing something that makes me nervous. I've also worked with people who find that writing positive affirmations such as 'Every interview I do, I radiate confidence and competence' helps them get into the best state of mind before doing a phone screen."

Q: What is the top mistake people make?

"Taking the phone screen call too casually overall, whether that means taking the call from a busy street, not thoroughly researching the company and role, or not having any specific questions planned. If I had to summarize, I would say a lack of preparation and professionalism is the most common mistake."

Q: What's the proper follow-up etiquette?

"Follow-up etiquette is the same as an in-person interview—send a thank-you email within 24 hours of the call. In addition to thanking the interviewer for their time, it's important to write something specific you learned that increased your interest in the company or a particular part of the conversation you enjoyed."

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