It’s not always about what you think

First, there is no such thing as a “phone interview.” It is a phone screen. The interviewer has read your resume and thinks that you are qualified for the job. His immediate problem is that he has six people who are qualified for the job but he doesn’t want to bring six people in for interviews. He would like to bring in one or maybe two; have the interview go well, hire them and have a new hire at their desk on Monday.

Second, the screen often isn’t about what you think it is. Although it may not seem like it at the time, much of a phone screen is directed toward more personal information. If you are being phone screened it is likely that you are already qualified for the job and your discussion of the actual job components should go smoothly. The purpose of doing phone screens is to eliminate people. If the company only wants to spend time interviewing one or two people then they have to knock a few people out of the box. The company will want to be sure that the people they ultimately interview will take the job if it’s offered to them. They are also looking to uncover any personal issues that may make you reluctant to perform the job as they see fit.

On all personal issues, you need to be beyond flexible. You need to be gung-ho! For example, if they ask you about relocating to Anytown USA, you may give them a perfectly reasonable answer: “As long as the offer is fair and the company seems solid and if my wife and I like the area when we visit, then yes, we would consider moving to Anytown USA.”

While that is a perfectly reasonable answer, you’re not going to get an interview. If a company is going to knock four people out of the process they want to know that the candidates who remain are coming to work there – if they want them.

The same principles apply to other “personal areas” such as: the hours you will work, how you’ll work, the amount of travel there is and whether you will perform whatever ridiculous and quirky task that this company (and they all have them) wants you to perform. In all of these types of areas, you need to be gung-ho, even if that’s a little beyond reality. We can get back to reality when you’re sitting in front of them but we want to make sure that you’re one of the people who will be sitting in front of them.

In terms of discussion about the actual job, remember they already think you are qualified. Your recruiter should be able to tell you about the company, it’s culture and where it’s going. He should know their hot buttons and what they are looking for in this position. Prepare (yes, write it down) the three most important functions that a successful hire will have to perform. Prepare an example of when, where and how you performed each of these and a quantifiable result for each one. Write these down and review them the day before your phone screen. Don’t worry about getting the wording perfect. Instead focus on the information that you will need to get across in the conversation.

Prepare two questions that you can ask about the company and how the job is performed within the organization. You most likely have the skills but every company’s processes and hand off points are different. This would be a good time to ask about those. DO NOT try to get all your questions answered. One question or two at the most is enough to show both your interest and your ability to work in different organizations.

DO NOT ask about vacations, benefits, etc. Remember that this is a sales call for you. Your goal is to sell the employer on why he needs the product you know best – YOU. Show him how you can solve his problems and where you have solved similar problems before.

I’ve long given up advocating that candidates use a landline or at least a cordless phone to conduct phone screens. It is preferable, but I know that you’re not going to do it. At the very least, prepare in advance a location where you can spend up to a half hour that has strong mobile reception. Be sure it’s a place where you can focus on the conversation at hand without being distracted.  And yes, that means you will absolutely not be participating in a phone interview while driving a car – not even in California.

Also, it’s difficult to convey energy and emotion by just speaking over the phone. There are no facial expressions or body language cues to help the other party correctly read you and your attitude. Therefore do not sit schlumped over in a chair or a barcalounger because that is exactly how you’ll sound. Do get up and pace around. You will naturally convey a greater sense of energy and urgency, which is what every company wants.

By following these few simple procedures you will have more than a leg up on your competition in the phone screen game. Remember to remain alert, receptive and most importantly, confident that you are indeed the right person for the position.  Avoid falling into traps when discussing more personal topics. After you’ve proven yourself and impressed your screener, prepare yourself to receive the call to arrange the real on-site interview.

©Tom Keoughan 2016