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Clemson Center for Career and Professional Development

Career Development & Recruiting

Ask the Experts: Phone Interviews

Question

I am scheduled to have my first interview by phone and am unsure of the differences between a phone interview and a standard, in-person interview. I'm also unsure whether I should try to schedule the interview for a time when I'll be at home, where the dogs and my kids will be noisy, or when I'm at work, where I can make outgoing calls from a quiet area but can't accept incoming calls.

First Answer

Phone interviews are becoming more common in today's workplace. Major reasons for phone interviews over in-person interviews are:

If you are interviewing with a company outside the area you live in, it is much cheaper for both the employer and the job candidate to conduct the initial interview by phone. Neither party has a lot of $$$ invested, but both can see if there is an interest and skill match. Phone interviews are also used to screen persons who are interested in positions that require extensive telephone contact with others. What better way to see if a person's skills match what you are looking for than to test them yourself in the environment where the person will be using those skills.

It is very important to have the phone interview take place in an enviornment where you can talk and will not be easily distracted or interrupted. If you choose to have it at home, make the necessary arrangements ahead of time so that you will not be interrupted by noise. If you choose to be interviewed while at work, remember you will have to call the employer. You will have to explain why you can take calls but cannot make calls. This needs to be done in such a manner that the prospective employer will not think that you are trying to "skirt" company policy by initiating the call that is clearly for your benefit only.

Second Answer

The difference between the two interviewing techniques is the loss of personal contact between you and the interviewer. This contact, to my way of thinking, is a vital part of the process of selling yourself into a position. I would liken it to telemarketing your skills and background and most of us have formed opinions of telemarketing techniques. I feel this telephone technique is an inexpensive means for the interviewer to disqualify candidates. It places the interviewer in a solo control position and leaves you at a distinct disadvantage.

You sacrifice all control over the interview due to the anonymity of the telephone. A face to face interview does a great deal more than allow two people to have a conversation about your career and themselves. The opportunity to gather a sense of the company, potential co-workers, and the interviewer is lose. The insights you gather, often unconsiously, from body language, office decor, and the interviewers attitude toward others all are key to deciding if this is a place that you will be happy in and do your best work. Within this process you have the opportunity to evaluate how you can get the interviewer to like you and to decide how your talents may mesh for the best fit between you and the company. Interviewing is a complex process of interpersonal relations, salesmanship, and good fortune. Give yourself all the breaks you are able.

As to where to take the telephone interview, assuming you are not convinced it is not the best choice for your opportunity, take the call at home. This is a place where you are secure and comfortable, not likely to on guard out of fear of being overheard. Ask your wife to take the kids to Grandma's for the day or to McDonald's PlayLand for the time you will be on the telephone. Put the dog's in the garage, out in the yard or in the basement, as far from your conversation as is practical so as not to disturb you if they should bark. In other words, plan ahead, again to give yourself all the benefits you are able, to make the best of a difficult situation.

That having been said, think again about avoiding the telephone interview and asking to do the interview at the company's office.

Take time to plan. Interviews are stressful at best so do as much for yourself as you can to be at ease and focused on the business at hand, you and your future.

Third Answer

A first interview is a process to narrow a field of candidates to a smaller number, whether it occurs over the telephone or in-person. The difference is that in a telephone interview both you and the interviewer are deprived of visual cues: office environment and culture and most importantly body language, so you have to pay more attention to intonation and tone. Telephone interviews can be as long as in-person interviews, so prepare just as carefully as you would for an in-person interview: research the organization and your fit for the specifications in the ad or posting. Remember to ask questions: the most important factors sought in the ideal candidate, why the job is open, if the interviewer has any unanswered concerns about your candidacy, what the next steps in the hiring process are.

Your goal is to get to the second interview, so don't take yourself out of the running by answering questions about salary, for example, a common tactic to disqualify candidates who ask for too much or too little. If the interviewer starts the conversation with "we really like your resume, but I have to tell you up front that the job pays no more than $x000, are you still interested?" say "I'm very interested in this position" not "sure that's fine," telegraphing to the interviewer that you will accept the named salary. For an exceptional candidate, that ceiling may be moveable. If asked for salary requirements, say that you're "not prepared to discuss compensation until you know if you are mutually interested in working together." If pressed, offer a range you have researched: "my research indicates that for someone with my background and education in a role such as this opportunity, in a company of this size in this industry, the range is between $x and $y." In general, in a telephone interview, less is more; save your long answers for the in-person interview that will follow a successful telephone interview.

As to scheduling the interview: you cannot legitimately schedule a job interview on your employer's time, so the work day is out unless it is lunch time and you are off the premises (so as not to be overheard or interrupted). Some organizations record all telephone calls so don't assume your call is private. If you have been advised this is going to be a lengthy interview, it may be best to take part or all of a day off work as a personal or vacation day just as you would for an in-person interview. If you schedule it at home, schedule it for a time when your children are in school or at the movies, and if you can't get a friend to take the dogs on a long run in the park, put them in the room farthest from the telephone. You must be uninterrupted so that you can focus on the interview with the same attention as in an in-person interview.

Fourth Answer

Phone interviews can be a great time saver for both a hiring manager and the job seeker. But you want to find out as much as you can about the hiring organization and their opportunity before you talk to anyone. And there's a very good reason for this.

The Internet job search has spawned a real problem for hiring companies: they get more candidates than they can handle. Worse, most of these candidates are unqualified. Thus, many companies save time and effort by screening applicants by phone against very strict criteria before calling them in for an interview.

So be on your toes. Read the posting over again, try to find out as much about the company as you can and be prepared to talk in the same tone and language of the posting that lead you to submit your resume to them in the first place.

Depending on the situation, be careful not to say too much in this interview. Phone interviews are often fishing expeditions. Try and give them what they are fishing for. Chances are, the person on the phone is a step or two away from an actually hiring manager. And make your call from a location where you can concentrate and communicate clearly.


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