Acing the Phone Interview

phone interview tipsThe 15-30 minutes you spend on a phone interview is one of the most important slices of time in your job search.  This is often the first time you as an individual (i.e., not just a stack of documents) will come to life for a school.  While perhaps not as nerve-wracking as an on-campus interview (or an in-person CS&A conference interview), the initial phone call is a chance to make a good impression and get your foot in the proverbial door.

For that reason, rejoice when schools ask you to set up a time to chat.  And read these tips so you can ace your phone interview—and get on-campus!

1. Timing is Everything

When a school asks you if a certain time works for you for a phone interview, make sure that time actually does work.  Don’t feel that you need to accept the school’s first suggestion in order to be accommodating; if you’re squeezing the interview into your schedule, you’ll likely be anxious about the time and won’t perform to your best ability.  If a school suggests speaking for 20-30 minutes at 11am, but you have a commitment at 11:30, suggest another time.  Give yourself a time cushion before and after the interview so you can collect your thoughts and account for the (good!) possibility that the call runs longer than expected.

2. Make Yourself Comfortable

One of the benefits of a phone interview is that you can use the comforts of a familiar environment to counteract some of the stresses of interviewing.  Put yourself in a quiet place where you have access to things you need (a copy of your resume, a computer, a glass of water, etc.).  Avoid being in a stressful or loud place, such as the car.  Know your own preferences: if you feel less stressed when you smell fresh air, open a window.  If you need to pace when you’re on the phone, make sure you have plenty of room to do so.

3. Prepare

By this point, it goes without saying that the hallmark of every good interview is preparation—you shouldn’t go into an interview “blind,” without having researched the school and the position.  To prepare for a phone interview, take it a step further: practice.  Without the aid of body language and eye contact, a conversation can be challenging.  You might not realize that you’re being repetitive or inarticulate.  Practice with a family member or friend, and take note when your verbiage becomes less than crisp.  You will most likely be asked straightforward questions and be requested to walk the hiring contact through your background.  Practice doing this efficiently and concisely without rambling or missing any of your key points.

4. “Cheat” a Little!

A phone interview is like an open-note exam.  You can have all your notes handy: a copy of your resume, bullet points to highlight during the conversation, questions you have, and information about the school.  Use that information—you don’t need to rely on memory when asking about a specific program or the name of your prospective department head.  Treat your notes like a helpful roadmap to guide you through your phone interview, and hit all the salient points you’ve identified from your preparation.

5.  Take Notes and Ask for Next Steps

You can learn a lot from an initial phone call.  Make sure you have paper and a pen handy so you can write down anything important.  Resist the urge to type your notes—even if you think you type softly, the clacking of keys can be distracting and might lead the interviewer to believe you’re multitasking.  At the end of the interview, make sure you ask about (and write down!) next steps.  Clearly identify when you should expect to hear from the hiring contact.  Once you hang up, send an email that same day thanking the interviewer for his or her time and reiterating your interest in the position and the school.  If you don’t hear back from the contact by the time s/he indicated, follow up.

 

A successful phone interview is all about combining preparation and comfort to create the best possible first impression.  If you’ve been invited to phone interview, maximize that small window of time so you can paint the best possible picture of yourself—and get invited to interview on-campus!

Image credit: Microsoft

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