We live in busy times. Often, when applying for a role, you may be invited to an initial telephone interview by a recruiter for a pre-screen, or directly with the hiring managers themselves. The world has shrunk, and sometimes an initial phone interview is the only way to get the hiring process rolling.

Interviewing on the phone is a completely different experience than a proper face-to-face, with its own pitfalls and dangers.  When preparing for a phone job interview, the following four tips will increase your chances of success:

1. Prepare for glitches

Whenever a human hand interacts with cold technology, things can get funky. Did the recruiter email you the proper number and dial-in password to get into the interview? What if phone lines go down?

Before the interview, make sure you have your recruiter’s mobile number, business line, and email so that you can contact him or her if anything goes awry. If possible, request the same information for all the hiring managers who will be present as a back-up to your back-up, in case you cannot reach the recruiter. Request, at the very least, that the recruiter or interview coordinator passes your mobile number and email to the hiring managers as well, so that they can contact you in case anything goes wrong from their end.

This all may seem a bit pedantic, but in our experience as recruiters, Murphy’s Law is ever-present when it comes to organizing interviews. Managers get pulled into emergency meetings; traffic accidents delay candidates; fire drills disturb entire buildings; phone and internet issues can prevent outcalls, etc., etc.

So, prepare for the worst, expect the best, and take what comes.

2. Location, Location, Location

In one of my recruitment horror stories, I had found a candidate for a high-level program management position. The company required several managers in different States to be in the interview, so it was difficult to coordinate everyone. In the end, they found a date and time… but it turns out the candidate would be at a family reunion during the telephone interview!

I don’t know if he had imbibed in any liquid joy, but it’s a family reunion. Nephews and nieces jumping on him, Cold Chisel (I’m assuming) blaring on the radio, drunk Uncle Joe coming up to chat about his Navy days… it’s not really the most ideal location to give a phone interview.

Oh, and he didn’t get the job.

Don’t do an interview while driving, at a pub, while watching your kids, or while at Rainbow Serpent. Use common sense: a quiet, relaxing place where you won’t be disturbed for the next two hours, with your mobile phone fully charged and a back-up landline and computer nearby.

3. Phone Voice

Pick up your phone. I’m serious. Look at the mouthpiece, the tiny little hole you speak into. Did you know that over 90% of communication is non-verbal? You pick up a phone, and you immediately lose 90% of the tools you normally use to communicate. (By the way, you can check out helpful post on body language in interviews here:  How To Make Perfect First Impressions At Job Interviews)

When you’re on the phone, no one can see if your expression is happy, bored, angry, or confused. You can’t emphasise points with gestures. You can’t compensate a somewhat monotone voice (if you talk that way) with a wave of your hand, or raise of an eyebrow. All you have is what comes through the little speaker on the other end of the line.

You need to exaggerate your voice a bit. Speak a little louder and a little clearer. Pretend you’re speaking to your half-deaf granny in Cairns. Get bigger, bolder, because—unless you’ve had sales or presenter related training—your normal speaking voice is probably going to come off flat, quiet, and monotonous.

There is one more crucial point to keep in mind in regards to your phone voice: mirroring (also known as assimilation). This is a powerful technique that will help you fall into perfect sync with your interviewers.

Ever receive a phone call and the person’s voice just grates on you the wrong way? They’re too loud, too deep, too squeaky, too whatever. Imagine a gruff, older plant manager of an automobile factory. Is he going to respond well to a voice that is soft, high-pitched, using flowery language?

Probably not.

When we mirror someone on the phone, we are making subtle adjustments to our voice and speaking style to match the person we are talking with. I’m not advocating trying to mimic or mock them in any way. It’s just a small 10% shift up or down.

If your interviewer has a deep voice and speaks slowly, then you should slow down a bit, and maybe deepen your voice a fraction. If your interviewer is a bit hyper, speaking a mile a minute in a high voice, speak a bit faster, a bit higher.

When we encounter voices that don’t match our own, it’s harder to feel connected to that person. With a little assimilation, you can create instant rapport that will assist you in your telephone interview.

4. Get Pregnant!

Um… uh.. so…

You don’t need to fill in silence with grunts. There is nothing more powerful than “a pregnant pause”. Pregnant pauses come from the world of comedy timing. It’s a silent beat before the punch line.

For our purposes, a pregnant pause is used after you make a strong statement. Let it sink into the ears of your interviewers. Say what you need to say, then shut up. Let a silence hang in the air. Don’t fill it with ums and ahs. Leave the punchline to them.

Silence means you’ve said something that is making the other person think deeply. Sitting back and letting that silence linger shows that you are in control, you’re confident, you’re not nervous. It thrusts the onus of responding onto the interviewer, and when timed right, this silence can be more powerful on the phone than anything verbalised. Umm-ing and uh-ing to fill a void is more a distraction and demonstrates poor verbal communication skills.

These four tools—being prepared, finding the ideal location, utilising a proper phone voice, and understanding correct pauses—will greatly improve your interview preparation and chances of having a well-conducted, mutually communicative telephone-based interview.

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