Pass the Telephone Screen

Not all interviews are face to face. If you’re conducting a long-distance career search or need to talk to a manager who’s not in town, you may undergo a phone interview. By conducting preliminary phone interviews, employers save money and shorten the hiring cycle. An HR professional may call a candidate with a stellar resume to get more information to pass along to the hiring manager; or the hiring manager herself will call to ask a few key questions about a candidate’s education, skills, experience, and career objectives. This will help her determine whether it’s worth bringing someone in for an interview.

Because you don’t know who will be calling, or when, it helps to be prepared. Keep a list of every company you’ve applied to (along with contact names), and copy of your resume near the phone. Be ready to talk about why you want to work at the companies you’ve applied to. You might also consider creating a list of questions about the companies and positions your applying for–if you ask a few questions (but don’t go overboard) during the call, you’ll appear interested and enthusiastic about the job. Here are some more tips to help you make the cut:

1. It’s important that you listen carefully, so try to take the call in a quiet room, away from distractions. If the interviewer calls at a bad time, ask if you can return their call in five or 10 minutes.

2. Speak clearly. Ask a friend to help you practice interviewing. Keep your answers brief, and try to sound confident and relaxed. Believe it or not, if you smile when you speak, you’ll sound more upbeat.

3. Be honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question, or don’t have a specific skill, admit it. If the skill is crucial to the job, you’re better off having told the truth than walking into a job you can’t do. If you tell the truth, but you’re otherwise qualified, the company might pay to train you.

4. Practice giving a brief overview of your work history, but be prepared to describe everything included in your resume. Your interviewer may ask you to elaborate on specific projects or responsibilities.

5. Do ask questions, but don’t go overboard. If you make the cut, you’ll have ample time to find out what you need to know. It’s acceptable to ask about things like company history, start date, and office location, but avoid topics like salary, benefits, or problems with your current employer.

6. If the interviewer mentions something about the job or the company that sparks your interest, say so.

7. If you have already accepted another job, tell the interviewer immediately– and do so courteously. You never know if you’ll need that person in the future.

8. At the end of the conversation remember to thank the interviewer for her time, and address her by name. (If you’re bad with names, write it down so you don’t forget.)

9. Once the call is over, jot down notes on what you discussed, in case they call you back for an interview.

10. Send a thank you note!

Remember, the phone screening won’t get you the job–it’s just meant to get you in the door. Remain calm and cheerful, practice a succinct summary of your qualifications, and an office visit will be forthcoming.

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