Phone screens are an inevitable part of most of our job searches. It’s a side effect of having a large number of applicants and not enough time to interview all the applicants an employer would like . While they could pick names out of a hat or select the first five that applied or, my personal favorite, pig races with applicant names spray painted on the side , phone interviews seem to be the most common way employers whittle down a large applicant pool to a small group of interviewees. By calling you up and listening to you answer a few questions, they will be deciding if you are selected to move forward. The content of your answers is important, but so is the manner in which you answer the questions. What you say matters just as much as how you say it. Today, we are going to dive into what words you should use and how you should sound when you use them in a phone interview. COMMENT TIME: How do you sound on the phone? Does this hurt or help you interview?
You are talking to this person in the hopes that they will buy your time. If you are not taking every opportunity to sell your time in this conversation, do not be upset when you hear someone else is offered the position. Regardless of the question, you need to remember this context. You should be answering EVERY question in a way that sells you and showcases your marketable skills. An easy way to do this is to add “…at work” to the end of every interview question. “Tell me about yourself [at work]”, “What are your greatest strengths [at work].” Adding this small phrase reminds you to think of who you are in the workplace and to respond as that person. If you don’t have a ton of work experience, you can expand this to include school or volunteer experience; however far back you need to go to get to some anything could be considered professional experience.
Beyond hearing what you say, employers are conducting phone screens to get a sense of your communication skills by hearing how you say it. They are asking intentionally leading questions to see how you respond when you have to talk about things you like, things you don’t like, things you know a lot about, and things you know a little about. No one is trying to fluster you on purpose, it just happens sometimes when interviewers are creating questions to get you to talk about a diverse range of experiences.
We all know the classic question about your greatest weakness. When you are asked about your weaknesses, it’s not because everyone that says math is not getting a call back. You’ll be asked about weaknesses so employers can hear you talk about a failure and how you responded to that failure. It’s not easy to tell a story that ends in your failure or having a weakness highlighted, but they want to hear which parts of the story you minimize and which parts you focus on. Did you assign blame to someone else or accept responsibility? Did you come up with a plan to improve or did you abandon your failure? Often, it’s much more about how you failed than it is about what you failed. Side stepping the question by saying your weakness is a strength (IM A PERFECTIONIST, SOMETIMES IM TOO EARLY, etc.) is just a way of avoiding the question that isn’t going to get you any points.
If you have never heard of them, you want to learn how to phrase your answers as STAR statements. These statements give you a framework so that all of your answers give employers proper context, what was expected, how you preformed, and what the outcome was.
There are also a few generic tips you can use to make your speech more impactful. Speak slowly, but. don’t. speak. too. slowly. This gives you more time to think and some people will get the impression that slow speech is deliberate speech, don’t correct them. Also do your best to stay away from filler words. Filler words are words that people use to fill otherwise empty space. Everyone’s got their own favorites but the most common ones are like or good ol’ umm. Sometimes, people rely too heavily on filler words and the results are tragic for one person and hilarious for the rest of us.
There are a number of positive impressions you want to leave before the interview is through. Primarily, you want to sound knowledgeable and informed. This means that the statements you make need to be relevant and true. There are two sources for relevant and true information that you need to be very familiar with before the interview: the job description and the organization’s website. The job description will list all of the duties that you need to prove you are familiar with. If you can look at every bullet under Responsibilities and speak about a time you were successful with that, you are prepared. You want to pay special attention to the order of this list, the more important (or time consuming) responsibilities are typically towards the top. Having the job description on hand during the interview can also be useful if you forget any small details (the position you are applying for is NOT a small detail).
The organization’s website is the next place you want to go. Here, you will find a few pieces of critical information that you can easily include to show you’ve done your homework. The first page you should visit is the one with the mission statement. This shows you what the company’s grander goals are and a bunch of stuff they want to hear you repeat. Ideally, your conversation should include the phrase “Oh my! You guys *MISSION STATEMENT VERBATIM*? BECAUSE I *MISSION STATEMENT VERBATIM*, TOO!!!” Don’t force it, but it should work. At best, it shows your interests are perfectly aligned with the company, at worst it shows that you are capable of light research.
There are a ton of other places you can find information about any organization you are applying to. If they have any annual or quarterly reports, check out the most recent one. Come prepared with a question based on that report and listen to your interviewer type furiously to figure what you are talking about. You could also do a google search for that company and only look at the most recent news articles. How are they portrayed by the media and how does that affect the organization? Show that you have a good idea of who they are and where the company fits in the overall industry landscape.
Additionally, you could say some things that show you have visualized yourself in the position. This will assist the interviewer in visualizing you in that position and it will give them an idea of what they can expect you to bring to the table. Ask them if anyone in this role has researched or experimented with a particular software or technology that could be used beneficially. If you can guide the conversation towards how you specifically would be making the position more efficient or more impactful, it’s going to be easy for the interviewer to select you over others.