Ready for the 10-minute phone interview?

Your tone, your confidence, and how well you listen matters. 

This is the latest installment in the Job Series by UCSC Extension Dean P.K. Agarwal.

If you have been successfully following this job series, you know we’ve been through several key steps in the job search to arrive at the magic moment when you get to talk to a real human being—the HR professional. 

In Laid off. Crisis or Opportunity?, I talked about how to manage the rollercoaster of suddenly being in the job market. In Job Transition: Make Your Own Luck, I provided some advice about how to set up the foundation for a successful and “lucky” job search. In the last blog, I talked about really targeting your efforts for quality leads in Getting your foot in the door.

Now it’s paying off.

You’ve got a screening interview with HR. 

In a mid- to large-size company, you can expect a minimum of two steps. 

  1. A phone interview with human resources
  2. A hiring manager interview

Each of these steps may involve more than one interview. The good news is that you’re well prepared. If you’ve been following my advice thus far, only incremental preparation is needed.  So, let’s dive into the prep involved in a phone interview with HR.

Research and align

Before you get on the phone with your initial interviewer, take time for a deeper dive into the company. Research its mission, vision, and values. You want to familiarize yourself with any recent news or projects they have been working on. This will help you to understand the company culture and align your responses with their expectations. Hopefully you already know most of this information or you wouldn’t have made it this far in the process. 

Also, if you have a name of the HR professional you’ll be talking with, take a moment to look up their LinkedIn profile and get a better understanding of who you will be talking with.

Prepare for common interview questions

There are some general questions that most recruiters want to know about you. Have great answers for each one.

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What can you bring to the company?
  • What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

It may take three to four hours to craft your answers, but it will pay off to practice these. Write down your answers. Say them out loud and record yourself. It becomes easier each time you interview. 

Here are a couple links to some great commonly asked questions.

Tailor every response to each company

The overarching strategy is not only who you are but what you bring to the company. How would your unique strengths help the company? When you talk about a few of your strengths, note how these strengths are relevant to the job and the company.

Keep your responses brief

Two minutes is long enough. A phone interview usually lasts only 10-12 minutes. Preparation helps you be concise and confident. When you practice, time yourself. Edit out the non-relevant information.

Practice active listening

It’s surprising how challenging it is to really hear what someone is asking. During the phone interview, listen carefully to each question. Make sure you understand before responding. Active listening involves restating the question to show that you are engaged and interested. You can help shape a fun conversation rather than push through the same old Q & A. You can leave a little room in your responses so there is an opportunity for the recruiter to ask you for a follow-up question or a comment. 

Use a professional tone

Your voice matters. A lot. In just a few seconds, someone can evaluate how professional you sound. Speak clearly and confidently. Be energetic rather than aggressive. Practice by recording your responses and listening to them later on in the day. Here is a great two-minute video on how to shape your telephone personality.

Highlight relevant skills and experiences

Demonstrate how you can contribute to the company, how your skills align with the company needs. Be specific. People often repeat what is already in a resume. This is a mistake. While it’s OK to highlight some things, be sure to introduce new elements. Be a memorable storyteller.

Ask questions

What questions do you have about the company? This is the time to show that you are interested in the role, have done your research, and are thoughtful about the challenges at the company. Use this time to show off for one last time.

Follow up

After the interview, send a thank you email to the interviewer. Express your appreciation for the opportunity to interview. Reiterate your interest in the position. 

If all this is done right you are quite likely to hear from them for a follow on interview. In the next article, I will talk about the hiring manager interview. Happy job hunting!

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