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Angry nerd on the phone

Passing the Phone “Screen”

Preparing is key, but many fail to do it.

With so many job hunters and so little time in today’s busy world, it’s no surprise more employers are using phone interviews to pare down the field of applicants.
It’s one of the biggest trends in hiring, says Mary Jo Dreshar, senior recruiter at Genesis10, a leading IT consulting firm. Another trend, she says, is the number of applicants who just don’t prepare well for phone screens.

“Maybe they think a phone interview is not as important as an in-person interview, but you have to prepare if you want to make it to the next step,” Dreshar says.

The dynamics of phone interviews are decidedly different from face-to-face meetings. While some are conducted via videoconferencing, most are still a traditional phone call, usually lasting 30 to 60 minutes. In most cases, the interviewer does not know you or your speaking habits.

“In a phone interview, an unprepared candidate can come across as evasive,” says Dreshar. “The key is to be prepared. Your purpose is to get your foot in the door.”

Employers use phone screens to save time, but also to get a feel for your personality, motivation and attitude.

To prepare candidates for handling phone screens successfully, Dreshar provides a set of tips, including:

Do your research. Learn as much as you can about the company, interviewer and opportunity.

Find the perfect place to take the call. Turn off your TV, computer and call waiting. Let others know you’re not to be interrupted.

Prepare your environment. Have your resume in front of you, along with notes, including the names of your interviewers.

Show your enthusiasm and upbeat attitude. Smile. It makes a difference.

Don’t smoke, chew gum, eat or drink. But have a glass of water ready.

Speak slowly. Enunciate clearly. Don’t interrupt. Take your time.

Have stories ready — ones that illustrate your strengths, career victories and how your talents and traits align to their needs.

Be able to explain your career progression. “I had one client who was concerned that his many years of serving in contract positions made him appear unstable,” says Dreshar. “He needed to show the employer that his career path was his own choosing. By taking on a wide range of assignments, learning a wide range of systems, he has stayed fresh and more on top of the changes in his field. He’s adaptable. What he thought was weakness was actually strength.”

Give direct answers that are detailed and specific. General answers can make you sound like you’re dodging the issue.

If you need a question clarified, it’s OK to ask.

List at least three questions to ask during the interview, such as: “What do you feel it takes to be successful in your organization?”

Practice. Tape your voice. Do you sound confident and enthusiastic? Have someone ask you tough questions so you can test your answers.

Ask for the job. Make it unmistakably clear you’re interested. Tell them you’d love to meet the team. Make sure you express an interest in “taking this process to the next step.”

Remember to say thanks. Email a thank you note promptly.

Afterwards, analyze how you did. What did you learn? How would you adjust for your next phone interview?

How do you know it went well?

“If it goes longer than was advertised, that’s a good sign,” says Dreshar. “If they ask about your availability, that’s good, too.”

One final tip: Don’t dread the phone screen. Because so many others take them lightly, if you prepare well, you’ve just moved past your competitors.



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