The telephone interview is a standard screening practice for most employers today and it is also one of the most overlooked areas of job search preparation for a job-hunter. With so much invested in a job search and the outcome resting on a positive result to a telephone interview, it makes sense for you, as a career professional, to prepare and deliver a “slam-dunk performance. Preparing to conduct a panic free job search also requires preparing to win at the telephone interview.

Hiring Manager vs. HR interview

Understand the difference between a hiring manager and a Human Resources (HR) telephone interview. A screening call from HR will deal more with your personality, salary, your work record, validating the accuracy of your resume, ascertaining why you are considering employment, and why you picked this particular employer. The hiring manager will be keying more on determining if your skills fit the position and if you fit with him and his team. This article deals primarily with acing the hiring manager phone interview.

Critical Questions

The outcome of a telephone interview depends on the answers to two critical questions a hiring manager will be asking himself “Do I like you? and “Do I trust you?” The answer to those critical questions rest upon how you, as the interviewee, answer the following points of inquiry:

  1. Can you do the job? Your technical fit, skills/qualifications.
  2. Are you the right fit for the job? Your personality and fit with the group or company culture.
  3. Will you do the Job? Is the timing and money right. 

Can you do the job?

The key to the technical or qualifications (competencies required) part of the game is usually found in the job description. Make sure to brush up on these key areas before the interview. When formulating and answering practice questions, come up with work examples, actual accomplishments that support your abilities and knowledge and those relating to the key areas on the job description.

When in the midst of a telephone interview keep your example answers close by and spread out on a large surface so you can quickly refer to them if need be during the heat of the interview. Make sure you print out your notes in large font so they are easy to refer to – like cue cards. Make no mistake, a hiring manager will be asking you questions regarding your technical skills and your abilities, so prepare accordingly.

During the interview you are bound to run across a question that deals with an area that you do not have experience in, just make sure to demonstrate your passion for learning. You can always bolster your answer by giving an example of something you

had to learn from scratch in your job or previous job and point out how proficient you became with that new skill. Remember passion, enthusiasm, and excitement sometimes can trump experience.

Are you the right fit?

A large part of any interview, be it in-person or on the telephone, is to evaluate how well you will fit in with the team, company, and culture. You must make every effort to come off as likeable over the phone by building rapport. Building rapport can be challenging for some, when under pressure. One way for you to build rapport quickly is to match the interviewer’s style.

Style Match Up

People like people who are like themselves therefore it is important to match your interviewer’s style. For instance, if the interviewer gets right to it with serious snappy questions then follow suit and match their style, with quick snappy answers. If they are matter of fact then do not try and lighten the call just go with it and be matter of fact as well.

If the hiring manager is upbeat and friendly and starts by chit chatting or discussing personal items then follow suit and open up and share, just keep your guard up and keep it professional. You want to match the interviewer’s energy as closely as possible.

Communication Skills

The interviewer will be seeking to find out if he/she can understand you and can you answer questions with more than just a yes or no. Make sure to avoid rambling on – once you have given your answer…just stop talking. Practicing will keep you from being too talkative.

I often hear from hiring managers that yes and no answers lead them to believe the candidate does not know his/her stuff and likewise ‘ramblers’ are just trying to cover all the bases and really don’t know the right answer.

Again the best way to avoid these traps is to prepare properly.

Will you do the job?

If you are interested in the position then say so and take it a step further by proving it. Most interviewees never state during the call that they are interested or want the position but wait until they follow up with an email – don’t wait, state it during the call and state it enthusiastically.

Show you did your homework

Nothing says “I am interested” like the fact that you went through the company’s website and learnt about the culture, the products, and the recent items in the news. During the interview, use every opportunity you get to let the interviewer know that you have done your homework by intertwining what you have learnt about the company into your answers or the questions you ask the interviewer.

Dos and don’ts

Always find a quiet place to talk – avoid taking a call at work or at home when the kids are around. Make sure you make arrangements to be in an area where you will not be disturbed.

A cell phone is to be avoided – you never know when the signal can drop or if the caller can hear you properly – find a landline to receive or make the call. I have seen too many telephone interviews blown because the candidate was in a noisy area or the cell phone line was bad.

If you are caught unaware, ask for the interviewer’s number and call him/her back from a quiet place. 

The keys to success

Interviewing can be stressful but it does not have to be if you take the time to prepare properly. By preparing properly and delivering a stellar phone interview the likely conclusions the hiring manager will come to are “I like you” and “I trust you” sufficiently to invite you to an in-person interview.

To find out more on how to craft your compelling message as well as how to painlessly attract employers and opportunities, pickup the groundbreaking book The Panic Free Job Search: Unleash the Power of the Web and Social Networking to Get Hired, Career Press, NJ. Paul Hill is a career and job search coach, author and speaker. Follow Paul Hill on twitter @LandYourNextJob