How to Finesse a Phone Interview

June 15, 2010 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

So much of the advice about effective interviewing focuses on how to connect with the hiring manager or recruiter you’ll be meeting. But what if — as increasingly is the case — that first meeting won’t be in person but on the phone? Increasingly, organizations are using phone interviews to weed out candidates for a job. Sometimes a candidate will be interviewed on the phone several times before they are brought in for a face-to-face interview.

Phone interviews present several challenges to job hunters. Without the benefit of the context that body language and facial expressions provide, it can be difficult to determine the intent behind a hiring manager’s question or to figure out what the interviewer is trying to discover. Also, it’s often more difficult to make the case for your qualifications for a position in the more artificial setting of a phone interview.

Still, there are ways to get around the challenges of the phone interview and make it work in your favor. Here are some tips for finessing this situation:

*Establish the purpose of this interview. Is this just a “getting to know you” interview that the hiring manager has set up to make sure you don’t have three heads and are at least basically qualified for this position? Often, that’s the case with phoners — the hiring manager is conducting initial, brief interviews on the phone to pare their list of candidates for “real” interviews later.  Or should you treat this more like a full interview, where you should make sure to make the best case for your candidacy and ask questions about the organization? If it’s just a quick getting-to-know-you call, you won’t want to prolong it by asking a series of questions. That could backfire. But if it’s the real deal, you’ll want to prepare and present your case the way you would in a regular interview situation. Ask the hiring manager for the purpose when he or she sets up the phone interview.

*Pay attention to details. As you would with a regular interview, make sure you appear serious, polite and professional. Be sure you’re ready on time — be at your phone at least 10 minutes early in case they call a bit early. If you have access to a land-line phone, use that (and a wall phone is better than a cordless phone, just as with radio interviews). If you must be on a mobile phone, make sure it’s fully charged — some interviews can be lengthy — and that you’re in a spot with good coverage where the hiring manager can clearly hear you. Nothing is worse than having the interview interrupted because you lost your signal. Station yourself somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. Turn off other devices so they won’t chirp or ring while you’re on this call. And be focused — resist the urge if at a computer to check the news or your Facebook page; listen to what they are saying intently. Your responses will be more specific and fully formed if you’re listening carefully to the interviewer. And this is where a phone interview can actually be a benefit as you won’t be distracted by the interviewer’s mannerisms or by what’s on their desk, but can listen fully to their questions.

*Ramp up your vocal enthusiasm level. While being careful not to speak too loudly or overdo it, you’ll need to make up for the lack of context that an in-person interview provides by showing enthusiasm and interest with your voice. Especially when you are describing your fit for this job, you’ll want to underscore your enthusiasm vocally. Practice this with a friend on the phone (just as you would practice for an in-person interview that way). If your tendency is to speak too quickly or to ramble, slow down your responses. And keep the phone about an inch away from your mouth to help modulate your voice.

*Follow up. Send a thank-you note for the interview within 24 hours, just as you would after a face-to-face interview. Without going on too long, use this as an opportunity to amplify the case for why you’re qualified for this job, especially if you feel that you weren’t able to fully make your case in the phone interview. Clearly state that you are looking forward to continuing this conversation with the hiring manager in person soon. Make it clear — in a polite way, of course — that you consider the phone interview just the first step in your candidacy for this position.

*Though hiring slows down in the summer, it’s a great time to build your network and also brush up on skills. Many journalism organizations have summer conferences and conventions where you can do this…Here (courtesy of is a sampling of some groups whose conferences include how-to sessions (including on career issues) and job fairs — go to their Web sites for more information:

June/July/August/Sept. 2010

  • June 23-26 — Denver — National Association of Hispanic Journalists 28nd Annual Convention
  • July 21-24, Minneapolis — Native American Journalists Association 25th Annual Conference
  • July 28 to August 1, San Diego — National Association of Black Journalists National Convention
  • August 4-7, Los Angeles — Asian American Journalists Association National Convention
  • Sept. 2-5, San Francisco — National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) Annual Convention
  • June 17  San Francisco, CA — U.C. Berkeley Extension Relaunch Your Journalism Career

    *The following are some fresh leads to peruse and pursue; a reminder that I list these partly to provide a sense of whose hiring in the area and for what kinds of (decently paying) jobs:

    *Gannett’s USA Weekend/USA Today in McLean has an opening for a multi-platform copy editor:
    USA TODAY – Mc Lean, VA
    multiple-platform media brand, seek a Copy Editor to be a champion of accuracy, grammar and readability. The Copy Editor will be relied upon to foster teamwork…
    From CareerBuilder

    *Blackboard Inc. in D.C. has an opening for a marketing manager:

    Marketing Manager, K-12
    Blackboard, Inc. – Washington, DC
    external communications related to promoting K-12 products and services. Interface with clients to identify trends in online learning and communications that…
    From Blackboard, Inc.

    *This next lead could be interesting for a transitioning journalist with a love of sports — it requires management, coordination and communications skills — Howard University in D.C. is looking for a program coordinator for intramural and club sports:

    Program Coordinator of Intramural/Club Sports/Armour J. Blackburn Center
    Howard University – Washington, DC
    at meetings. Develops, compiles and writes communications and promotional literature for distribution… and participant communications. Interacts and…
    From Howard University

    *Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean has an opening for a strategic communications consultant:

    TCM / Strategic Communications Consultant Job
    Booz Allen Hamilton – McLean, VA
    change communications, outreach, communication… communications strategies for government clients -Experience with internal and external communications…

    *The Corporate Executive Board in Arlington has an opening for a business writer/editor:
    Director, Business Writer/Editor
    Corporate Executive Board – Arlington, VA
    Editor will work on a variety of customer facing projects than span marketing channels from print to web to PR to events Most importantly the Writer Editor will…

    *And if you know of a graduate student in communications or political science who still needs a summer internship, the U.S. Green Building Council in D.C. is looking for an intern right away:
    Test Development Summer Internship
    U.S. Green Building Council – Washington, DC
    experience for a Communications or Industrial… years worth of graduate-level coursework in in communications, industrial-organizational psychology, or…

    Good luck on the hunt today!



    Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

    What To Do When You’re Stuck in the Middle What Job Hunters Can Learn From the Campaign Trail

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

    DC Works has moved!

    I'm now blogging at I hope you'll join me there!

    %d bloggers like this: