Effective Phone Interviewing

By: Randy Siegel

When the job search process takes you to a new state, your first interview may be by phone. "How can I make a strong impression during a phone interview?" clients often ask.

While it's true that dress, grooming, and body language often form the basis for our judgments about others, we can still convey likeability, credibility, and authority—the three hallmarks for successful first impressions—if we know how to properly package, present, and promote ourselves.

Here are fourteen tips for interviewing by telephone that will help you make a first impression that requires a second look.

Before the interview:

1. Create the ideal interview setting. Find a quiet place and remove all distractions from your desk. Turn off your computer, put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, and spend a minute or two before the interview to gather your thoughts.

2. Determine your unique selling proposition, which is made up of the three things that separate you from the other people who will be applying for the job. Perhaps it's your business contacts, educational background, or your ability to influence, motivate, and inspire. Maybe your education or training gives you an edge, or your years of service in your industry. Whatever your unique selling proposition, be sure to inventory case studies, examples, stories, or other proof to support your claims.

3. Develop criteria for your ideal work environment – the environment in which you thrive. I work with clients to determine five to six "non-negotiables" in their job search. Some examples include:
A flexible work schedule
Lots of activity, multiple tasks, high-energy work environment
Helping people, benefiting society
Working independently
Starting new projects
Recognition for loyalty, dedication, and dependability
Stability and security

4. Research the company, organization, or agency that is interviewing you.

5. Based upon your ideal work environment inventory and your research, develop questions about the position for the interview.

During the interview:

6. Stand up. It will give your voice more power and allow you to think clearer.

7. Ask what I call the "million dollar question." "Let's say that we are in your office a year from now, and you are telling me that I have done a terrific job for you this past year. What happened?"

8. Remember the 70/30 rule. During the interview, spend 70 percent of your time listening and only 30 percent talking.

9. Practice active listening skills:
Make a commitment to listen.
Listen to understand first.
Reserve judgment until the speaker is finished.
Place your personal agenda aside.
Don't interrupt. Write down questions or comments for later.
React to message by strong eye contact, nodding, taking notes, and asking questions.
Briefly summarize and allow the speaker time to respond.
Listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

10. Think on your feet. Adjust your unique selling proposition to match the position—but only if it's true and you can back it up.

11. Work in your unique selling proposition at least three times during the interview. Use it once at the beginning to frame the interview, again when you answer questions, and finally at the very end of the interview as a summary. "If there's nothing else that you remember about my qualification, I hope you'll remember…"

12. "Flex" your communication style to match that of the interviewer. For example, if he or she is formal and to-the-point, be very professional and concise with your answers. If she or he is extremely personable, relax and take time to build the relationship.

At the end of the interview:

13. Send a thank-you letter that again reinforces your unique selling proposition.

14. Send any requested follow-up material immediately. It's an opportunity to show you are responsible and will follow through.

Making a strong first impression by phone can be accomplished as long as you approach the telephone interview with the same professionalism as you would a face-to-face meeting. These fourteen tips will not only help you to become a more powerful communicator during the interview process, but also after you're hired.

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