The phone interview: 7 tips to present your best self


Is a phone interview the same as one in person or by webcam (using Skype, G-talk, etc.)? In many respects, yes. Be prepared. That means setting up the call (preferably by e-mail) so you can both be at your best. If they call unexpectedly and the time is inconvenient, or you cannot devote yourself fully, completely and uninterruptedly to the call, ask to reschedule. You want to be able to shine, showing your accomplishments and skills and why you are a great fit for their opportunity. Be other-oriented, knowing about their company and this opportunity. Use good manners. The phone interview has some unique challenges. Here are 7 tips to make your voice come alive enabling you to promote your best self on the phone.

1. S-M-I-L-E! Smile before you pick up the phone. Your voice will reflect the smile and sound positive and upbeat.

2. Dress up! Wear what you would plan to wear to an interview, including polished shoes! If you are super comfy in your pajamas, that is lovely, but you won’t be wearing them to work. To the extent you can recreate the interview environment, you will be better able to act as if you were in a face-to-face interview.

3. Shorten your Responses. Try for 20 seconds to 30 seconds – no longer unless it truly is your best imagery-laden story. We all unconsciously wait for a signal (visual or verbal) to acknowledge the relevance of the response. Because you cannot see them, you might tend to over-talk. They do want to not interrupt you. Follow a pattern: (1) state your point; (2) back it up with illustrative details, being quantifiably specific, e.g., increases/savings by dollar amount or percentages, time deadlines met or accelerated, and/ or increased employee productivity; and (3) summarize! Consider getting a noiseless timer which can assist you in making your responses crisper. When the sand hits the bottom, it’s time to “wrap it up.”

4. Pause for the technology to catch up. There are the inevitable technology delays. If there is a pause, give them a moment more than you would if you were face-to-face, then ask a question of them which follows up on your response, e.g., “would that be pertinent /relevant to this position?” Also, wait an extra second after they finish talking, so you don’t inadvertently interrupt them. If you speak quickly, slow it down just a bit; synchronize with their pace.

5. Use a mirror. Many of us derive energy from an audience. We miss that in a phone interview; so energize yourself.

6. Organize your supporting documentation using manila folder(s). Even if they cannot see you, they can hear you. Reduce the sound of papers rustling by putting each page taped to a side of a folder. Try to have no more than 2 pages of information. Your resume would be on one side and your story prompts on the other. Summarize, highlight, use outlines and make sure you know where everything is. A person can tell when you are reading so DO NOT USE FULL SENTENCES. Know your talking points. Use trigger words – so you know the stories that demonstrate each skill, e.g., for Strengths Teamwork: Constellation project at (prior job or school activity) Leadership: Organizing Fun Run for ___________(volunteer activity) Perseverance: Doctoral Dissertation (educational degree) or _____project at (another prior job) If you have to have more than two pages affix them to clearly marked manila folders.

7. Stand up/sit up straight. When you speak from your diaphragm you appear more confident. Your voice sounds fuller and likely, if you are a woman, brings it down a bit in pitch and makes your message more easily understood. Be authentically yourself. Establish rapport. Open doors by winning with words.  If you communicate effectively with confidence and ease, your answers will persuade the interviewer to become your advocate with the school.

Peggy Wallace is the Founder of Making Conversation, LLC. Peggy has volunteered as an Alumni Interviewer for over 25 years for University of Pennsylvania. She has helped teens prepare for their College/Scholarship/Job Interviews and adults prepare for Job Interviews.

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