When a Stranger Calls – How to Handle Phone Interviews? By Tranette Ledford

This article actually runs in a section of the paper called “Decision Times’ which also is in the Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times. (Seen by service members and veterans worldwide.)


If you’re looking for a job, you may have dropped off your resumes with friends, done some networking through acquaintances, or sent query letters to job postings. While you’re waiting for the phone to ring, it just sits there. Then suddenly, you’re relaxed, watching reruns of Third Watch, eating pizza – or you just stepped out of the shower – only to find there’s a hiring manager on the other end of the line, or an employer you’ve been itching to impress.
Getting caught off guard is the worst part about waiting for a phone call during a job hunt. But nobody can wear the ‘job seeker’ hat 24/7. So how can you get ready – and stay ready – to sell yourself in a conversation you were hoping for but weren’t expecting?

This is a subject Mark James, CPC has tackled many times. An executive recruiter and career transition coach, James is also the president and founder of Hire Consulting Services based in San Diego, California. He’s been hosting and facilitating executive networking roundtables, career seminars and workshops, and working individually with clients in career transition for over 15 years. He is a Certified Personnel Consultant and on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Professional Coaches Alliance.

Recently, James spoke with Decision Times reporter Tranette Ledford about the all important phone interview, and provided the following suggestions for separating service members forced to make a hard sell in a hard situation.

Question: What is the most important thing job seekers must do when that phone call they’ve been waiting for finally comes – but it comes at an inopportune time?

James: “When you are being screened or interviewed over the phone, your communication skills and voice must carry the day. It is critical for you to sound confident, professional and relaxed. Avoid coming across as nervous, rambling or uptight. Remember, your main mission is to be invited in for a face-to-face interview with the employer. To accomplish this, you need to immediately assume the role of ‘seller.’ If you sell your skills and abilities effectively, the listener will be able to see the value in bringing you in for an interview.”

Question: An employer or hiring manager who calls without notice is obviously going to have questions for the job seeker, while the job seeker won’t necessarily have the answers up front. Is there anything individuals can do to help themselves switch gears if they’re caught off guard?

James. “Absolutely. The first thing I would recommend is to avoid being totally caught off guard by having some essentials already stationed by the phone in anticipation of the call. These should include your resume, a list of professional accomplishments, a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer, some background information on the employer, a few outlines of stories that relate to your competencies and problem-solving abilities, and a list of possible interview times and dates so you can portray yourself as someone available, professional, and adaptable. Also, in order to be at your best, make sure you have privacy for the call. Separate yourself from all possible disturbances such as family members, friends, pets, TVs or radios in order to minimize possible interruptions.”

Question: While a person taking a call doesn’t have the opportunity to convey a visual image, how can a job seeker convey professionalism and make a great impression only through a telephone line?

James: “You can create a winning telephone image by being confident and enthusiastic. Just don’t dominate the conversation. Be prepared to answer the ‘tell me about yourself’ question early in the conversation. Before the call, prepare yourself to answer this question in two minutes or less. Failure to keep your answers brief might put the interviewer to sleep. Also remember to speak clearly and be aware of your pace. In other words, not too fast, not too slow. Use concise, fact-filled sentences and phrases.
I would also remind anyone to keep from rambling or over explaining. The verbose candidate has lost more opportunities for a face-to-face interview than the person with short, succinct answers. If the interviewer wants additional information, he or she will ask for it. So, for example, interject short responses intermittently to acknowledge the interviewer’s comments, like ‘That’s interesting,’ or ‘I see,’ or ‘Great idea.’ Then use check-back phrases like, ‘Does that answer your question?’ or ‘Is that what you’re looking for?’”

Question: Most career coaches recommend that the interviewee have a few questions of their own. Is it okay to ask these questions during a phone interview, and if so, what kinds of questions are okay to ask?

James: “Show that you’ve done your homework by asking intelligent questions based on factual information you have obtained about the opportunity and the company. You can glean this information from conversations with your recruiter, from the company’s web site or through other research methods. A good way to ask a question is by asking one that demonstrates your knowledge of the industry. So ask intelligent questions. For example, you could say, ‘The industry seems to be moving toward (add a specific emerging technology). Then ask “How does your company plan to compete?’”

Question: What advice do you have about closing the conversation? In other words, when or how do you know when to get off the phone?

James: “As you proceed during the conversation, try to get a feel for the chemistry or rapport that has been established. If you feel the interviewer is impressed with you and you are interested in pursuing the opportunity, do not hesitate to close the conversation by pushing for a face-to-face meeting. It’s alright to say you are very interested in pursuing this opportunity and would like to schedule a time to meet in person. Then ask what days and times look good for them. If the interviewer agrees but cannot set a specific time, simply suggest when you would be available and ask when would be a good time to follow up.”

To contact Mark James visit his company website: www.HireConsultant.com

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