Surviving the Weeding Process - Part Two: The Phone Interview
Phone interviews are increasingly being used to screen applicants because they are quick, and tough questions can be asked by the screener without embarrassment. Unfortunately on your side you don't get much chance to fully interact with the interviewer - for example, you can't use body language - and so this restricts the level of impression you can leave. Better then, that you focus on getting the answers right.
But sometimes a phone interview can work to your advantage and help get you to second base. For example, if you are younger than you sound, you are more likely to make it into an interview before the company realizes that fact and subsequently feels committed to give you a fair chance at the position. Also, those conducting phone interviews are more likely to be the business managers in a hurry, since HR people prefer to meet candidates face to face. If this is the case, you'll know quickly with the business manager whether or not you have a chance.
How do you conduct yourself in a phone interview to ensure success? Firstly, try to make sure that the interview occurs both in your native language and also in an environment which is quiet and free of distractions. Most likely this will be at home, so try to get the interview done after the kids are in bed, or on a Saturday when your noisy room mates are outside.
Next, make sure that you follow the interviewer's cues and give them specific, "sound bite" answers of not more than 30 seconds. Many candidates who know their field well like to talk about it and start to ramble. A busy interviewer has a short attention span, and just like your written resume, they are looking for key words and phrases that indicate you are qualified to proceed to a face-to-face interview.
The fatal mistake that some applicants make is to be so passionate or self confident that they don't listen to the interviewer, or amazingly, will talk over the interviewer even when it is clear that they want to change the subject or cut short a topic. If you hear an interviewer cut over the top of an explanation you're giving, it's most likely because you're giving the right answer and they don't need to hear the remainder. This is a good sign, and not an indication that you have to win a verbal joust. So stop there and then, and keep your competitive instincts at bay.
That said, what does work on the phone are clear responses that show you are the solution to the interviewer's problem. Early on in the conversation, you should try to get the interviewer to tell you what the company is needing a new hire for, and focus on giving short cameos of how you've helped previous employers with the same problems. If it's a sales position, talk about how you ramped up sales - use numbers and/or percentages, since these are reference points that business people subconsciously judge everything by. For example, "In one year, I lifted my sales volume by 30 million yen." If you're a technical person, talk about how you solved a difficult problem or introduced a new technology into the company. Such comments may not be 100% relevant for the job at hand, but they're memorable statements and during the late night weeding process, you'll want to be remembered.
If you're the nervous type, or simply don't do many interviews, let alone phone interviews, then practice with a friend. In particular, you want to memorize those punctuating phrases and key points to use in a free flowing conversation.
Lastly, I said at the start of this article that you can't use body language on the phone. Actually that is not 100% correct. Studies have proven that if you smile while you talk, and basically use the same body language you would in a face-to-face interview, your physical expressions have the effect of uplifting and tightening up your verbal responses as well. As an example of how this works, just try to remember the first time you saw a traditional Japanese salesperson bowing while on the phone. It may have seemed funny to watch the redundancy of them bowing to someone that can't see them. But in fact, the act of bowing modifies the breathing and tension of the chest and throat muscles, and thus the pitch and tone of the voice. Smiling while talking has a similar effect.