The Chronicle of Post-Education: Phone Interviews – A Necessary Evil In the Pursuit of Relocation

Phone interviews are awkward. I’m not even going to try to start this column with an interesting lede because it’s just a fact: I dislike phone interviews.

When you’re applying for jobs located on the other side of the country, you don’t have a choice. Hell, you’re lucky if you get to the phone interview stage of applying since rejections seem more common (or maybe rejections have just been common for me … ).

I can’t decide if I prefer phone interviews or in-person ones. There are pros and cons to both. For a phone interview, you don’t have to worry about getting lost while trying to find the building or office you’re interviewing in. You also don’t have to worry about what to wear – business formal or business casual? And you don’t have to worry about that piece of food that might be stuck in your teeth or your coffee breath from the morning.

Unfortunately, the cons of a phone interview are the pros of an in-person interview: you don’t have body language to work from and there’s the danger of always interrupting the person who’s interviewing you because you can’t tell if he or she is about to ask a question or follow-up with a statement. There are also a lot of awkward silences as your interviewer writes your answers down; meanwhile, you’re left wondering if the phone accidentally disconnected or maybe there was some interference and only part of your answer got through the line.

My recent phone interviews have luckily gone well, with few bumps in the road except for a pesky cough from my lingering cold that interrupted one of my answers.

This brings me to the point of this column: tips for phone interviews. File these away, kids – they’ll come in handy.

1. Review the job description, your cover letter, résumé and any other materials you sent in. You’ll want to make sure you’re not accidentally contradicting anything you may have written in your cover letter. Ideally, you’ll be telling the truth in your cover letter and résumé, but when you’re nervous, anything can happen.

2. Have a glass of water near you. Phone interviews can range from 20 minutes to almost an hour, depending on how chatty you and your interviewer are. Your throat can get pretty dry (or maybe you’ll have a cough too) and you’d hate to be caught off guard.

3. Make sure you’re in a quiet environment. This is almost a given, but I know some people who attempt phone interviews at coffee shops or the Student Center. While a coffee shop is an OK location for an in-person interview, it’s definitely harder to hear anything over the phone when you’re surrounded by loud groups. You’ll also want to make sure that nobody is going to interrupt you while you’re talking. If you’re doing the interview in your apartment, tell your roommates to leave you alone for the half hour you’re on the phone. There’s nothing more unprofessional than an unnecessary interruption.

4. Take notes. Whether you’re on speakerphone or a headset or holding the phone in your hands, find a way to take note of the things your interviewer says. Write down (or type) questions asked or scenarios your interviewer gives you so you don’t have to ask him or her to repeat things.

5. Have questions prepared. This is a good tip for any interview, not just over the phone. Asking questions shows you’re interested in the position you’re interviewing for and in the company you’re hoping will hire you. Read up on the company beforehand and ask for clarification about the company or the job. Ask your interviewer to describe a day in the life of an employee. Whatever you ask, make sure it’s something you’re truly interested in – why else would you be applying for the job? Show an interest in the position; after all, your interviewer is showing an interest in you!

6. Ask for your interviewer’s email address. This will be helpful in case you have questions after you hang up. It would feel awkward to call back, but if you think of something to ask a few hours later, you can email your interviewer, along with a “thank you” message. Sending a “thank you” email is good practice for any interview and shows you are genuinely interested in hearing back from the company, not just sitting back and waiting for them to contact you at their convenience. Thank your interviewer for giving you the opportunity to interview for the job and learn more about the company you hope to work for. It’s a simple show of manners that anyone would appreciate; even if you don’t get the job, at least your parents would be proud.

These tips aren’t a guarantee you’ll be successful, but they’ll help you along. Maybe you’ll find different things that work for you, but start with these basics and learn as you go.

Good luck, aspiring professionals of the future, and I’ll hopefully have good news for you next week about my most recent phone interview …