How To Interview Over The Telephone

How To Interview Over the Telephone

By Nadia Gruzd


Telephone screening interviews are becoming more commonplace as companies seek to employ health care professionals from other states and countries. Given this trend, your job search may involve several telephone interviews. How you make your case over the phone will determine further interest in you as a candidate.

Phone interviewing is unique.  You can't count on visual stimuli such as good looks or power suits, eye contact or body language, to aid your presentation.  Neither can you rely on visual signals to interpret the interviewer's response.  In this context, faceless conversation takes on an added dimension of importance.  Both strengths and weaknesses, as conveyed by voice, are magnified through the phone.  Your voice personifies everything about you.

The hiring authority listens for a relaxed style that communicates confidence, enthusiasm and intelligence.  This is reflected in a smooth conversation flow devoid of cliches or verbal catchalls to stall for time as well as other negatives.

The following techniques will help you prepare for and handle any phone interview situations:



The success of a telephone interview begins with mental preparation and setting the stage with the interviewer.  The first order of business is to establish a clear time frame for the conversation.  By mutual agreement, this should be at least thirty minutes when both parties can be free of interruptions and distractions.

If you're currently employed, arrange for a phone interview in the evening rather than during the workday.  Confidentiality and discretion may be at risk if you interview during working hours; you never know who might barge in unannounced or overhear something by accident.  In the privacy of your home you can be more at ease and in control of your surroundings.

Being clear on the interview format gives you an edge in preparation. Before the actual interview, it will help to know the topics to be covered, objectives to attain and the basic information regarding the position to be discussed.  It also helps to rehearse.  Try to think as the employer.   What key information is the interviewer looking for?  What questions is he likely to ask?  What things do you hope he doesn't ask?

The hiring authority can often assess the candidate's personality after thirteen seconds, with no visual information. Initial voice impression tends to be reinforced by the content of continued conversation."  In other words, you need to sound like a winner quickly to sustain the listener's interest in you. It's also advisable to prepare for possible scenarios that might unfold.

Hypothesize a bit; suppose the interviewer asks questions that make your feel uncomfortable.  How do you handle that?  Suppose he rambles, is easily sidetracked and doesn't allow you to sell yourself.  How do you subtly take control of the conversation and target pertinent issues?  As a worst-case scenario; suppose an interviewer doesn't call at the agreed time. If it's an evening interview and you have other engagements, how long should you wait by the phone?  If it's a daytime interview, should you assume the interviewer "forgot" and call him directly?  Or do you await his call at some other, unspecified time?  Solution:  don't panic.  The employer will call to set up a new time if he had some crisis.  If you are working with a recruiter, he/she will handle the problem and schedule an alternate time.

Finally, clear a work area near the phone and keep the following tools handy to aid your fact gathering and information sharing:

ü  A copy of the version of the resume sent to the interviewer.

ü  A note pad and pen.

ü  Five or six carefully worded questions you'll want to ask.

ü  Company literature with pertinent sections highlighted.

Preparation will increase your confidence level and ability to focus on the conversation during the interview as well as enabling you to make a favorable impression



The need to make a good impression on the phone cannot be overemphasized. The telephone screening interview is a make-or-break proposition, your one chance to convince the interviewer that you are worth serious consideration. The interviewer will be listening carefully to determine three factors:

your sincere interest in the job, how you verbalize your qualifications and how aggressively you pursue the position.

Voice reflects personality.  A well-modulated, controlled voice communicates authority and heightens the verbal impact you want to make.  The quality, pitch and tempo of your speech convey a certain attitude, energy level and enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm and excitement are the biggest selling points of candidates talking on the phone. This translates directly over to your performance and work ethic.  Here are some practical tips to enhance your phone "personality" and overall presentation:

Talk directly into the mouthpiece.   Hold the receiver approximately three inches from the mouth, not below your chin or above your nose.  Speak in a relaxed, conversational style as though the other person was in the same room, not on the other side of the planet.

Avoid sitting in a hunched position, grasping the phone in a vise-like grip. This will add a note of stress, and your voice will communicate that uneasiness.  Try standing, it opens your diaphragm to a smoother airflow and imparts a feeling of liveliness.  Getting up and moving around introduces an element of action, which instills a relaxed, conversational manner and reduces fatigue.  A longer cord or cordless phone will allow maximum mobility.

Pay attention to the interviewer (s) voice patterns; does he speak slowly or rapidly?  Try to match the cadence so that the conversion flows smoothly. Adjust your speaking rate, voice volume and phrasing to be more in rhythm with the interviewer.

Sound upbeat.   If you had a lousy day and came home to find your spouse and kids arguing, put it out of your mind.  Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. Smile to show a sense of humor.  After all, the interviewer may have had a bad day too.

Be a conversationalist.   Listen carefully to get the big picture and to avoid saying something that indicates a momentary mental distraction.  Allow the interviewer to complete questions without you finishing his train of thought or blurting out answers prematurely.

Handle any trick questions in stride.  The interviewer may throw in several to test your alertness or mental keenness.  Showing verbal adeptness is a sign of how quickly you can "think on your feet."  Be cautious:  the interviewer may say something that puzzles you or that you firmly disagree with.  Show enough respect to voice your thoughts in a professional manner. A defensive posture or argumentative tone is the surest way to alienate the interviewer and eliminate your candidacy.

Establishing rapport at the beginning of the phone conversation sets a favorable tone.  During the first few minutes mention something that shows commonality of interest or similarity in background.   This helps both parties feel more comfortable as the conversation progresses. Get to know the person behind the voice.  Does he show a sense of humor?  Is he direct and forthright in supplying information?  Does his speech sound "canned", or does it exhibit freshness of thought and expression?  Just as importantly does he actively listen to you, or merely wait for the chance to ask his next question?  The interviewer may be a personnel official or a hiring manager.  If the individual is someone with whom you will be working, pay all the more attention to his explanation of the job and what potential it offers.

Your prepared list of questions will indicate that you have given careful thought to the prospect of joining the facility.  Even though you don't know everything about the position at this point, convey the impression that it's something you are interested in and competent at handling. Basically, what the interviewer needs to hear and conclude is that you can get the job done.    Mentally, he is making the connection between the company's problems and you as a problem solver.  Don't overwhelm him with facts and figures.  He's only going to remember so much. You can best make your point by reciting memorable stories that document your ability to analyze a dilemma, weigh alternative responses and choose the appropriate action.  By selectively highlighting turnaround situations you spearheaded, you are communicating a willingness to tackle similar problems for his company.

As you glance over your notes and keep an eye on the clock, there may be additional important points to cover in the pre-allotted time frame. Tactfully take control and introduce the subject matter that needs to be discussed or further elaborated.  Example:  "That's a good point.  Can we come back to it a little later?  I have some additional thoughts on the subject we were discussing a moment ago." As the conversation winds down, become less talkative and give more thought to what you say.   Your final words will generally have greater impact and be remembered longer.  Careful word choice and voice inflections will underscore the significance of your remarks.  By contrast, a machinegun volley of words will likely put the listener on the defensive or turn him off altogether.



After 30 minutes, both parties should know how much of a "fit" there is. Provided the job interests you, express your desire to proceed to the next step. Should the phone interview go well but end without a specific next step, state your desire to investigate the opportunity further.  Example:  "I'd be very interested in such a challenging position and hope to hear your decision soon". If it is offered by the facility, he/she may then mention the likelihood of an onsite interview once he confers with other officials.   Your assertiveness will be remembered.  If you hear nothing within 48 hours, follow up with a call.

A final concern:  the interviewer may ask a salary range that you're expecting (don't introduce the issue yourself). Tell the interviewer that you are sure they have a fair salary scale and they should discuss it with your recruiter. On the phone, your job is to entice a buyer, not to close a sale.  Salary negotiation will fall into place at the right time. End the conversation on a positive note.  Thank the interviewer for the information shared, let him know again that you look forward hearing from them again soon.  After all, if the position discussed is not the ideal job for you, something else there might be.



If you are sincerely interested in the position and are satisfied with the answers given, you should ask the interviewer if he/she feels that you are qualified for the position.  This gives you another chance to review points that may need clarification.  Illustrate confidence in your abilities and convince the interviewer that you are capable of handling the position successfully.

Ask for the job.   Make a positive statement about the position.  Emphasize that this is exactly the type of opportunity you've been looking for and would like to be offered the position.  Ask when you should expect an answer.


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