What are hiring managers and human resources people looking for when they call you for a phone interview? There’s a general answer and there’s a specific answer, and you need both.
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First, let’s talk generalities. Above all things, phone interviews are a gating process. It’s a way to weed out candidates when a company has too many of them. They can usually tell pretty quickly whether they’re interested in taking more time to speak with you.
If not, it’s very easy for them to say, “Thanks for your time,” and hang up, because you’re on the phone and they can’t see your face. They are making fast judgments about you, and if they decide you’re not up to snuff, you are out of the running and you won’t get a second chance.
Phone interviews are efficient and they cut costs. Interviewing candidates is expensive. In an era of belt-tightening, many companies are looking for more ways to reduce those costs. That’s one reason many are turning to Skype interviews. Even if you have a Skype interview in your future, you’re more than likely still going to have to go through the phone interview process first. They’re just too cheap, easy, and quick for companies to give them up.
If they call you for a telephone interview, there was something in your resume that interested them. They think they might like you, but they’re not sure yet. At this point, they’re looking for red flags. It’s a little like setting up a date though an online dating service. You like the profile, but the safe thing to do is meet for coffee to see if your date is normal or bat-crap crazy. Dinner is too much of a commitment at this point. Interviews follow the same logic. Phone interviews are the coffee date, face-to-face interviews are dinner.
When you look at it that way, phone interviews are not that difficult. All you have to do is reasonably answer the general questions they’ll ask, like:
“Why are you interested in this opportunity?”
“Tell me about your experience in this field.”
“Why are you leaving your current job?”
If you have issues that catch their attention, like, employment gaps or job hopping, they will ask you about it. It’s in your best interests to come up with a positive answer beforehand.
Now for the specifics. Here’s a big tip for you: One of the best ways to find out what they’re looking for in a candidate is just to ask them. It’s OK if you ask questions of your own in the interview. In fact, I highly encourage it. One of the best questions of all to ask is this: “What does your ideal candidate look like?” It’s worth asking because it might be a little different than what they have listed in the job description. It’s their “ideal” candidate, after all. Once they tell you, you have a blueprint of what you should be highlighting in your own experience. That’s what they’re looking for, and that’s what they’ll care about hearing.
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