Help me sound professional in a phone interview
June 3, 2013 1:07 PM   Subscribe

I just found out that my phone interview tomorrow will actually be a conference call. How has this worked, in your experience? Also, please give me some phone interview tips. (Detailed questions inside)

The job is a temporary student summer position for a non-profit. I've been given information on how to dial into a conference call with two people from the city I would be working in and one in another nearby city. I'm trying to be relaxed about it, but I feel like the pressure has just been tripled.

1) It was originally just going to be the manager calling me. Is this change a good sign? Is it normal to have so many people listening in on a (relatively low-level) phone interview?

2) In your experience, have 2nd and 3rd parties in an interview like this participated or just listened in? If the former, is there etiquette I should be aware of?

3) I'm afraid that this will put me at a disadvantage because the other candiates will have a normal in-person interview with just the manager. How can I relax about this or use the fact that they can't see me to my advantage? I'm going to have my resume, the job description, computer, and paper handy, and wear business clothes, but some tips about what to gather in terms of questions, answers and information about the company would be helpful. Additional pro-tips are also welcome.

4) What are some ways to find a middle ground between bored/monotone and overexcited when speaking? Smile? Don't smile?

posted by delezzo to Work & Money (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
1) I've had the exact thing happen, with a summer position with a non-profit. Neutral to good sign.

2) Participated, generally. Both the above-mentioned interview, and the interview I had to work as a baby-lawyer in a non-profit where I am now, I met with everyone around.

3) I got nothing, I'm terrible at interviews. I'll leave that to someone better.

4) Smile, absolutely. Preferably not like maniacal grin, but just a general good-mood smile. You need to be professional, but smiling when you're talking is professional.

Good luck!
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:17 PM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: Definitely smile. And stand up! These things will make you sound more engaged and personable. If you don't feel too weird, you could even do it in front of a mirror.

Have a cheat sheet on hand. Don't be afraid to practice the answers to questions they will almost certainly ask you. Some typical questions/prompts to practice:

- Tell us about what you're doing now.
- Why are you interested in this position?
- What do you know about what we do?

Practice shorter and concise answers.

Write some key words down that you want to be sure you work into some of your answers.

Consider mentally counting to three before answering any questions. A brief pause is MUCH better than that awkward talking-over-someone-else thing that tends to happen.

I've been in big group phone interviews before. They're not particularly unusual. Chances are that one main person will ask most of the questions and the others will leap in with questions here or there, but there's no way to predict that.

Be sure to have a good question or two on hand as well - they'll ask you if you have questions and it is good to have them. DON'T ask about salary, timing or when you'll hear back - something more general about the company or position itself.

Good luck!
posted by pazazygeek at 1:18 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

A conference call is no big deal.

The caller will set the agenda, listen actively, let them talk, answer questions as they pose them.

They want to like you, and you want to like them. Speak to them as though you already work there. Smiling on your face can be heard through the phone so smile. If you're stumped by a question, say, "Gosh! That's a great question!" Then turn it around to something you know or ask them why they're asking it.

I get multiple intervews all the time. They're maximizing their time and that's a good sign.

Etiquette is use a land line, not your cell phone, if possible, it will reduce the static and noise.

Do some basic research on the agency you're interviewing with, understand the mission, think about how you can fit in with the folks.

Some good questions to ask are:

1. What kind of person are you looking for to fill this position?
2. What kind of people fit into your agency?
3. What is your culture there?

This will give them a chance to open up and really tell you things you want to know. The more they talk, the better it is for you!

Don't worry about vomiting your awesomeness on them, let them dazzle you with theirs!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:18 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to considering standing and/or taking the call in front of a mirror, I would also recommend dressing in interview attire just as you would for an in-person.
posted by juliplease at 1:24 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of the toughest aspects of phone interviews is that you can't use your interviewer's non-verbal reactions as cues for crafting your answers. As a result there's an unfortunate tendency for phone interviewees to drone on... and on... with an answer that is somewhat oblique to the question... before the interviewer can finally butt in and try to clarify. So I would definitely emphasize the advice already given to be concise in your answers, and also when possible to make your interview more a conversation and less of a short question-long answer-short question-long answer exchange.

Definitely stand, smile, for God's sake keep your laptop closed the whole time, and if you tend to gesticulate with your hands in real life, do that too -- use a reliable headset rather than holding your handset/cell phone the whole time.

I'm sure this goes without saying but if you're supposed to initiate the call, do it on time; if you're supposed to receive the call, be there to answer it. If you need to, hang a sign on your door that says "Do Not Disturb". Unless you think someone might be dying, do not accept a call waiting call. You think this is unnecessary advice; I've had phone interviewees do all of these (and worse)!
posted by telegraph at 1:25 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask the group to introduce themselves so that you know which voice belongs to whom. It's always impressive when someone in your circumstance can correctly address each participant by name. Be prepared with opening and closing statements so you can start and end strong. Use notepaper to cue yourself to include points you want to convey and to take notes on the questions so you can be certain you address them completely. If there's any doubt, ask if you answered the question; there's no bad outcome here because an affirmative response re-enforces your credentials and a followup question lets you fill gaps. Good luck!
posted by carmicha at 1:25 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

1) The more people involved in a job interview, the better things are going. Don't read too much into it, however. There may have simply been a behind-the-scenes decision to have more people in on the screening interviews to save time on the back-end or so that more people have first-hand info and impressions about the candidates when they decide.

2) Hard to say. I once did a phone screen interview in which I was half-convinced that the creepy* CEO of the company was either listening in live or would later listen to the recording (it was for a conference calling company, so...) but this was not acknowledged, so I didn't handle it any differently than a one on one call. My *guess* would be that one person would lead the interview most of the way. Perhaps there will be a period toward the end where it's opened up for questions. As a candidate I would even say "Do any of you have any questions?" as it's wrapping up.

There is an etiquette thing in conference calling that's sometimes overlooked. Use names. In a two-way call, there isn't the need, but in a conference call, you should both repeatedly introduce yourself (not every time, but if you've been silent a while) and make it clear who you're addressing or asking. Since you're the only unfamiliar voice in this case, that shouldn't be necessary, but in a group of several people who don't know each other's voice very well, it can get confusing as to who is speaking. Don't be afraid to ask who's speaking if you're not sure (assuming it matters).

So if you're asking a question, for example, say "John, what would the hourly rate be?" not just "What would the hourly rate be?" Also, longer silences tend to follow a question if it's not addressed to one person, so if one of them asks the other a question and doesn't state a name, don't be concerned by a long silence, and don't say anything to fill it unless the question is directed to you. Two people may be waiting for the other to answer. Eventually someone will say something like "Bob, do you have that figure?"

3/4) Not sure there's a way to make it an advantage, but neither should it be a massive disadvantage. Good idea to dress well and be organized. And of course, smile! It really does make a difference. Strange thing to say, perhaps, but act as if they're in the room. Gesture when you talk. All that seemingly unnecessary stuff does come through over the phone. Speak up a bit more. Conference calling equipment, especially if it's being multiplied through an office phone system, tends to dampen the voice volume and quality. On preview - YES, use a landline if at all possible, and get in a quiet place. You'd be surprised how much background noise comes through from a Starbucks or the like.

*needless to say, I didn't realize HOW creepy until I made the mistake of working there...
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:26 PM on June 3, 2013

I think it's a good sign. These are all presumably busy people who have other things that they could be doing. The fact that they're taking time out of their schedules for this sounds like a potentially big deal.

Be prepared for the unexpected. When I had a phone interview, they told me when I called that the head of the organization was also on the call. Yikes.

Definitely smile! When I was dealing with lots of calls at work, I tried to pause before picking up the phone and smile. Smiling tells your body that you're happy and you can tell the difference on the phone between someone who is excited.

Don't worry about pauses. Try to talk slowly. Prepare some questions that you would like to ask them. Think about closing lines. Relax. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 1:28 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wear shoes, and sit at a table or desk. Ask for the names of the participants before the call, so you can say "Chris, I think blah" as well as be able to send follow-up notes if you choose. When I've done conference calls as the interviewer, I always sent that info to the applicant in advance. If you have the titles of the people, you can ask better questions "Lee, how does Marketing manage blah?". Smile, even consider using a mirror while on the phone. Don't talk too fast, put a postit near the phone reminding yourself to pause and breathe. Take notes, so you can give good feedback/ ask good questions.

In any interview, when they ask if you have questions, it's okay to say "You didn't ask about X, and I wanted to point out that I've done a lot of blah" and "Well, this isn't a question, but I wanted to tell you why I think I'd be an especially good fit at ABC Corp."
posted by theora55 at 1:34 PM on June 3, 2013

Stand up while talking to them, it will keep you more alert and you will sound better. Listen, listen, listen! Smile when you are speaking. Avoid ands, ums, and uh-huhs.
posted by myselfasme at 2:13 PM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: Keep a notepad handy to jot notes (names of interviewers, points you want to come back to, questions for them). That said, you won't have a ton of time to be writing.

Find a quiet and private place where you can speak in a normal-volume voice without feeling weird about it.

Test your equipment with a friend beforehand to make sure the sound quality is good and reliable. Land-line/Cellphone/Skype? Holding the phone to your ear (might get tiring after a while) / speakerphone (test to make sure the sound quality is good).

Prepare: If you're on a cell phone, make sure you have a charger so the battery doesn't go dead. Bring a glass of water to sip.

Good luck!
posted by sarah_pdx at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2013

1. In itself, it's neither a good sign nor a bad sign.
2. Participated. Be sure to get their names, both so you can personalize your responses during the interview and so you can follow up later if appropriate.
3. Relax. It may actually be to your advantage. "Hey, boss. Any decision on that person we interviewed last week?" You'll be a known quantity to more people in the office.
4. Stand. Walk around if you like. I do. Smile or don't. Just be yourself.
posted by jingzuo at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2013

Speak slower than you think sounds normal.

I'm the person at my company who organizes all the back and forth between candidates and our interviewers, and the number 2 complaint (number 1 is "this person is an idiot and is completely unqualified for the position") is that folks talk too fast. 90% of the feedback we have is "guy talked too fast."

Speak slowly.
posted by phunniemee at 2:33 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll always copy the job description into notepad and make a note (in a different colour) under each point about something relevant in my skills, background or experience that I can immediately refer to when they ask about it.

I actually feel like panel interviews are less stressful than one-on-one interviews. I think there's more likelihood that someone else will pick up on something useful or good that you say if it's in a slightly different area than the initial questioner deals with, if that makes sense.
posted by corvine at 2:38 PM on June 3, 2013

Call from a landline and use a corded phone. Cell phone + conference phone gets tricky. Do NOT use a speakerphone.

Yes, stand up and act as if the people were in the room with you. Speak loudly, at the same volume you would if they were across the table from you. Do not breathe into the phone.

Wait for people to finish speaking. There is a delay in conference calls and conference phones that there often isn't in a normal one on one conversation, so be aware of not jumping in too early. Try your best to speak in complete thoughts and in compact and complete blocks of speech. (If you leave a space in what you are saying before you are done, the others may interpret this as you being finished and they may interrupt you.) Unpack acronyms unless they are unambiguous. "SCUBA" can really only be SCUBA. But things like AD and DI and COO can be hard for the listener to parse on a weak connection. At least, introduce acronyms before using them. Also, try to lay out what you are going to say so people can follow along. If you have two points to make, say "I have two points to make on that. First.... And secondly..."
posted by gjc at 2:57 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did one of these with five people on the line. I was 2,000 miles away, so they knew each other pretty well and I was the UNKNOWN. I stood up - even paced a bit - while talking and made sure to smile. As others have said, I made a conscious effort to be concise and leave pauses to allow anyone to interrupt if they wanted to change the course of an answer.

I figured it was a good sign to have so many people talking to me. They wouldn't coordinate such a 'big' call if they weren't already thinking positively about me. They ultimately offered me the job.
posted by tacodave at 4:23 PM on June 3, 2013

Talk with your hands too (unless that flusters you); nobody will see it (unless you're using Skype) but it will help you out just like smiling does.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:49 PM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: Carefully read the company website in plenty of time for the interview.

At the end, ask everybody who participated in the call to spell their names and email addresses. Afterwards, send thank-you emails to each person you spoke to. Send them individually, and word them slightly differently per person.

Also ask when you can expect to hear from them, and obtain their permission to follow up if they haven't gotten back to you by then. Add this to the end of your thank-you email: "As agreed, I will wait to hear from you by Wednesday..."

If the sound is choppy, simplify your speech so you won't be misunderstood. In fact, simplify your speech anyway. Humour is always a bit risky because you can't predict how it will be received, but it's even more risky in a voice interview especially if the audio is poor. Compensate for this by smiling a lot.

Have a glass of water to hand in case your throat gets dry. If you have ever been taught voice or articulation techniques, warm up about an hour before. Try not to eat chocolate beforehand, or drink milk, or eat mucus-forming foods that could make your throat stick together.

More people on the panel is good, and in my experience all of the participants will at least introduce themselves and most will talk.

Don't assume that fewer people on the panel means less importance. I recently had a very short phone interview with 2 people for a very high-profile job; I'm used to a panel of about 5 (assuming there are that many stakeholders of course, they won't drag people in just to say "rhubarb" in the background). I would also expect the interview to last from 45 to 90 minutes.

Most often, the tele-interview is a screening to decide whether to bring you over for an in-person interview, but not always. Especially since other candidates are being seen in person, expect this to go either way.
posted by tel3path at 3:11 AM on June 4, 2013

... and have a glass of water handy!
posted by dirm at 11:28 AM on June 4, 2013

Response by poster: I survived! Thanks for all the advice, everyone.
(Interestingly, they actually went though a list of questions in turn, all three people participating equally)
posted by delezzo at 6:16 PM on June 4, 2013

« Older Design software for the homeowner?   |   Mounting noises Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.