I have a phone interview tomorrow. What can I do to succeed?
May 21, 2014 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I have a phone interview tomorrow for a position at a university and I'm looking for some advice. What is the best way to prepare for a phone interview? What are recruiters generally looking to get out of phone interviews? What are some things I should and should not talk about? I know some of these are probably pretty obvious, but your tips are appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Fister Roboto to Work & Money (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have a number of questions prepared that allow the interviewers to know that you understand the job, the university, and what they're looking for. More than 3 questions makes you a rock star.

Know everything you can about the university and the people interviewing you (if possible). Since you're on the phone, you can keep a bulleted list in front of you to refer to when questions come up.
posted by xingcat at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It may be different for you, but in my industry they try to get your "salary requirements" as early in the process as possible. Think about how you want to respond to that if it comes up.
posted by scatter gather at 8:16 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Feel free to shut up. I've had more candidates talk themselves out of a job than talk themselves into a job. That doesn't mean you should act like you're in court and answer exactly the question answered and then clam up, but if you ever find yourself thinking, "Why am I saying this," then stop.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 AM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Take the call on a landline if at all possible. Being able to hear them clearly and be heard is really important. It makes a huge difference.
posted by whoaali at 8:19 AM on May 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

Be cheerful and friendly (pretending they can see you helps with that)
Definitely have notes in front of you, about the job and the university.
Try to be as concise as possible. Because you can't see them, you aren't getting any body-language cues about whether you're on the right track, answering the question they asked, or if you're just yammering, so err on the side of less detail. They can always ask more questions, but they probably won't jump in to tell you to stop talking.
As a note, it depends on what type of position we're talking about, but you're probably not talking to a "recruiter", more likely the actual professor(s) you'd be working with, who are also looking to get a feel for whether you're someone they want to spend time around.
posted by aimedwander at 8:20 AM on May 21, 2014

You know those common "questions people ask in an interview" lists? Well, the nice thing about a phone interview is that they can't see what you're doing. Prepare some answers and practice saying them out loud, as well as print them out and have them in front of you.

Arrange the questions/answers so that you don't have to turn any pages (the noise might give you away) and make sure when you read them that you don't sound like you're reading something robotic. You may not need them, but it's nice to have them handy in case you freeze.

Also, make sure you smile while you're on the phone - you'll sound better.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take thorough notes, if you can.

I had a second phone interview once where they asked me a question that they had answered in the first interview. I had my notes on hand, read that part of my notes to them, and they liked that.
posted by aniola at 8:25 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stand up while you're on the phone. Walk/pace if you can. It gives your voice more energy! I prepare my best examples for probable questions on post-its that I put on the wall, then as I use them, I take them down. This way I don't repeat myself and I don't go blank on that terrible "what is your biggest weakness" question. Don't write out sentences, just key words that will trigger your brain.
posted by komlord at 8:26 AM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Get some food and exercise in you, so you're feeling good. Smile when you talk.
posted by aniola at 8:27 AM on May 21, 2014

I always ask, "What kind of person fits well with the culture."

Also, remember, you're not auditioning, you're interviewing, so feel free to ask what you want to know, to clarify certain points and to listen for red flags that would indicate that you might not be happy at the position.

I'm also completely my goofy-assed self. If they don't dig me as-is, I'm not going to be happy there. I think I generally come off as some kind of idiot-savant. I'll be charming and discussing this and that, and then I'll let the propeller-head pop out and do her thing.

You may want to keep the cats out of your office when you talk, I had a phone interview yesterday and my little-girl cat screamed for noms for about 30 minutes. (It wasn't time, I wasn't starving her.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:27 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Many people think they sound more natural and engaged if they stand while talking on the phone. Personally, I feel like I do best if I can actually walk around while on a phone interview.
posted by COD at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

For my last phone interview (after which I got the job!) I got myself cleaned and dressed up like I was going to an actual interview, even though I was just at home. I'm not sure it made a huge difference, but the ritual of getting dressed and prepared helped me step away from all my mental preparations for a moment right before I talked to them.

As people have mentioned, it may be less obvious when you should start and stop talking because you don't have the visual cues. Do tell moderately extended anecdotes that illustrate your skills/strengths but avoid rambling, they're not going to cut you off. Try to end your answers with a period, not a "...aaand soooo, that was what happened..." It may feel a little weird because there will just be a big gaping pause when you stop talking, but being confident and able to sum up your thoughts without just trailing off makes you sound like you know what you're talking about.

Speak clearly, enunciate and smile. If you're not naturally bubbly or very animated in your speech, consider overdoing it just slightly (SLIGHTLY), especially when you're introducing yourselves at the beginning. Remember to put the smile in your voice.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:30 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sound as enthusiastic as you can muster about the actual work tasks. Recently I interviewed someone to work on one of two projects. I described each project briefly and asked the interviewee which one she thought she might prefer. The response was something like, "uhhh, what? I dunno, I guess, sure."

And that was just so disappointing, because she looked great on paper.
posted by magdalemon at 10:05 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestion to stand while taking the call. It helps how your voice sounds.
posted by Michele in California at 10:13 AM on May 21, 2014

I did B2B phone sales and also recruiting work over the phone when I was younger. I found it helpful to have a mirror in front of me--helped me remember to smile and stay engaged. Dressing the part and standing helps as well. All the rest above is very good advice, too.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:36 PM on May 21, 2014

When they call, ask them to hold on for one minute whilst you close the door. Then stand up, step away from the phone, take a deep breath and then come back to it. You'll sound more relaxed and feel more in control.

Don't feel tempted to fill silence with talking. If you don't have a clue whether or not they liked your answer or the silence is deafening then follow it up with "did that answer your question?"

At the end of the interview ask them if there were any answers you gave today that they were unsure of or would like any classification on.

Good luck!
posted by mr_silver at 1:47 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of phone interviews!

- letting them ring through to a really embarrassing answering message, especially if it is racist or sexist or both
- talking so much they cannot ask their questions
- saying the questions could be better and suggesting your own questions instead
- grunting yes or no to all questions
- not knowing anything about something you put on your resume
- no idea what the company does or why you would want to work for us
- asking awkward questions like how you did before you are even done
- going wildly off topic all the time I was at the store and elephant weasels stuff and then ...

Not good:
- answering too briefly
- answering with too much detail
- too excited about the company, needless weird flattery
- sound totally bored or dead tired
- awkward or no questions for the interviewer

- clear concise answers with just the right amount of detail
- good examples of things you did
- being able to talk about everything on your resume
- passionate about what you do without being creepy about it
- interested in the company and its mission
- asking 1-3 good questions that show you are interested
posted by meepmeow at 8:28 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

a position at a university

This question is too vague......What position? What level? What experience was advertised for? In what department, type of university, country?
posted by lalochezia at 12:24 PM on May 22, 2014

Response by poster: My phone interview went really well! Thanks for your advice, everyone!
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:11 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

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