How do I do well on my phone interview?
June 20, 2007 6:40 PM   Subscribe

I have my first phone interview (and third job interview ever) for a sysadmin job on Friday, and I'm looking for some advice.

I've just graduated from a university with a B.S. in Computer Science after working for about a year and a half as a student system administrator for a department at the university. I applied for a Linux System Administrator position at a fairly small nearby company, and just got a call to set up a phone interview for Friday. I'm pretty excited, but I've never had a phone interview before (or really any sort of serious interview for a job), so I'm also pretty nervous.

The job requires experience with Redhat, Debian, and Slackware, scripting languages like python, perl, and php, and other common system administration things (backups, etc). It's an entry-level position (one year of experience required), and will be mostly telecommuting.

I've looked through previous posts about phone interviews (which were helpful), but I was hoping for some advice specific to an IT job interview. What can I expect from a phone interview for a position like this? Are there things I should do to prepare for it?
posted by drdevice to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
They'll pretty much ask anything they'd ask you in a regular interview. Just take your time and ask for clarification if you need it. But after having had several phone interviews in the last few months, they're really just like an in-person interview. Except over the phone.
posted by GuyZero at 6:44 PM on June 20, 2007

Smile while talking on the phone, it will come through in the inflection in your voice.
posted by corpse at 6:57 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Smile while talking on the phone, it will come through in the inflection in your voice.

Stand too. Your voice sounds more authoritative and strong when standing. Being on the phone at home and sitting tends to be a relaxed projection. Use a land line if possible.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:35 PM on June 20, 2007

I've done several IT job interviews over the phone. You'll do fine. They typically begin by asking questions about your experience. Be prepared to answer .."Tell us about your experience". It might be handy to have your resume in front of you as a cheat sheet for yourself. If they ask specific software questions, simply answer them, but dont try to bluff your way through on any you don't know.
They will probably be on a speaker phone, if so, write down the names of who is on when they introduce themselves so you can refer to them by name as the interview progresses.
One last thing, I guarantee you, you will hang up the phone and 10 minute later you will be thinking "dang it! I shoulda said this... or I shoulda said that". don't worry, we all do that.
Good luck!!
posted by BillsR100 at 7:53 PM on June 20, 2007

Don't be surprised if you don't get enough verbal feedback -- "uh-huhs," "yeahs," etc.-- especially if there are multiple interviewers on the other end of the line.

That is, when you're talking to someone in person, you get a lot of verbal and non-verbal cues that they get what you're saying (head nods, uh-huh's, etc.). But on the phone, you're stuck with verbal. And if there are two or more on the other end, and if nobody's taking the "lead" in providing that kind of feedback, then it can feel like you're not connecting.

Take your time, and leave pauses for him/them to cut in ask follow-ups. Good luck!
posted by rdn at 7:53 PM on June 20, 2007

If you need more time to think of a good answer, use the speaker phone excuse ("I'm sorry, the speaker phone cut out, can you repeat that?"). Also, YMMV, but I usually drink a beer or 2, starting slightly before the interview and continuing during the interview. It helps me relax.
posted by probablysteve at 8:07 PM on June 20, 2007

As in all interviews, have several questions for them.

Treat it as conversation, because you should be interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you.

They'll probably ask you a few specific questions about each programming language you say you know. You'll either know the answer or you won't. It doesn't mean anything, they're just trying to gauge where you're at. Make sure to tell them you'll find out whatever you don't know, because I'm sure you will.

Based on the requirements, I'd also be prepared to answer what your favorite Linux distro is, programming language is, etc. Or, possibly which one you'd use in a particular situation and why. That sort of thing.

Finally, remember: they're as nervous as you are.
posted by o0o0o at 11:17 PM on June 20, 2007

This has been mentioned already, but it bears repeating: if you don't know the answer to something, don't try to bluff your way through it. Tell them that you don't know the answer to that question, but then tell them how you would go about finding the answer.

A job interview isn't really a test of how much you know. As long as you can demonstrate that you know what you talking about, and can find the answers to anything you don't know, they'll be happy. Mostly they want to get a sense of your personality.
posted by Eddie Mars at 6:58 AM on June 21, 2007

I wrote an article several months ago on my blog for aspiring pharmaceutical sales reps who want to prepare for the phone interview - but it's not exclusive to that group.

10 Keys to Mastering the Phone Interview

Hope it helps! Best of luck.
posted by stuboo at 5:24 PM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: I conduct phone interviews much like the one you've described. The best two tips I can give you are:

1) Don't let there be long periods of silence. In person I can tell if you're thinking a question over, but on a phone interview you should ask for clarifying details or restate my question if you need to stall for time.

2) Don't touch your keyboard while we're speaking unless I'm asking you to do something that requires it. Quite often I'll ask someone a technical question and I can hear him/her Googling for the answer. That makes me hyper-aware of any keyboard sounds an interviewee produces.
posted by Xkot at 8:32 PM on June 21, 2007

I've read this somewhere: dress up as if you were going for an in-person interview. It will put you in the right frame of mind.
posted by spacefire at 7:15 AM on June 22, 2007

I've found an advantage to the phone interview is I am more comfortable referring to notes. So use that to your advantage if it is helpful.
posted by dchunks at 12:34 PM on June 22, 2007

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