Maybe you've been there before: You're sitting somewhere, nervous, phone in hand, waiting for it to ring. Maybe you just spent what felt like forever finding a quiet place with good service, or triple checking that your phone wasn't accidentally on silent. Then, finally, it rings.
Let's face it: Phone interviews can be very awkward. Whereas in-person interviews afford you the opportunity to connect (you know, as a real human being) with the person you're meeting, phone interviews often lack nuance and nonverbal communication cues.
These types of interviews can also make or break your candidacy for a job. Often, phone screeners are the first hurdle in an application process, and so a lot is riding on these short phone exchanges. So how do you make sure you don't blow it?
We spoke with Ariel Lopez, former recruiter, career coach, and founder of 2020Shift. She gave us the lowdown on how to prep for a phone interview, things to avoid, and how to make sure you score that second interview.
What is the worst habit you’ve seen in a phone interview?
“By far, the number one worst (and most common) thing is being unprepared — or lying and saying you’re prepared when you’re not.
“Some recruiters will set up a phone screen in advance, in which case there’s no excuse to be unprepared. But, in the case that you get a call out of the blue, it’s never a good idea to make things up as you go.
"If you’re unprepared, the best thing to do is just reschedule. Some people may be a little apprehensive to do so, but if you get a call and are unprepared, I would say: 'Thanks so much for reaching out, I’m super excited for this opportunity. I want to make sure we have the best conversation possible. Can you speak later today or tomorrow?'
"Make sure you give yourself enough time to revisit the position, the company page, so that when you get on you’re in a good position. Be prepared — recruiters are the best BS detectors in the world, and we always know when you're not."
What is one way to make sure you actually seem prepared?
"Ask questions. This goes for phone screens and in-person interviews. People forget they’re interviewing the company, too. If you’re not asking questions, you’re not putting yourself in a position to be successful.
"You should always have questions ready — recruiters like people who are curious, are problem solvers, and ask good questions. Such as: 'What’s your biggest problem and how can I solve it?' and 'What have you not been able to find in a candidate yet?'
"If you ask a question like this, you automatically put yourself in another category than other job seekers. Many candidates are too focused on what’s in it for them and only ask questions about management style, remote work, and those kinds of things.
"While these kinds of questions do matter, they’re not as important to a recruiter. The only reason a job is open is because they need someone and have a void to fill — ask questions such as: 'What’s the process for this position? How long have you guys been looking? When can I come into the office and meet you in person?'"
What has most 'wowed' you on a phone interview?
"People who are prepared and ask really good questions.
"The majority of people are mass-applying for jobs. But if you only apply for three to five positions at a time, you’ll have a better chance of remembering the details of the job.
"Go the extra mile and read the blog on the company page, go through recent news and see where the company has been featured, or have an informational interview with someone at the company and relay your thoughts.
"Anytime someone can come to the table and say: 'I’ve done my research and these are all the things about the company that make me want to work here' — that’s really impressive."
What's the most surefire way to score a second interview?
"Always follow up any phone screen or in-person interview within 24 hours. Short and sweet is best — just like no one likes paragraph texts, don't send anything longer than two or three mini paragraphs.
"Say thank you for their time and reinforce some of the things that were said on the phone. People don’t do this nearly enough, and they should. Mentioning something the recruiter specifically said also shows that you were listening.
"This is also a chance to quickly reinforce why you’re good for the role and make sure you have clarity about what comes next — don’t ever be the person to get off the phone without talking over next steps."