Prepare for a Phone Interview


The credit for this post goes to Susan Heathfield, a Human Resources expert who has been covering HR for about.com since 2000.  In her HR newsletter, Vol. 11 No. 81, dated July, 2010, she writes an excellent article for recruiters about how to construct questions for effective telephone screening interviews.  Viewed in reverse, you can use her questions as a way to prepare for a phone screening –  or any in-person interview. 

Use these questions to prepare yourself for speaking with a recruiter.  If you are interviewing over the phone, you can jot down notes for yourself to make sure you hit key points about your experience or skills.  Remember that the telephone puts a barrier between you and your interviewer; you must project all your energy and enthusiasm through your voice, since body language won’t be working for you.  You’ll also need to make sure your diction and rate of speed when you talk come through clearly over the phone. 

Here’s Heathfield’s employer guide (with my notes for jobseekers.)

1.  Develop a question that will assess the experience of the candidate in the position you are recruiting. (Example: How many years of inventory management experience do you have?)

Prepare yourself to summarize the number of years you spent at various companies and in various positions (it might help to have dates handy; certainly, I’d have my resume with me as a guide.)  Follow up questions might include software, hardware and equipment versions, people you worked for (especially if your experience is recent and local) and products or customers you might have worked with.

2.  Develop a question that will assess the experience of the candidate specific to your needs. (Example: Tell me about your experience with an inventory of over half a million parts.)

This is an important qualifying question.  It tells you how much volume you’ll be dealing with – how complex the job is.  It’s not any good to try fudging an answer; inflating your skills is a losing proposition.  But you can be ready to talk about peak periods in your company or how your skills might balance the speed and volume you’d experience in the new job.

3.  Develop a question that will assess the experience of the candidate specific to your needs. (Example: Tell me about your experience with computerized inventory control systems.)

Be specific in your response.  Have facts and figures, versions of software and other objective skills as part of your answer.  If you’re discussing software or equipment, be ready to rate yourself as a basic, intermediate, or advanced operator.

4.  Describe your educational background and experience.

This question is one of the reasons I always recommend an investment in training or education during a layoff. If your educational background is your weak point, you can discuss coursework you’ve taken or the certification you’re working toward.

5.  Not to limit you or commit you to a certain dollar figure, but what’s the minimum salary you’d consider right now to accept another position?

I wish every interviewer used this format for this sensitive question.  If you and the company are miles apart on salary, there’s really no reason to continue the discussion, and I would appreciate hearing it sooner rather than later.  Notice that the question was about “the minimum you’d consider.” That gives you room later on to adjust your salary discussion after you know more about the job.  Ms. Heathfield gets high marks from me on this question.

6.  Are you willing to agree to have a drug test, a criminal background check, reference checks, educational background checks and others as appropriate for this position?         YES __________ NO ___________

A simple yes or no, but it does tell you exactly what you need to know for the next step.  Employers are universally mystified by the number of candidates who agree to these checks and then fail them. 

This is also your chance to talk about an issue in your past that may turn up.  You’ll have the high ground by bringing it up first for discussion, and the recruiter will appreciate your candor.

If the candidate’s responses to these questions satisfy the screener, proceed with the interview. If not, tell the candidate that you have other candidates who appear to have credentials and experience that more closely match the expectations of the position. End the interview.

With these tips, you’ll have a good chance at making the cut.  Good luck.

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