November 25, 2012

Marilyn Helms: Phone interviewing tips and trends

As we prepare 42 seniors in the School of Business at Dalton State College to enter the world of work, we’ve covered a variety of interviewing strategies, participated in an etiquette dinner, discussed and practiced interview attire, and even had students participate in mock interviews assisted by various DSC alumni and community friends.

The seniors have been interviewing for jobs, and interestingly the first stage of the interview process is often via telephone. In the time-pressured world of business, search committees or human resources departments want to be sure they have the right candidates to bring on-site for further talks and the phone interview is a quicker way to screen a larger pool of applicants. With this area’s high unemployment, many job openings are deluged by large numbers of applicants.

To prepare for phone interviews, it’s important to take the process very serious. To be asked to an on-site interview, it is necessary to first pass the phone portion of the interview. If you have a choice, schedule the conversation at the time of day when you are most alert and upbeat. Are you a morning person or do you peak later in the day? Also, find out if you will be talking with one individual or with a team or committee and if the interview is via telephone (voice only) or through a web-based service such as Skype (voice and video).

For phone interviews, dress in your actual interview suit. Why? The formality of your dress will carry through in your voice and you will take the questions more seriously. Individuals who work at home often remark that they “dress for work” even if it means changing into sweat pants from their pajamas, just to set the tone for work. Place a mirror on your desk and remember to look into the mirror and smile when you talk. Have a glass of water handy as well should your throat get dry. Keep your room cool and free from distractions.

Schedule the call from home or a quiet location and not from your desk or cubicle at your current job. Talk directly into a landline phone for clearer reception. There is often a short time lag in a cell phone and you will be harder to understand. Do not use the hands-free speaker option as it has distortions as well. Speak clearly if you have to speak more slowly. Remember not to eat or chew gum or mints as you talk. Don’t multitask with the computer nearby as your clicking on the keyboard will be heard. Don’t check cellphone texts or send texts or emails but concentrate on the questions. You may want to lay out a copy of your résumé and other materials on your desk but be careful not to rattle papers. You may want to have a few typed notes or bullet points about your experience, too. Other materials might include key company information, photo and biography of the interviewer or the interviewing team, and any questions you will want to ask.

For Skype or video-based interviews, set up the room. If you are using a den or bedroom at home, consider adding a screen behind you so the rest of the room is not seen. Remove toys, televisions, kids and pets and turn off all other phones and devices. You want the room neutral as the interviewer may be distracted by your living room décor, etc. Check that you have enough lighting in the room. Also learn to use the software correctly. Position the camera at your face, not down on your chin and neck. External computer cameras and speakers are preferred rather than the ones embedded in your laptop as the quality is better.

In both cases, keep your answers short and to the point. Repeat the question if you need to. Summarize key points at the end of your response for emphasis if needed. Have a pen and notepad handy to take notes. This is key if you are asked a multiple part question. Watch your grammar and thank the interviewers for their time at the end of the conversation. Follow up with an immediate email and then a short written thank-you note to all the individuals who talked with you in the phone interview. If you have not heard from the company in two weeks, then call or email for an update and again stress your interest in the position.

Good luck.


Marilyn M. Helms is the Sesquicentennial Endowed Chair and Professor of Management in the School of Business at Dalton State College and welcomes your questions and comments or article ideas at or at (706) 272-2600.


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