Why employers conduct phone interviews (and how to ace one)

Many employers will conduct a telephone interview with candidates in advance of a face-to-face meeting. This can be done with remote candidates to save on travel time and expense, but most often it is simply a pre-screening tool.

The phone interview is usually a call to determine if you have the basic skills and requirements to do the job, that your career path makes you a good fit for the role, and that you are available for work on the schedule that the employer needs and for the money they can pay.

If you don’t fit with any of those basics, then there isn’t much point in taking the time to meet with you in person and discuss your qualifications in depth. Therefore, when an employer schedules a telephone pre-screening interview with you, you should be prepared to answer these five questions:

What kind of job are you looking for in your next role?

Flattery works. Keep the employer and the job in mind, and tailor your response to them specifically. Tell your interviewer why this particular job at this particular company would be a great fit with your ambitions. Employers prefer candidates who know about their company and are passionate about working for them.

What are your career goals?

Employers aren’t interested in giving someone a ‘foot in the door’ who will quickly be looking to leave that stepping stone job. They want to hire people who will stay in a job and be successful at it for at least long enough to make it worth hiring, onboarding and training them. Tell them how the job you’re after is the next logical progression for your career path, and how excelling at it will make you and the employer more successful.

What is your ideal work environment?

The employer knows whether they are a team-work driven organization or not, if they are meeting-heavy, open concept and collaborative or if their team members work independently with little supervision or interaction. They want to know if you are going to fit in with their workplace culture.

Your research about the company should be able to uncover some insights about the working environment. Be flexible and adaptable to the situation. However, be honest. If there is a working environment that you really can’t perform well in, there’s no point in getting hired into it. You won’t be happy or successful in a workplace that you just don’t fit in with.

What are your salary expectations?

Simple enough. The employer knows what their budget for the role is, and they don’t want to take the time meeting with someone that they can’t afford to hire.

This isn’t a salary negotiation. You aren’t tied to the number you say, but it will frame the discussion. The interviewer wants to know if you are at least in bargaining range with what they are prepared to offer. It’s okay to be somewhat vague at this point. Quote a number that suits your needs and explain that you are willing to negotiate based on the specifics of the job and overall benefits offered.

For example: “I’m looking for something in the mid-seventies, but I can be flexible on the amount depending on the job responsibilities and overall compensation package.”

When are you available to start?

The employer had a vacancy to fill and they need to know if you will be available to fill it. If you are about to leave on a six-week African safari, and they need someone right away, you might not be the person for the job.

Note: If you are currently employed, don’t tell the interviewer that you are ready to come and work for them the very next day. It sends a terrible message about your professionalism and work ethic that you would be willing to leave your current team in the lurch with no notice.

Rather, say something like: “I would have to wrap up my current work and give my manager notice that they are going to have to replace me, but I could be available by ….” [Most likely two weeks out.]

You will need to pass this first round in order to progress to a face-to-face interview. Don’t take a phone interview call in a room with the television or radio on or lots of environmental noise. If it is pre-scheduled, then make sure you are in a quiet space when the call comes in. If the employer phones you unexpectedly, either get to a suitable place or ask if you can call them back shortly. Don’t try to conduct an interview in a noisy street or café.

One advantage of a phone interview is that the employer cannot see you. Therefore, it is okay to have notes prepared in advance that you can refer to so that you do not forget to mention the key information you want to get across. Have them well laid-out and easy to read for quick cues. You don’t want to sound like you are reading from a pre-prepared text or reciting a memorized answer. It’s still a conversation after all.

Be positive and friendly. At every stage of the hiring process, employers are determining not only that you can do the job, but also that they would want to work with you on a daily basis. The more upbeat and personable you are, the better your chances.

Remember to smile. When you smile it changes the tone of your voice, and that warmth can be heard over the phone. You will sound more content and confident in a phone interview if you smile.

Be sure to reiterate your interest in the position and ask about the next steps in the process.

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