Don’t take the telephone interview lightly; be prepared for 4 or more potential problem areas

Recently a former customer of mine told me the great news that he was offered an engineering position. He was extremely happy about getting the job and thought he’d enjoy working for the company, even though he never met anyone at the company.

After four interviews he was offered the job. These interviews were all conducted over the phone. I was in shock. I had never heard of anyone who was hired based completely on telephone interviews.

If you think a telephone interview isn’t a real interview, you’re sadly mistaken. Telephone interviews are generally thought of as a screening device, but they carry a lot of weight and, in some cases, they’re full-fledged interviews. Often times jobseekers don’t take the telephone interview seriously, and this is a huge mistake.

This is the type of response I sometimes get from my workshop attendees when they tell me they have a telephone interview, “It’s just a telephone interview. I hope I get a face-to-face.” I tell them to prepare as hard as they would for a personal interview. Don’t get caught off guard.

Yes, the face-to-face is the next step, but you can’t get there without impressing the interviewer on the other end of the phone, whether she’s a recruiter, hiring manager, HR, or even the owner of a company. Generally the interviewer is trying to obtain four bits of information from you, areas to which you can respond well or fail.

Do you have the skills and experience to do the job? The first of the interviewer’s interests is one of the easiest to meet. You’ve applied for a public relations manager position that’s “perfect” for you; have experience and accomplishments required of a strong public relations manager. Your communications skills are above reproach, demonstrated by excellent rapport with the media, business partners, and customers.

In addition, you’ve written press releases, customer success stories, and assisted with white papers. You’ve added content to the company’s website that even project managers couldn’t supply. One of your greatest accomplishments was placing more than 50 articles in leading trade magazines.

Are you motivated and well liked? Your former colleagues describe you as amiable, extremely goal oriented, and one who exudes enthusiasm. The last quality shows motivation and will carry over nicely to your work for the next company. You’ve done your research and have decided that this is the company you want to work for; it’s on your “A” list.

When the interviewer asks why you want to work for the company, you gush with excitement and feel a bit awkward telling her you love the responsibilities set forth in the job description. But your enthusiasm for the job and company is well noted by the employer. Further, through your networking you’ve learned about the corporate culture, including the management team. You tell her it sounds a lot like your former company and will be a great fit.

Why did you leave your last company? This one is tough for you, because even though you were laid off, you feel a bit insecure and wonder if you were to blame. Your company was acquired and there would be duplication with the marketing department that exists for the company that bought yours. You keep this answer brief, 15 seconds and there are no follow-up questions. You’re doing great so far.

What is your salary expectation? “So Bill, what do you want?” The question hits you like a brick. “Excuse me,” you say. “What do you expect for salary? What will it take to get you to the next step?” the interviewer says. Your mind goes blank. You’ve been instructed to handle the question in this order:

  1. Try to deflect the question.
  2. If this doesn’t work, ask for their range.
  3. And if this doesn’t work, give them your range.
  4. When all else fails, you cite an exact figure based on your online research and networking.

You’ve forgotten everything your job coach told you and blurt out an exact figure. “At my last job I made $72,000.” But this isn’t the question asked. The interviewer wants you to tell her what you expect for salary, not what you made at your last company. “Is this what you had in mind?” you timidly say.

There’s a pause at the other end, and finally the voice thanks you for your time. She tells you if you’re suitable for an interview at the company, you’ll be notified within a week. She says it looks promising for you….

But you know right then that the position hangs in the balance. You’ve spoken first and within 10 seconds said something you can’t take back. You were prepared, but not prepared enough. You didn’t think this interview counted; you’d do better at the face-to-face, if you get there.

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About Things Career Related
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 17 job search workshops at an urban career center. Jobseekers and staff look to him for advice on the job search. In addition, Bob has gained a reputation as a LinkedIn authority in the community. Bob’s greatest pleasure is helping people find rewarding careers in a competitive job market. Follow Bob on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/bob_mcintosh_1 and LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobmcintosh1

4 Responses to Don’t take the telephone interview lightly; be prepared for 4 or more potential problem areas

  1. John Hebert says:

    With regard to salary expectations …especially if you’ve been out of the market for awhile (like me), I’ve had good success stating that I’m looking for what the market will bear. Since the market has adjusted down for the recession, this keeps me in the game without inadvertently low-balling myself.

    John

    • John,

      Every company is different in terms of money and benefits they can afford, so “what the market will bear” is subjective. Also, I’ve had customers who got jobs at their last salary or higher. Thanks for the comment.

      • John Hebert says:

        Good to know. Thanks.

        I’ve found that geography makes a big difference with salary. In CO where there are a lot of involuntarily retired high tech workers, many smaller companies low-ball offers as an SOP. Nobody likes to work for less than their previous salary, but they also don’t want to miss an opportunity because their competition for the job is more desperate. In places like TX and CA this appears to occur less.

  2. Jody R says:

    Hi, Bob,

    I couldn’t agree more about taking the telephone interview seriously. I recently had SIX phone interviews for the same position. I prepared for each one as if it was a face-to-face interview. One thing on which I am not clear is the answer to the question about my salary expectations. That section in your article seems to be hypothetical, rather than specific about how to answer. Are you suggesting I try to deflect the question, ask the range the prospective employer is offering for the position, give thm my range, etc? Thanks for your help.

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