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Tackling Telephone Interviews Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: Lately when I apply to jobs, I have been hoping to meet someone from the company face to face first. However, I seem to be getting first interviews by phone instead. I find these to be kind of frustrating. I don't have one of those interesting phone voices and I would rather an interviewer get to know me in person, so they can see me for who I am. But I understand that unless I impress the phone interviewer I'll never get invited for the real thing, so what do I do to improve my technique?

Walleed T., Fredericton, New Brunswick

Dear Walleed,

First of all, a phone interview is the ''real'' thing, only it's done by voice instead of in person. It used to be that telephone interviews were reserved for lower level jobs or IT positions, where a quick five minute conversation could help interviewers weed out the more promising candidates from the weaker ones. Nowadays, employers will use phone interviews when they are so busy (or in some cases just plain lazy) that they only bother to see their top few potential candidates in person. Thus, they use the phone to eliminate those applicants who don't ''sound'' like the best ones.

This is hardly a fair practice for job seekers with thicker accents, very quiet voices, or other strikes against them vocally. But it's a reality you can't ignore and unless you can get past this phone call, you won't get invited in for the next step, which would be to meet the employer face-to-face.

Hence, you should treat this stage seriously. Consider first what the employer's goals are here. Typically they want to see that you can speak knowledgeably about the things you wrote on your resumé (the one you sent to them and that triggered this call in the first place). Since anyone can have a resumé written for them and appear to be the perfect candidate, a brief phone call of say five to 20 minutes gives just enough time to see if you can support some of the more important claims that you have made. This also gives an initial sense of your personality. So, if you know you'll be having a phone interview, be sure to review your resumé carefully and prepare to talk about each of the duties, responsibilities and achievements you've written about.

You can also improve your results by practicing phone interviews with a friend or colleague. Provide them with a list of several key questions relating to your resumé, and also a few of the more common questions that interviewers ask (click here for collected lists of interview questions). Then have your helper call you and pose the questions to you as if they were the interviewer. Have them listen for the following in your responses:

- ability to answer the questions completely and competently
- a hint of enthusiasm and friendliness in your voice
- long waits before responding that show unpreparedness
- some knowledge about the employer, what they do, and how your skills and experience relate
- vocal appropriateness: e.g. your voice is loud enough to hear easily, but not overwhelming; or if you have a thick accent that you make sure you speak slowly and pronounce your words more carefully, and ask the listener to let you know if they need you to repeat your words; and if you stammer or stutter, you can ask the interviewer up front to allow for a little extra time in the interview, and to allow you to formulate your responses as best you can.

On the plus side of phone interviews, is that you can surround yourself with memory aids during the call, such as a copy of your resume with key points highlighted, a list of questions you've put together to ask the interviewer, any notes about examples of your skills, traits or achievements you want to get across, and even a ''script'' that helps you make the conversation flow better.

With these tips in mind you can shine in phone interviews and hopefully get invited in to meet the hiring people directly. Until then, practice makes perfect.

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