I’m a millennial, and I hate talking on the phone. In other news, the sky is blue. It’s not that I’m afraid of talking on the phone—I do it. I just don’t like it. And I don’t like it because I find there’s a disconnect. In an email, you’ve got pretty much all the time in the world to get your point across, use the right words, and strike the right tone. And in person, you can read a person’s expressions and body language to get a sense of how the conversation is going, which is ideal in an interview scenario. A phone call has none of that—both you and your conversation partner are just disembodied voices.
The phone screen or phone interview is often the first hurdle that you need to clear in getting a job but, because you can’t really see how a person is responding to your conversation, it adds another layer of removal from the situation and thus another level of anxiety. Here, I’ll get into some ways you can set yourself up for success during a phone screen.
No, don’t clean your house. (Although, in a Skype interview, you’ll probably want to do that—or at least the space directly behind you.) I just mean make sure you take care of all the nuts and bolts. Find a quiet space to take the call (i.e., kick your roommates or your kids out of the room), charge your phone, and make sure you’ve taken it off “Do Not Disturb” mode from the movies last night. I know this sounds like really simple advice that no one could possibly need reminding of—but have you ever forgotten to pack your deodorant for vacation? Exactly. So just double check—nothing could be more embarrassing than your phone going dead right as you’re saying that your personal motto is “Be prepared.”
2. Don’t Chew Gum. Do Take Names.
Listen up, hiring manager: I’m here to kick butt, take names, and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of bubblegum.
I’m sorry, I had to fit that in here somewhere. For real, though—you better be all out of bubblegum during a phone (or any) interview. No gum, no food, and ideally no drinks, but I won’t make a hard-and-fast rule about it. The person you’re talking to can absolutely hear you masticating on the other end of the line, regardless of how sneaky you think you’re being.
And, to fully justify my reference, be sure to get the name and contact info of your interviewer. One, it makes it that much easier to follow up after the interview. And two, when you go in for an in-person interview, it’ll be nice to have that person’s name at your disposal rather than waiting anxiously for them to reintroduce themselves.
3. Use a Crib Sheet
It’s not cheating, it’s using your resources. This is one instance in which a phone screen is actually awesome—you can take as many notes as you want beforehand and, as long as you’re not rustling pages, you can reference them all you like. I do this constantly—I jot down the company’s important clients and business partners, the names of people in my potential department, and a little blurb about me for the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question. For one, writing it all down makes me feel more prepared beforehand. But it also makes for easy referencing if my mind goes totally blank in the interview. Just make sure that if you do write out answers to questions, you’re not just reading off your notes. Think of them like index cards for a speech: They’re there to remind you of your main points, but you shouldn’t be entirely dependent on them.
4. Be Comfortable—Even If “Comfortable” Is a Little Weird
It’s probably for the best that I don’t make too many phone calls—I’d wear a meandering path in the floor of my apartment. It’s not even an anxiety thing, exactly. I just wander. If you’re a phone pacer, that’s fine—pace! Use wild hand gestures! Do what you gotta do to burn off nerves. I know it’s a little nerve-racking not being able to see your interviewer’s face, but they also can’t see you—take advantage of that.
That said, don’t get too comfortable. Even though your interviewer can’t see you, you should definitely get up, get dressed in something semi-professional, do your hair, and all that before taking the call. It’ll help you get into the mindset of making an impression.
5. Take Notes
Pencils ready, y’all. Remember what I was saying about taking down your interviewer’s contact info? You should also be writing down the main points of what they say. As the first step in the interviewing process, phone screens are often quite informative—this is your chance to get a good feel for the company, for the qualities needed in the position, for the personality of at least this potential member of your team, things like that. This is important info, and while you shouldn’t be hyper-focused on writing everything down, make sure you jot down the most important points. It’ll help you when you go in for the in-person interview—you’ll be able to demonstrate that you were listening, and you’ll know the notes to hit on the second round.
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