In revising The Interviewing Guidebook for a second edition, I've been adding some new material that I thought might be useful to those using the 1st edition. Here is a brief--to be more finely edited--discussion of some suggestions for the phone interview and the "cheat" sheet.
The Phone Interview
Often, an organization will prefer to interview a number of candidates by phone and then, on the basis of these phone calls, make a decision to invite the best of the candidates for face-to-face interviews. Here are a few suggestions for making this phone interview more effective and increasing the chances of your being invited to a second interview.
1. Make sure your connection is a clear one. This is not the time to use a cell phone that fades in and out. Set up a quiet space without any distractions. Avoid having this conversation at your place of work; you may not be able to control the interruptions or to speak as privately as you might like.
2. Have in front of you water to clear your throat if necessary, a pen and paper to write down important information, and a “cheat sheet” which is explained below.
3. Dress professionally. Even though the interviewer won’t see you (unless this is a video conference), you’ll probably act more professionally if you are dressed professionally (at least to some extent). Avoid having the phone interview in your pajamas which may make you act in a more relaxed and informal manner than you might want. Some interview writers recommend that you stand up during the call; it will help you sound more professional than you might if you were relaxing in a recliner.
4. Thank the interviewer for making time for the phone call. Of course, it’s the interviewer’s job to make these calls but thank the person anyway.
5. Speak professionally and dynamically. Avoid peppering your talk with expressions you might be used to using with friends of the phone—“like,” “you know,” or “I mean.” Avoid interrupting the interviewer even if you’re absolutely sure you know what he or she is going to say next. Use the interviewer’s title plus last name, unless you’re asked to use just a first name.
6. Throughout your conversation, pause enough so that the interviewer can interject comments but not too long or too frequently so as to make yourself seem uncertain.
7. Give verbal feedback during the call that tells the interviewer that you’re following and understand what is being said. These are sometimes called “minimal responses,” such as “I see,” “yes,” and “I understand.”
8. Pay particular attention to any cues the interviewer gives you that can help you regulate your conversation. Often interviewers will tell you very explicitly what they want: Tell me briefly what you did at XYZ? Or, What’s the single most important factor in a job to you? At other times, the cues will be more subtle—an interjected “OK” that may suggest you cut your response short or move on to the next question.
9. If you’re in doubt about anything you feel might be important, then seek clarification. This is a lot better than going on and on about a question you weren’t asked.
10. Ask about the next step. Remember that the main purpose of the phone interview is to get to the second interview. Be sure you take accurate notes as to any time and location for a second interview should that be set up during the interview. Often, you’ll be notified by phone call, email, or letter. In any event, make sure you know what the next step is.
11. Thank the interviewer for his or her time, express your enjoyment of the interview (not “this wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be” or anything that suggests a less than total command of the phone interview but with something like “I enjoyed learning more about XYZ”), and reiterate your interest in the job and in working at XYZ.
12. Follow up the interview by (1) keeping a log of the major issues covered, the name of the interviewer, and especially what the next step is and (2) writing a thank you note in email or by regular post.
The Cheat Sheet
The “cheat sheet” is a useful aid to the phone interview or to any interview. You create the cheat sheet and review if before going into an interview or keep it in front of you during a phone interview. The interviewer never sees your cheat sheet which contains the information you want to be sure to cover in the interview. Keep it short and simple; if it’s too long it may be difficult to use during the call and may get in the way of sounding spontaneous. Although each job and each candidate will prepare a somewhat different cheat sheet, it will generally look something like this:
Thank the Interviewer!
Experiences to mention
Record here any experiences you’ve had that might be relevant to the position—for example, relevant travel, leadership positions you’ve held, related work experiences.
Record here the kinds of preparation you have had that make you especially suitable for the position.
Record here what you do especially well, perhaps classified into categories such as computer skills, communication skills, research skills, or whatever is relevant to the particular position you’re seeking.
Questions to Ask
Record here any questions you want to ask about the position or about when decisions will be made.
Ask about the next step and be sure to record what you have to do? Do this during the interview; don’t risk forgetting it.
Thank the Interviewer!