Mastering the Phone Interview

One the most important steps in “getting the job” is mastering the phone interview.   I have the unfortunate duty of turning down candidates who don’t make it past the phone interview stage, and often I hear, “if they would only meet me, I’m sure they would want to hire me.”  I think this may be true in some cases, and if you’ve ever felt this way, here are some tips to help master the phone interview.

The number one thing to remember is that the phone interview is intended to whittle down the list of applicants.  So, our goal is prevent being screened out.  Most phone interviews follow a three part fact-finding model.  The three parts are used to assess your overall fit for the opening and for the company.   If you can get a big positive checkmark in each area, you’ll move on to a face-to-face interview.

Part One:  Motivational Fit (Why us? Why now?)  
The interviewer has to fully understand the story that brought you to them today.  If that story is illogical or unbelievable, they will deem you as not a fit motivationally.  A pitfall to avoid is not researching the company thoroughly enough.  If you’re not motivated enough to learn about the company, they will not feel comfortable moving you forward to the face-to-face interview.  TIP:  The best way to show you have done research is to preface your questions with something you’ve read.  For example,“I was reading that ABC is very involved in _________, so how does that impact this position?”

There has to be something attracting you to the interviewer’s company that would essentially provide a better situation than your current employer.  We call this Push/Pull.  Something has to be pushing you out and/or pulling you to them.  When you talk about what is pushing you out of your current employer, please do it with tact.  Never badmouth your current company.  This only ends up reflecting negatively on you.  TIP:  Here is an example of a tactful way to explain that it is time to change companies: “I’ve genuinely enjoyed my time with XYZ and have learned so much, but the company I joined is very different than the company that exists today. I am okay with change, and companies grow and evolve all the time. The thing is that, the leadership has a different vision now for my position, and unfortunately it’s clear to see the time for me to move on has come. The role that they now have me in is not of particular interest going forward, but the role with your company has me very intrigued.”

If they understand your situation and why you’re genuinely interested in this role, you get a big checkmark for Motivational Fit.

Part Two: Functional Fit (Why You?)  
After they understand your situation, they want to get into the meat and potatoes of the interview—assessing whether or not you can do the job.   In this section, you most likely will see some questions that are Behavioral Based (BBI) in nature (we’ll tackle how to handle BBI questions another time).  These questions are geared to see if you’ve truly done similar jobs in the past, and what your success level was in those positions.  When you are sharing examples be as specific as possible, never vague or hypothetical.  The best story tellers get the job, but keep your story efficient.  They judge your intellect based on how efficiently you can convey information and how well you can organize your thoughts. Remember in the initial phone interview, you should do about 80% of the selling, and the company should do about 20%. Great interviews have a way of selling themselves without coming across as cocky (how to do that is another topic for another day).  TIP:The questions you will most likely see in this portion will be like: “Can you give me an example of a time when you had to (perform a specific function)?”, “Give me an example of a typical interaction you’ve had with a  ________?”, and “If there was one thing about your current job that you could change, what would that be?”

If they believe that you can do the job, and if you’re examples were specific and relevant, you get a big check mark for Functional Fit.

Part Three: Cultural Fit 
Let’s face it, people hire people they like.  I’ve seen candidates who were motivated for all the right reasons and had resumes to die for.   That didn’t matter, because the interviewer perceived that you are going to be a management nightmare and negatively affect the work environment.  If they think this about you, they are not likely to move forward with a face-to-face interview.   It is almost impossible to prepare for cultural fit questions, so be savvy and let your answers gravitate to the middle.  TIP:   You can tell they are digging for cultural fit, when the questions are like: “Of all of your managers at XYZ, who did you report to the longest? How would you describe their management style? How does that style affect your level of achievement?”, “In your career I’m sure you’ve had many different managers who haddifferent strengths and weaknesses, if you could take the best parts from them all and build the best manager, what characteristics would they have?”, and “Of all the companies you’ve worked for, which one would you work for again? Why?”

If they feel like you would fit well with the team and with their management style, then you get a big checkmark for Cultural Fit.

To master the phone interview, you must get a checkmark in all three areas.   It’s not really that difficult to do when you game plan for it, and that’s what great interviewers do—they plan.  Those are the people that get the opportunity to get an in-person interview, where they can truly sell the value and benefits of employing them.

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