Monday, January 4, 2010

20 Job Search Answers You Need To Know | #11 How are phone interviews different?

A: Non-verbal communication takes a back seat (on both sides)

You’ve heard it before, right? Some audacious, unsubstantiated fact that someone flung at you during a sales training meeting or a Crucial Conversation class, “93% of all communicationimage is non-verbal”. That’s hooey (I don’t think cell phones would be as prevalent as they are if that was the case). 

Trying to put such a percentage like that on any specific conversation (or interview) you might have is not only impossible – but wholly irrelevant. What you need to know is that non-verbal communication is a big part of how you communicate and it forces you to concentrate on it during phone interviews (when all you have is the tenor of your words and those of the other person or persons). 

We all know about the phone screen - yes? It’s where the company takes the (adjusted for current economics) 75 outstanding resumes they have separated from the herd (Round 1) and decide which 5 of those people to bring in for in person interviews (Round 2).  Good news, if they call - you’ve made the first cut (nice resume, Sparky) and here are some things to keep in mind during phone interviews:

  • Practice, practice, practice (especially if you haven’t done this in awhile or you normally are not known for giving good phone). I know it sounds lame – but record yourself in a mock interview and listen back to it. Something I learned in my radio days, the fact that you listen to your own voice (normally) not only from your ears but from inside the bones of your own head, it sounds a lot different coming out your mouth as others hear it. You’ll be surprised how discombobulated your answers…umm..err…sound. The good news – this practice will also help your in-person interviews (as you hone your self-aware skills)
  • This is a pants on event. I know they can’t see you – but wearing your 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers sweatpants during an interview will get you way too relaxed
  • Go to quiet place Find a room in your house where your kids and cats can’t interrupt the interview (I once had that happen – where my cat bellowed while I was interviewing).  If you are not at home (and calling on your cell pone during your lunch break from the McDonald’s parking lot), make sure you are not in a noisy locale (as in trains, planes and automobiles).   Also - make sure not to eat (duh!) or bang away on your computer  keyboard (they may think you are playing Bejeweled)
  • Mirror Mirror Another thing you might think is lame, but an old trick from customer services professionals and sales people: a mirror.  People can hear you smile (or as I once told a peer, “I can hear your eyes roll when I am talking to you on the phone”). So put a mirror facing you as you are on the phone
  • Cell phone rules If you are using your cell phone (or cordless) – make sure it is charged. On more than one occasion, I have had candidate fall-off mid-sentence (and hey – I can’t call you back since your phone is dead).  Also make sure you have enough bars (“Can you hear me now”?)
  • I can’t hear your head nod Not only can they not see you – but obviously you can’t see them.  So make sure you verbalize subtle cues for them (a “yes” or “I have” as they are talking).  From the other side, normally you might get a hint that you are prattling on too long (when they check their watch) or you can see when they LOVE what you are saying (by smiling and nodding their head). Don’t be afraid to ask for clues or stop to let them ask for more from you or move you along (“thanks for reciting the periodic table of elements in descending specific gravity order, but let’s get back to why you left your last job”).

Video Killed The Phone Screen Star

In this day of webcams and YouTube, some companies are doing video interviews (we have done that at my company). It is not widespread – but it is increasing (especially at geeky and remote location jobs).

So although you get some verbal cues back (with the video), some other things to keep in mind.

  • Dress as if  Dress as you would for the in-person interview (and yes – pants are preferred even if you don’t pan down)
  • Scenery  Like we talked about background sounds for the phone, in the video interview, it can be worse. So don’t let Fluffy knead your tummy while you are on the phone or let your wife walk behind you in the robe she swiped from the Davenport Radisson hotel. I also wouldn’t take your laptop to a public place (where background images of the hotties rollerblading around the lake can take focus away from you).
  • Power and Connectivity  Make sure you laptop is charged (or plugged in) and you won’t lose signal (if not hard-wired).

Next Up: How do I negotiate?

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