EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

With everyone so busy these days, the dreaded telephone interview is being used more and more.

In my opinion, the only purpose for a telephone interview is to do a quick screening of possible candidates before bringing them in for a face to face interview. It is not a good vehicle for totally qualifying candidates, but used effectively it can prevent a colossal waste of time on the part of both parties. Many folks look good on paper, but with a short conversation filled with probing questions, those lacking critical elements can be eliminated. If candidates need to be brought in from great distances it just makes sense to speak with them first.

I hope I am being redundant when I tell you to NEVER use your cell phone for a telephone interview unless you are sure you have a strong signal. “Can you hear me now?” may make a good advertising campaign, but it is one of the great lies. The answer is usually NO. (My guess is the actor was standing under a cell tower.) If the only way you can be reached initially is by cell, insist on calling back on a land line if at all possible.

Given that you have proper notice about a telephone interview, be sure to prepare. Not only should you read the position description several times, you should reread your own resume. Remember, this may be the only document they have and they may start asking questions from it. It is also a good idea to have both documents out in front of you.

A remote phone is also a good idea. I have a hands free phone that allows me to walk around my office when I am on the phone. Being able to gesture will make you come across as more forceful than if you are sitting in your high backed leather chair with your feet up on the desk.

While a telephone interview is a preliminary step in your process of getting a face to face interview, the preparation you need to do about the company is the same as if you were going there. You only get so many preliminary “lottery tickets,” so don’t be casual. As I used to tell my accounting staff: I expect you to do your work as if your job depended on it, because it does! The same goes here. Don’t let the collection of any relevant information go undone. You only get one chance, and making a good impression over the phone is harder than in person because both parties are missing all those visual cues. Besides, you may have a very nice “interview outfit” and dressed to the “9’s,” you may look very impressive. Here you will have to depend solely on your wits, and you best keep them about you.

Keep in mind that your goal is to sound smart. You will need to speak more slowly and more clearly than when you are in person. Believe it. Most people do a little lip reading, and that won’t be possible over the phone.

Your other goal is to keep the call as brief as possible. At an appropriate time in the conversation, do a “trial close,” by which I mean, ask for the appointment. You are a product that can’t actually be sold over the phone. You need to get in front of your customer. Answer all the questions you are asked as completely as is necessary, but don’t get carried away. Be sure to pause periodically when you are speaking. Digital phone technology today makes it impossible to interrupt you. Try to supply short answers. 90 seconds IS about the limit, so put a clock on it.

The phone can be your friend or your enemy. Make sure it isn’t the latter.

Regards, Matt

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