Never underestimate your first phone interview

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Your first phone interview with a prospective employer or a recruiter is a lot more important than you may think. Slip up here, and it’s a good chance you’ll never make it to a “face-to-face” interview.

Candidates can be too relaxed or nonchalant in their first phone screen. Since they don’t have to leave their house or wear a suit, they simply may not understand that interviewers are looking for a reason to cross them off their list.

A phone screening often is a simple, almost benign part of the interview process. But never think, “Hey, it’s just a phone screen,” and be caught unprepared.

Be smart and realize this is your first live impression with a potential new employer. If a friend or colleague recommended you, a recruiter or HR professional probably is calling to check your interest and gather a current resume.

Either way, your tone of voice, enthusiasm and ability to handle an unexpected call all play into someone’s first impression.

In a recent national search for a chief administration officer, our client not only wanted certain education requirements and industry-specific background, but also a candidate with excellent leadership skills. The special caveat was that this team member had to be fun to work with.

With a nice list of candidates, we started with the best-looking resume. The candidate, Brian, was available when we called, but things got bumpy fast. He appeared rushed and abrupt during our questions. Even more disappointing, Brian came across as too stuffy and formal. With a low score on the “fun” meter, we couldn’t take him further through the process.

Brian was an example of a qualified candidate who blew his first phone contact. If he really didn’t have the time, it was perfectly OK (and smarter) for him to reschedule.

First impressions are critical. A candidate must be pleasant, relaxed and easy to visit with. In a phone screen, there’s no eye contact or other body language signals. It’s your first chance to convey enthusiasm, energy and genuine interest in the job.

It’s way too early to bring up pay, benefits or vacation questions although a thoughtful question about the job requirements or company is fine.

Close your interview by expressing appreciation for the call and asking if there’s anything you can provide to keep the process going.

If you miss the cut this time around, think about how you’ll improve your phone screens in the future.

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