How to Prep for a Successful Phone Interview

If you have an initial phone interview scheduled with a potential employer, you want to be prepared. Great interviewing skills are guided by three basic concepts that cover every phase of the interview, and apply to professional interviews at any level, and in any format. Before getting on the phone, review the following tips.

Phase One - your first impression

Most interviews start with some form of an open-ended question, one of the most common being, “Tell me about yourself.” And while you may be an easy subject, it’s not a layup question.  The interviewer may intend it to be a simple ice-breaker, but it is the defining moment of first impression - and will go farther toward determining chemistry than any other interview element that follows.

Every candidate should have their answer ready to give at a moments notice. If you can successfully answer this question, you’ll get the benefit of the doubt for the rest of the interview. So what should you keep in mind when answering this question?

  • Be concise. 90 seconds is ideal, 2 minutes in the maximum.

  • Describe your professional journey of who you are, how you got there, and where you are headed. You’re setting the tone for being credible and easy to follow.

  • Even if the question is not asked, you are setting yourself up for success later in the interview, as you’ll know yourself better and handle other questions with clarity.

Phase Two - the meat and potatoes

As the interview transitions to the middle, and longest phase, one concept dominates: “Specific is memorable and general is hard to believe.”  If your answer lacks elements for easy recall that can be readily captured in a note (and recounted for their superiors), then most of what you said will be discounted and washed away in all the haze of information. How do you make sure to be as specific as possible, even if the interviewer doesn’t directly ask for examples?

  • Talk in terms of why a problem existed, how you contributed to solving it, and how that translated to results.

  • People are hiring the value you are able to create, and this is how you will differentiate yourself.

  • Remember - the interviewer already knows your job description, so don’t just regurgitate it.

  • Some people are better storytellers by nature, but everyone can practice framing the circumstance they were in, and remembering the specifics of problem-solving actions they contributed to results.

  • Eliminate extraneous information that leads to wordy 10-minute answers (no candidate should ever talk for more than a few minutes without checking with their audience for whether they are on the right track). Only you can decide what gets included and cut from your storyline. Get to the facts, and get to the point concisely.

Phase Three - asking the right questions

We’ve all been told to research the company we interview with, and have questions ready when you go into an interview.  The truth is that you need to be ready to do better than that. People demonstrate what they know and what they care about by the questions that they ask.  It takes a person of great insight to ask a great question.  Yes, you need to do your research, but asking great questions is how you will put it into motion.

  • Your turn to ask questions is not really about meeting your own needs - it’s about creating or continuing a conversation at a deeper level of mutual value.

  • Questions about markets, overcoming challenges in current events, pros and cons of key operational processes and decisions are beneficial. You want to “talk shop”, not just ask about compensation and benefits.

  • Some of your questions may be answered during the interview, especially if the interviewer has a conversational style and/or likes to give the candidate a lot of information about the company up front.  Your job is to pick up on that, and ask the next logical question that takes the conversation below the surface.

Additional Tips

Beyond the 3 main phases of an interview, here are a few more things to keep in mind overall when you’re interviewing.

  • Above all, be yourself and let the chips fall where they may.  You may think you need a job, but what you really need is a job where you are a great fit.

  • Ask for the Job! In your own way, of course, but never, ever miss the opportunity to close the deal.  Everybody wants to hire somebody that they believe genuinely wants this job.  Somewhere in your concluding remarks, you should be reinforcing your enthusiasm for landing this position, affirming why you are the right fit, and asking for the next step in the process.

  • Thank you is always in style. Express your gratitude for the interviewer’s time and attention.

Vulnerability in Talent Retention

Alignment is the central issue of retention. You hire people for the way they align with your business. People stay with your company because of the way the business aligns with them. 

Our depth of recruiting experience at Corrigo enables us to offer a unique perspective on retention. The Corrigo retention module focuses on the discovery of where your organization is vulnerable. It is the reverse engineering of what we do in recruiting. 

Vulnerability is identified through the alignment of motivation and market. If you are serious about retention then you need to be serious about discovering the truth. Like it or not, the truth you can discover internally has limitations. Nobody ever told their boss the whole truth.. except maybe after they left. Externally, we hear the truth with less filtering, and we get to weigh it against candidate behavior and business outcomes - the ultimate scoreboard. 

Let us help you discover the truth behind your business and instill lasting results of top talent. 

Resume Writing Essentials

When someone says “You have a great resume”, they probably aren’t talking about its format and creative design.  If they are in a hiring position, what they mean is simply that your qualifications and track record jump out quickly as right for the position at hand.  After many years of recruiting I can say confidently that it is rare to find a qualified candidate “Upon further review” – you know it in the first 30 seconds.

Writing a great resume is a function of thinking like your audience and giving them what they want to know.  In doing this, remember the purpose of your resume.  That purpose isn’t to get you a job – you’ll have to do that yourself.  Its purpose is to merely get you an interview or contact from an influencer of the selection process that gives you a chance to intervene and make your case for moving to the next step.

Getting an Interview

Every reader of a resume wants to know three things:

  • What have you been doing?
  • How long have you been doing it?
  • How well have you been doing it?

Abstracts and executive summaries have a place, but a skilled hiring professional generally won’t read them for content until they have established the resume as a legitimate candidate of interest.   They may scan them for keywords, but not as a means of initial evaluation.

On the list above, “how long”  is pretty cut and dried, so let’s focus on “what” and “how well”…

As a recruiter, I jump immediately to the work history to find out what I want to know.  The first part of “what” is who are you working for?  This is obvious enough, but it is a very important part of thinking about your resume as you write it.  Whatever your title, your reader needs a frame of reference rather quickly.  If your company is a well-known brand name, then this is much easier and you’ll have less to explain.  People don’t really need to read that Microsoft is a world leader in software technology.  If your company is not so well-known, then a quick frame is in order.  A sentence or two about the vitals of your company, its fit in the industry, and the department you are a part of will help your audience translate the rest of what they want to know.

The balance of “what” is coupled with “how well”.  In your description of each position, don’t regurgitate the job description – your audience has a pretty good idea of what you do already.  Instead, craft 3-5 bulleted and descriptive accomplishment statements.  These will convey the key activities you are involved with along with examples of specific results you have achieved.  Your accomplishment statements closely parallel your preparation for behavioral interviewing in that they are fashioned in the form of situation, action, and result.  Just as when interviewing, remember that specific is credible and memorable while general is not.  Be specific but concise.

Regarding “how long”, your work history should be chronological beginning with your current or most recent position and ending with your first professional position, including dates.  There is some room for discretion here, particularly if you’ve been in executive level positions for 15+ years, where you don’t need or want to go back to the beginning, but generally speaking, most employers will want to know your full progression.  Many companies are sensitive to frequent job movement, but you still need to establish your track record with transparency and accuracy.  The damage created by resume inaccuracy is often unrecoverable.  Give your audience what they need to make an informed decision and you will lay the first brick in building trust.

There is a trend toward functional resumes which break your work experience into duties and accomplishments not tied to specific jobs.  I won’t argue with advocates of this format other than to say it isn’t very useful to me personally.  Even if your functional work history includes well written accomplishment statements, it leaves the reader unable to easily attach them to a frame of reference they are certain of and leaves them wondering about your track record and what you are hiding.  In fact, the origin of the functional resume was to hide a choppy work history and most readers have figured this out.

Spend most of your resume writing time building out your work history by thinking like your audience.  If you effectively answer the big three questions above, you will make it easy for your audience to translate what you’ve done to their environment, and you will greatly increase your chances of getting an interview.  Don’t make the mistake of believing that grandiose, vague and unsubstantiated will leave them wanting more.  The burden is on you to describe what you’ve accomplished in clear terms and let the chips fall where they may.

The Rest of Your Story

Now that you’ve done the hard work to earn your interview, the rest of your resume should flow pretty easily in variations of this theme:

  • Contact information
  • Career objective
  • Executive Summary
  • Work History
  • Education
  • Skills and Professional Training
  • Community Leadership Activities
  • Personal Info/Interests -  Include what you wish but think like a professional

Format and Design is wide open for creative expression – particularly if you are gunning for a creative position.  However, be careful to retain a simplicity that is easy to read.  Leave adequate white space and be consistent in your fonts and design flow. Don’t distract your audience from their mission to discover what you want them to see.