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How to ace your next phone interview
Five steps to mastering the call
By the time you get on the phone, you should be good to go.
By the time you get on the phone, you should be good to go. (Thinkstock)

As a stellar would-be employee, you want to sail through the interview process. But before you think that all you need is a knockout résumé and a killer outfit, think again. Nowadays, there's a step before the in-person interview: The phone interview.

"The global economy means more and more cross-border hiring, where an initial phone interview becomes even more important," says Sanjeev Agrawal, founder of Collegefeed, a career marketplace for college students.

Employers are increasingly opting for phone interviews to screen potential new hires. By doing so, companies can sort through candidates without committing to the expense and time required for on-site meet-ups.

A survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a staffing agency based in Menlo Park, Calif., polled 515 human resources managers, the majority (57 percent) of whom reported that phone interviews happen "very often."

Furthermore, Paul Bailo, author of "The Essential Phone Interview Handbook," says, "All jobs start with a phone call." Meaning: Even if you aren't scheduled for a formal phone interview, any conversation with a potential employer, however brief it might be, makes an impression.

Not being face-to-face with someone doesn't mean that you don't still need to bring your A-game. You might have the best intentions, but what you say and how you say it (tone, pace, inflection, etc.) can easily be misinterpreted. Here, step-by-step advice to help you give good voice.

Step 1: Prepare, prepare, prepare

"It takes days to get ready for a phone interview," explains Bailo. On day one, he advises, do all your research. Take to Google to find out everything you need to know — and more — about the company. Then, on day two, write out a list of questions, like, "What specific qualities and skills are you looking for in a job candidate?" or "I read that the company ____ (insert recent company success here). How do you see this position contributing to the continued success of the organization?" This will demonstrate your interest in the company, and the job, and show that you're a highly qualified applicant. Agrawal points out, "Phone interviews are a great opportunity to find out more details about the job, the company, the work environment and the team, as job descriptions are notoriously vague."

Another tip: Find an online photograph of the person who is interviewing you. Search on LinkedIn or on the company's website. It's much easier to talk with someone when you know what he/she looks like.

Step 2: Take care of the basics

Nix any noisy interruptions such as barking dogs, crying children or blaring car horns. Get everyone out of the house, or make sure to have an isolated room where you can lock the door.

If possible, use a landline — a cell phone connection is less reliable, and the call could always get dropped. No landline? Then make sure that your cell phone is fully charged and that you take the call in a place where your reception is at its best. And remember to get the interviewer's phone number in case you get disconnected.

Dress as you would for a face-to-face interview; you're more likely to feel and sound professional if you look the part.

Remember to smile: You can't sound bored or uninterested if you have a smile on your face. Put a mirror on your desk to see your facial expressions when you talk. You have no body language with which to reinforce your personality; it's all about the voice. To keep yours sounding tip-top, swallow a teaspoon of honey or suck on a lozenge one hour before the phone interview to reduce dry throat, and have a glass of water nearby during the actual interview.

Step 3: Take advantage of the invisibility factor

Phone interviews are a lot like open-book tests: You can have all the information you need to know (about the company and the person conducting the interview right in front of you). Also, to cut down on the papers-rustling-in-background noise, tape a copy of your résumé and job description to the wall, at eye level, for easy reference.

Step 4: Remember the 3 C's — concision, concentration and courtesy

Concision: Phone interviews are shorter than in-person interviews, which means you have less time to make a good impression. So avoid long-winded answers that could make you lose your audience. Keep your responses to no more than three sentences. The day before the interview, practice asking your questions aloud and, while you're at it, rehearse your answers to some potential questions that the interviewer might ask you. (Think old standbys like, "What are your strengths?" and even the open-ended "Tell me about yourself….")

Concentration: Stay focused and take notes during the call. It's not the time to organize your mail or reply to emails. "If you feel you are easily distracted and drawn to multitasking, remove or turn off anything you might be tempted to use," says Bailo. "You must listen carefully so that your responses are on point."

Courtesy: Be professional and be polite. "At the end of the call, ask, 'Do my qualifications meet the company's needs?' Then ask when you can meet with them in person," suggests Bailo. And, Agrawal adds, "however the interview goes, end with 'thank you.' The last few words of a conversation are often the most remembered."

Step 5: Follow up

Twenty-four to 48 hours after the interview ends, send an email thanking the interviewer for the opportunity and summarizing what you spoke about during the phone interview. The subject line should be: "Your name and the position you applied for."

If you want this job, now is the time to restate your interest. And, if you really want to appear smarter than most, include a link to an interesting news article about the company that you already found during your preparation research.

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