9 Tips To Ace Your Next Phone Interview

Justine: Betina and I both finished our phone interviews with Unilever in the past 3 weeks, and because she wrote way back when that she had just finished hers, a lot of you sent in questions about how to go through the process! So, in the spirit of giving, which is what this blog is all about, we decided to write some tips down for phone interviews!

What we are not giving to you in a million years is the questions that were asked to us because that isn’t fair for both you, us, and for everyone else. (B: Preach!) If you get in because you super prepared for your interview like Betina and her hundreds of index cards, then good job! If you got in because you “cheated” by preparing only for the questions of the interview, then here’s a tight lipped smile for you. (B: Die.)

For those who are only joining us now, check out Betina’s bio here and my bio here. Check out what TBC is here. And yea, thanks for clicking and hope we wrote something useful for you!

 


How does a phone interview usually go? Any tips on how to answer impressively?

Betina: I want to preface this by saying that I get so much anxiety from phone interviews. I pick up how well I’m doing and adjust based on visual clues, so phone interviews feel a little bit like flying blind. I have no idea if I suck at phone interviews or not because I’m always so nervous!

Justine: On the other hand, I love phone interviews because I don’t have to worry about my mannerisms of picking at my hair, my nails, or my lips. All I have to worry about is the tone of my voice, which is easy because I have a really excitable sounding voice. Though I don’t know how recruiters interpret that.

B: My voice goes unnaturally high when I’m nervous or excited, which just makes my interview anxiety worse. LOL. I genuinely don’t know how helpful I’ll be with giving tips from that angle.

I can, however, give you advice from the other end of the phone, since I spent six months conducting hundreds of phone interviews for ZMG Ward-Howell (recruitment firm) and Coca-Cola. So most of my advice will be coming from that context. 

J: Disclaimer, I have never done a phone interview for a job before. Only for orgs. And I get rejected from the orgs every single time.

So, here are the 9 Tips To Ace Your Next Phone Interview!


 

  • Have a cheat sheet in front of you.

J: Phone interviews are so great because you can have your resume and your answers laid out in front of you, and they will never know.

B: The beauty of phone interviews is that it’s a little bit like doing an open-book test. You can prepare answers and talking points, and not worry about forgetting them because literally all you have to do is read it off a sheet in front of you.

But beware of sounding like a monotonous robot (which is what most people are prone to when they read something prepared out loud)!

J: Protip: Have your answers ready in index cards and label them for easy access. Don’t write your answers down on them; write down the details for your answers. I’m sure you know the gist of your experience, so note down the little, important details that slip when you’re nervous.

B: She jokes about my hundreds of index cards and mock questions but that is a completely true story. There were a few instances where I wasn’t sure which of my experiences was a better answer, so I gave 2 examples just to be sure. A lot of what I actually end up saying during phone interviews were examples that were pre-prepared or came out during my mock interviews. I’m sure the quality of my phone interviews (actually all interviews in general) wouldn’t have been as good if I wasn’t extremely prepared.

J: (For the record, I love her index cards idea. I just can’t put out that much effort on my own.)

For my interview, my cheat sheet was my notebook because I wrote my answers down and practiced reciting them nonstop that Thursday. I think my fellow train and jeep riders thought I was possessed from all the chanting I did.

 

  • Be aware of what they are assessing for.

B: Just to set the scene: Recruiters, depending on the company, may conduct dozens of interviews on the same day. Usually (as is the case for Coca-Cola) we have a standard template. We get options for questions we want to ask, and all the questions are supposed to gauge a particular skill. (Eg. How well you work with others).

Based on your answers, we give you a rating on that skill. To keep things as objective as possible, we paraphrase your answers and write them down. And of course the entire interview is supposed to give us an idea of your communication skills as well.

Bottom line: You are being assessed for particular skills and if you look at enough questions, you can usually guess which ones.

J: Don’t go off tangent. You’re wasting their time and your time. Try to get to the core of your story as quickly and as interestingly as possible. The recruiters have difficult lives. Imagine hearing the same answers to “Tell me a time you failed.” (Spoiler: the worst answer is “There was never a time I failed.”)

B: And do try to cut the BS (or at least be original about it!!) You have no idea how many times I asked the question ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ and heard the answer ‘I’m such a perfectionist’ or better yet, ‘I’m too much of a workaholic!’ (J: Down with this as a weakness. Ya’ll know you’re lying. Let’s try to be interesting with our weaknesses please.)

If you’re clearly BSing this, it calls into question just how honest all your other answers are. So you’re only really hurting yourself here.

 

  • Always outline what you say with the STAR/CAR Method.

B: Situational questions are usually phrased something like ‘tell me about a time when…’ and your answer should always be in STAR/CAR Method (situation-task-action-result / context-action-result). This makes it easy for the recruiter to have some sort of idea of what you’re talking about.

Sometimes the forms recruiters have to fill out are really segmented into separate rectangles for context, action, and result, so by structuring your answer in that order, you’re making the recruiter’s life easier.

My resume is already structured like this, so it’s easy for me to glance at my resume, pick which experience to talk about, then launch into it quickly and concisely with objective descriptions and tangible results because I already went through the bother of writing it all down.   

J: IF YOU WROTE YOUR RESUME IN THIS FORMAT, YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ANYMORE. Swear bear.

A well-written resume saves you hours of work in the future. I have ingrained my resume into my memory so much so that I can write it from scratch anywhere. I can recite it anytime, anywhere. I am ready for an impromptu interview because of my resume.

When the recruiter asked me situational questions, I either recite the situations I placed on my resume or recent everyday situations. Let’s say she asked “Tell me a time when you took charge.”, my answer is either ~resume situation~ or “Yesterday, during a project meeting.”  then expound. Either way it gives her a direct answer.

 

  • HAVE SOME WATER WITH YOU. Or a snack that makes you calm. And isn’t crispy. Just have something with you.

B: …. that is Justine’s tip, not mine so I actually don’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

Instead, I’ll give you another tip to stay calm (which I think was the point of this advice): sit in a meditative pose aka straight spine, leaning slightly forward. This is proven to improve your circulation to your brain and calm your body, which should result in even breathing and help with any interview anxiety.   

J: Hey, I needed water to make sure I didn’t croak randomly hahaha. But it helps to have something to fiddle with when you’re trying to find the right words to say. I peeled off my water bottle’s sticker and shredded 5 leaves mindlessly throughout my interview.

And I used my food as an incentive to keep calm; when I finish the interview, then I get to eat it.

If you get nervous, you need to find a coping mechanism. Example, when I do presentations, my hands are normally all over the place. So I hold a microphone, a piece of paper, or my other hand. I hold something to divert my nervousness.

 

  • Make sure you’re in a quiet, peaceful place.

J: I had my Unilever interview Thursday afternoon on a stone bench, in front of Melchor Hall at UPD because of UP CAPES. It was relatively quiet, except when rowdy students passed by or cars honked loudly.

I had a really beautiful view on all 4 sides of my bench. I can’t even describe it because words can’t capture the vibe then, but that environment was eternally helpful to me during the interview.

Not only was it easy for me to relay my answers to the recruiter, but I was at peace with whatever would happen next. I could fail that interview, and be OK with it. There will always be some other opportunity on the horizon for me. Hell, there were a hundred opportunities right behind me since CAPES is UP’s engineering students career fair.

Because I knew everything would be OK, I calmly answered all the questions. Plus, I never had to repeat myself because the recruiter heard me clearly over the phone.

B: As a recruiter nothing drove me more crazy than calling somebody with a bad connection who was screaming into the phone from somewhere that sounded like a palengke.

If it’s a bad time, it’s perfectly okay to ask them to call back in 10 minutes and find a less busy place to sit down and talk. It also spares the interviewers the hassle of saying “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Can you please repeat that again?” a hundred times.

 

  • Speak slowly and enunciate well.

B: But not too slowly. It sounds patronizing if you speak too slowly. Just be mindful that the person on the phone has to paraphrase what you say for the interview form, so be sure that you’re easy to understand.

Over-enunciate if you know you have a lisp or have a tendency to eat your words. I’m a theater kid, so when I need to project confidence, I sit or stand with good posture, shoulders back and down, breathing from the diaphragm, with eyebrows raised.

The breathing and eyebrows makes your voice project better and the superman/wonder woman posture subconsciously makes you feel more self-assured (which will reduce your stress levels).   

J: I speak so quickly that its speed is often compared to that of a machine gun’s. So speaking slowly is a HUGE problem to me. That being said, how I consciously speak slowly and enunciate well is by imagining myself talking to someone whose first language isn’t English. Like my grandmothers.

The recruiters are doing their best to write down our words as faithfully as possible. You’re buying time for both of you, if you speak slowly over the phone.

 

  • DO NOT RAMBLE. But also, do not leave unexplained dead air.

B: It is completely acceptable to take 5 seconds to think through your answer before launching into it. I would much prefer somebody take a breath and then give me a coherent example, rather than think as they are talking because that usually makes their delivery messy and my interview notes even messier.

If the recruiter takes a few seconds too long to say something after you’re done with your answer, don’t panic and rush to fill the silence. Most likely, they are just filling in your interview form and need a few extra seconds because talking, listening, and writing at the same time is really really difficult sometimes.

J: If you spend more than 10 minutes answering one question, I hope you’re a standout candidate because I don’t think you’re going to get a glowing review from the interviewer. You just proved that you can’t be straight to the point. And if you spend more than a minute in silence, that doesn’t bode well for you either. This means you can’t think on your feet.

The key answer time for me is 10 seconds to think, say you’re ready which adds an extra 3-5 seconds, and then launch into your < 5 minute answer.

B: Provide just enough context to explain your action and results, but really the recruiters are mostly concerned with the latter two, so make sure those are very clear, concise, and objective.

The interviewer has so many questions to ask and so many people to interview that they probably won’t appreciate you spending too long on any one answer. (I know I certainly didn’t.)

J:  When the interviewer remains silent when you’re done, take a drink of water or a shot or something to focus you. That time can be used to assess your own performance, like your tone which leads us to…

 

  • Try not to sound bored, deadpan, or scared.

B: Your peg should be enthusiastic, determined, and most importantly, competent. Since the only way you are communicating with me is through your voice, this is really important. Based on a person’s communication skills, I can already predict whether this person is competent enough for the job or not. Usually the ones who I like in the phone interview stage are the ones who get job offers. First impressions count.

J: Think of it as talking to your potential significant other in the early stages of your relationship. You’re happy, excited, and INTERESTING. You want them to like you enough to talk to you again. Same principle, different situation.

If you sound bored, they will think “S/he doesn’t want to talk to me.”, scared “S/he’s not ready for this.”, deadpan “Why are we even talking?”. And if you sound bored talking about your own achievements, well. That’s kind of weird.

I know it’s difficult to change the tone of your voice. But you have to try for this phone interview. There is no body language or expressions for the interviewer to base your demeanor from. It’s all in your voice.

 

  • Calm down, and let your experiences do the talking.

B: This goes for everything to do with the recruitment process. Trust your experiences to back you up. You’ve already done 90% of the work which is actually doing the things you’ll be discussing in the interview.

If you didn’t have a decent resume to back yourself up, you wouldn’t have gotten this far in the process. At this point, all you’re doing is presenting what you’ve already accomplished.  

J: If you lived through the experiences, then it’ll be easy to calmly walk yourself through it all again. Just think of it as a bragging session with your friends; you want to come off as the big shot, without having to outright say it. Trust yourself.

You are your greatest support system and backup. You got the phone interview with your resume; all that’s left is for you to assure them that they need to hire you.


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