For many, a phone interview is far less daunting than a face-to-face ordeal, when you have to look your best, feel your best and be your best in an environment that is new and possibly intimidating.
Even people with years in the workforce feel that pressure; as a job seeker new on the market, it would certainly be understandable if you had a few qualms.
Still, you shouldn’t mistake a phone interview as a halfway measure of the interview process.
Hiring managers aren’t trying to take it easy on you by ringing you for a chat; their intent is as fixed as though they had invited you to sit across from them in their office building’s boardroom, with all that that entails.
Indeed, this step in the hiring process is possibly more weighty than traditional job interviews because, if you don’t show favourably over the phone, you won’t be invited to a face-to-face interview.
That is why your Superprof takes matters in-hand, going over the most common interview questions to help you prepare for your first-ever phone interview.
Before the Interview
First, let’s spill a few beans that have nothing to do with interviewing.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of questions to be asked: closed-ended and open-ended.
Closed-ended questions call for short, factual answers. A common closed-ended question asked in phone (and face-to-face) interviews is ‘How did you hear about this position?’.
Obviously, you could belabour your answer by relating how your best friend’s cousin was on holiday and saw the job advert and thought you would be perfect, and so on and so forth but, really, the interviewer wants a short response.
Often, this type of question (and this question in particular) is ticking off a box for statistical purposes; in this case, which of their methods of advertisement works the best.
Long-winded answers to closed-end questions will not help you; in fact, it may harm your chances of landing the job.
Open-ended questions demand longer, fuller answers; ones that will give insight into you as a person, your knowledge base and your thoughts and feelings on the subject in question.
“What do you know about our company?”, a standard open-ended question of the phone (and regular) interview, should come with flashing lights and blaring alarms.
Rattling off mundane information such as their address and a few general statistics will see that you endure a very short interview with no possibility of a callback or a job.
Whenever your interviewer asks an open-ended question, s/he obviously wants a qualified response – not some rambling statement that only vaguely addresses the question at hand. But, more importantly, s/he wants to see how you tie yourself to the job you’re applying for.
This and other open-ended questions allow you to shine; they are not the time to stint on saying ‘I’
You might say something like “When I was researching XYZ company, I came across a particular fact that really drove home your commitment to conservation and the environment. And, when I read your mission statement, I couldn’t help but hear an echo of my own beliefs in XYZ’s goals.”
Naturally, preparing for an interview takes time and skill; why not consult our companion article for a handy list of do’s and don’ts?
Where interviewing is concerned, there is a further division of the types of questions you might be asked; let’s look at a few from each category in depth.
Questions About You
The overall goal of the interview panel in asking open-ended questions that pertain to you is to ascertain how well you will fit within the company’s profile and help them meet their goals.
Perhaps the most dreaded open-ended question is “Tell me about yourself.”.
In part because we’re taught that it is not nice to talk about ourselves and partly because we just don’t know what the interviewer wants to hear, job seekers tend to spout a mixture of personal likes/dislikes and traits thought to be ‘good’.
Nice try, but your answer should be relatively short and represent the arc that brought you to where you are now. It should also include a link to the job you’ve applied for.
“A relative succumbed to cancer when I was just old enough to realise what happened. Her demise spurred me to study chemical engineering with the intent of working in a major pharmaceutical company and when I saw that your job posting specified working in the experimental drugs division, I was keen to learn more.”
The question “What motivates you?” sounds like they are asking for the same information but, here, they are looking for something other than money that will get you out of bed and into the office each day.
The satisfaction of a job well-done, being a part of a dynamic team and being on the cutting edge of discovery are all good answers. Naturally, you should pad them a bit; simply rattling off these short answers may come across as terse.
The standard “How would you describe yourself?” seems yet another iteration of that same theme; the desired response should mirror professionalism – not that you’re fun to be around or that you like football.
Detail- and team-oriented, organised, motivated and responsible are all useful ways to describe yourself in this context.
The question “Why will you succeed in this job?” gives job applicants another chance to shine.
Again, no need to go overboard with personal revelations but feel free to toot your own horn by asserting that you are determined, that this job would fulfil a lifelong ambition or that you simply cannot imagine anything but success.
Also, discover what it takes to write a cover letter that will score you an interview…
Questions About the Job
Obviously, you will be asked more job-related questions than questions about yourself.
Although these questions sound like they might be primarily about you with work coming in second, rest assured that, where these queries are concerned, those priorities are reversed.
- “Why do you want this job?” Their job specifically, not any random job so you can earn a paycheck
- “What other jobs have you been interviewing for?” They want to know if their job fits within the framework of jobs you’ve applied for.
- “What type of work environment do you prefer?” This question tests your personality, not your skills
- “How is your job search going so far?” - how stiff is the competition and how quickly should we move to hire you?
Your answers to these should reflect your positive nature but be a little vague. You don’t need to tell them that you have four more interviews lined up; just that it is still early in your job search and you expect to interview face to face soon.
Acing this interview will prove that statement true!
And, if you do intend to apply for more than one job, you might need a few tips for adapting your CV and cover letter…
Two questions you might not expect during a phone interview are “What are your salary expectations?” and “Do you have any questions for me?”
You should always have questions for the interviewer!
Without a doubt, the most critical question to ask your interviewer is: “What is the next step in the process?”; “When can I expect to hear back from you?” would also work. Such questions show your eagerness and enthusiasm to get started – and that’s never a bad thing!
“Salary” is a trick question and stating a number straightaway is a faux-pas. Instead, confess that you don’t have a specific salary in mind; right now you’re looking for the best fit for your skills; a response that ties in well with a point we raise in the next segment.
How about picking up some tips to make your resume outstanding?
Setting the Tone
Most people apply for jobs because they need one.
This need creates an emotional vortex of excitement, hope, desire and anxiety – worry over being found lacking and nervousness over the possibility of one’s dreams being shattered. Rejection anxiety, too, plays a large part in the nervousness leading up to the interview.
The best way to overcome all of this stress is to interview like you don’t need the job.
Of course, you need the job – everyone needs something meaningful to do even if they don’t have to earn their living.
The danger is that, even though you are not in the same room as your interviewers, such stress will be heard in your tone, and your interviewer will likely be skilled at picking up such vibes.
But, by putting the prospect of all that the job represents in its proper context, you will go a long way to minimising the stress brought on by your upcoming interview.
By maintaining a cheerful, upbeat (not manic!) tone, you will go a long way towards assuaging your interviewer that you are confident in yourself and your abilities.
This and other tips for finding your first job are all listed in a separate article.
For that same reason - that your potential employer is skilled in detecting nuance in job candidates, avoid any negativity.
"How is your job search going so far?", another common phone interview (open-ended) question should never be answered: “Well, you’re the first callback that I’ve had so, I guess I’m not doing very well, am I? Thanks for asking…”
Negativity in your words sets off a vicious cycle: if your words are negative, so too must be your thoughts… can you see where a hiring manager might go with this train?
Exuding confidence, speaking in an upbeat tone, being informed and knowing which direction you want to go in life – why you want to go there and what you will do to get there all speak of qualified candidates who merit a face to face job interview.
That, not landing the job, should be the goal of your phone interview.
Now, follow these tips to write an effective thank-you note.