Phone screens are like open book tests. You have to have the right playbook for it to help you. Otherwise it’s like copying off the person who never scores higher than a D. You could have gotten a D all on your own without even trying. What’s the point of that?
Firstly, understand that there’s probably more research to do than you think. Don’t try cramming all in one night. You’ll want to have all of your notes together and organized prior to the night before.
Even if you can refer to your notes, you still want to know them well enough to know which parts to reference based on the questions. You won’t have a lot of control over what questions are asked and in what order. So if you’re fumbling while trying to find the right response to a question, your heart will start ticking like a clock with each second that passes. That’s not the state of mind that performs best. You’ll have to manage the interview a bit like a dance you’re not leading, so stay agile.
As soon as you know you’ll have an interview, start researching. Cross reference what you find out about a company with what you want in your next opportunity. Anywhere there is a gap between what you want and what you can find out online, make a note of that item. This will be your agenda for pre-interview calls with your interviewer. Start a company report, and then copy and paste information on key people, values, initiatives, industry challenges, etc. Go way deeper than just looking at the company’s website. I recommend creating a Google alert on the company and key people, especially the person who would be your direct supervisor and/or your interviewer.
Try to find these key people on social media, especially Twitter where it seems people reveal more about their opinions and values. Note if they are married/single, have kids, love to travel certain places, have an obvious political inclination, have hobbies, enjoy certain artists or shows, etc. Even though you won’t necessarily use this information to build a personal report, it will certainly help you to keep this personal information in the back of your mind. If they’ve shared any of this information on LinkedIn or in their Twitter handle, then it’s pretty public and could be free game. The data points you find when digging deeper should be kept to yourself otherwise it could come off as too private and creepy.
Even if you don’t discuss your findings directly, having an idea of a person’s interests and personality can still help you build trust. Are they private, conservative, do they have a sense of adventure, what are their values? What qualities do they admire? What companies and influencers do they follow (consider quoting one)? All of this considered, just remember – don’t try to be something that you’re not! That never works out well in the end. However, if you genuinely have something in common with the interviewer, you may see an opportunity to take advantage of that. It may sound dirty, but people prefer to work with people they like and trust, and having things in common can be a trust signal.
Next, have at least one achievement story for each top quality, experience, method, or talent that distinguishes you from the competition. Connect the dots between your distinctive value, the problems, challenges and initiatives of the target company/hiring manager, and what you have been able to achieve in your employment history. If you’re asked to walk through your experience, make sure you highlight the themes of what makes you the best candidate. For instance, if you’ve always been great at identifying market trends, walk your interviewer through a highlight reel describing the specific times you succeeded at doing just that. These themes should be related to what will make a candidate successful in the role. If you can validate your aptitude early on in the phone screen, do that.
Have answers and stories prepared, but don’t write them out like an article. Make an outline, cutting out as many extra words as possible. This should look more like bulleted talking points, like a politician uses before a debate or media appearance. Boldface key phrases and points that you definitely want to relay.
Another tip is to determine which questions make you most nervous and figure out why! Are you scared of revealing something? Chances are that fear will be picked up by your interviewer, even over the phone. If they sense there’s a potential risk in your fear, they’ll either dig deeper, or let it go but this uncertainty won’t really be gone. It will be lingering in their mind as an unknown variable that leaves a gaping hole for another candidate to surpass you in the process.
Practice the KISS principal when it comes to these questions (keep it simple, stupid.) Don’t go into an elaborate story – there is a time and a place for elaborating, but this isn’t the time to risk the interviewer getting caught up in details. Understand what the risk is from the employer’s perspective. If discussing a time you made a mistake, the most reassuring way to approach the situation is to own your mistake and the impact that it had. Then, move on to demonstrating how you’ve worked on never making that mistake again. It may seem risk to admit an error, but you’ll come across as genuine, which is much easier to trust than someone who never admits to making mistakes.
Finally, if the interview question has to do with conflicts between yourself and coworkers, vendors, clients or your boss, stick to facts that all objective parties would agree upon. Don’t chronicle all events, but rather share only the relevant ones that help you make a case for your character, skills, and/or problem solving abilities. If you have to recount a specific conversation, be sure to recall the exact words that were said. Again, if you misread the situation, point out your revelation and how you would handle it now that you have more wisdom. If the situation repeated itself but with your new awareness you handled it better, take the opportunity to briefly share that story.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you ace your phone screening as well as your subsequent interviews. Remember there are steps you can take to prepare yourself for questions that will likely be asked of you. Additionally, take the time to research and get a feel for the work culture of the company you’re applying to and get familiar with the personality style of your interviewer. If you employ these tips on your next phone screening, please feel free to share how they helped you in the comments section.
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award.