The Phone Interview: Overcoming That First Line of Defense

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In today’s interview process, a new level—some would say barrier—has been added to the process: the phone interview. This is no longer a courtesy screening meant to simply eliminate the unqualified candidates, but rather it has become the first line of defense, meant to assure that precious interview time was scheduled for only the most likely to succeed candidates.

In recent years, phone interviews in the financial industry have morphed from pleasant informational surveys to something more akin to those "velvet rope" gate-keepers who only allow into their clubs people they think will fit in. To navigate such an obstacle and successfully reach your intended destination—the face-to-face interview—you’ll need to pay respect and attention to this formally casual, but now potentially causal event.

Keep your focus

Nothing is more apparent to an interviewer than if you are doing something else while you are speaking with them. Look away from your laptop, put down your digital assistant, stop reviewing any of the papers in front of you and leave your fingernails for later. Give the person on the other end of the phone your full and undivided attention. Otherwise, they’ll get the impression you are not that interested.

Act alive

Just like focus, energy is readily apparent over the phone. Even if you are normally a low key personality, turn it up a notch for the call. One financial services recruiter put it this way: “I like the person I’m speaking with to be well-caffeinated.”

Be prepared

More than a Boy Scout creed, it’s mandatory, even for these most preliminary discussions. A New York Human Resource director recently shared: “If I sense that the candidate hasn’t taken an interest in and gotten up to speed on my company, why should I bother?”

Be conversant

Although these are called interviews, it is not a quiz show. You get to ask questions, too. Moreover, you should let your personality show, carry the conversation and present things about yourself—and your qualifications and abilities—that may never be asked. Think of it more like a cocktail party or speed dating. You need to get them to know or like you in 15 minutes.

Now that that's said, it is important to remember (as the saying goes) that to hold a conversation, you must let go of it from time to time. Make sure the interviewer has time to get their questions in; just be ready with questions of your own when the opportunity presents itself.

And despite the example being set by too many of our political leaders these days, be sure to fully answer the question asked. Do not take their question as your chance to launch into what you’ve been waiting to say, nor should you avoid a question that is difficult or uncomfortable. Not only will you be judged as evasive, you may be viewed as one who does not listen well.

Leave a strong impression

You don’t have a chance over the phone to present a glistening smile and a strong handshake to conclude the interview, but do the next best thing. Summarize your value to the company and your interest in the position in a sentence or two. Let the last thing the interviewer hears be a synthesis of all you’ve just discussed. That is your last, best chance to hurdle this hedgerow and acquire your desired objective.

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