Written by Nikolett Biel, Ph.D.
The last 5 minutes before the phone rang were the longest 5 minutes of my life.
I kept practicing my “opening” line.
I pretended the hiring manager on the other end of the line was making small talk and, like a crazy person, I responded out loud even though nobody was there.
The phone rang.
I quit! I don’t want to do this anymore!
I struggled through the call. I tried to act confident but I was mortified and everything felt awkward.
My stomach was in my throat. It felt like I had just reached the top of a roller coaster and was starting to barrel downwards.
Then I hung up the phone and my stomach felt empty.
Why was this so hard?
Nervousness Is Normal
Very few people feel completely comfortable getting on the phone with a total stranger.
Most of us feel awkward and can’t wait to get it over with.
As if this wasn’t enough…
Add on the stress of trying to get your first industry job.
Now, not only are you anxious about talking to a stranger, you’re also stressed about trying to impress the stranger enough to get hired.
How will they act on the phone?
Will they be friendly, or stern?
Will they make small talk or talk strictly business?
As the interviewee you have to be able to quickly assess, within the first few spoken words, the interviewer’s personality and adjust your demeanor accordingly.
The only way to do this is through practice and research.
But you have to practice the right things. You have to research the right things too.
Luckily for me, I had joined the Cheeky Scientist Association and was able to ask my fellow Associates all kinds of questions about interviewing on the phone and Skype.
I learned a tremendous amount of information the same day I posted my questions and was able to immediately apply what I learned to my very next call.
I’ve learned a lot about interviewing on the phone and Skype.
Yet, I still get nervous right before an interview starts.
That’s the biggest lesson—getting nervous is normal.
When I pick up the phone for an interview now, I sound normal.
But, during the moments leading up to the call, my heart still races and my palms still get sweaty.
The difference now is I’ve learned to channel my nervous energy into showing positivity and healthy levels of enthusiasm on the phone.
Overall, getting nervous is good. It means you care. So don’t beat yourself up about it.
Two Things To Expect On Every Phone Interview
When I answer the phone for a job interview now, my “opening” line is simply “Hello, this is Nikolett.”
I know—this seems very simple.
But it should be simple. Don’t try to say anything else but hello and your name when you pick up the phone for an interview.
Nothing is worse than botching the opening line (or worse, your own name!) and making a terrible first impression.
From there, you should expect two things—a quick and direct review of your resume and a longer more subtle review of your personality.
Every introductory phone interview you have will evaluate your resume and personality.
The hiring manager or recruiter’s only concern at this point is that you are who you say you are and that you have good interpersonal skills.
In other words, have you really achieved the results you listed on your industry resume and can you communicate these results over the phone?
If you make it past the introductory phone interview, you’ll likely have at least one more phone interview and possibly a Skype interview.
Before a company will pay to have you visit in person, they want to be as sure as possible that you’re a worthy candidate.
This means that you may have to perform well on the phone many times before getting the PhD job of your choice. For example…
My most recent phone interviews started with an introductory call with the company’s hiring manager.
The hiring manager was very nice and started with making small talk.
We talked about the winter storm they just had in New Jersey and compared it to how warm it was where I was in Florida.
We both laughed and then moved onto talking about business.
That’s an important point—you will likely have to make small talk. You’ll probably talk about the weather or something you can both relate to in some way. This is a very important part of the initial rapport building process.
Expect More Than One Phone Interview
A week after the introductory phone call, I was told I’d have another phone interview, this time with the CEO and for 30 minutes.
With the CEO!
For 30 minutes!
Needless to say, I was terrified.
I had applied to a Research Scientist position and did not think in a million years that I would have to do this much talking, let alone talk to the CEO for 30 minutes on the phone!
I could talk about science but what was I going to talk to the CEO about? I didn’t know anything about business.
It got worse.
The CEO is from Japan and I was afraid I might offend him if the connection was bad or if I couldn’t understand him.
I certainly didn’t want say “Excuse me?” or “Could you please repeat that?” to the person who owned the company.
I myself am not a native English speaker so I know how difficult communicating can be and am very sensitive to it.
Fortunately, some of my Association friends had some great advice for me. They showed me how to make the room I was doing the call in completely quiet, as well as which computer earpiece to buy and some tricks for increasing the volume and clarity in the earpiece.
There was very little small talk during this phone call. We focused on business.
A few weeks later the company flew me out for an in-person interview.
Okay, I thought to myself. I’ve had two phone interviews and a full day of interviews on site—they should definitely be able to make a decision on whether or not to hire me now.
Nope. Not yet.
A few days after the in-person interviews were over, the company’s recruiter called me and said that the company’s business partner wanted to schedule a Skype interview with me.
SKYPE? This is WAY worse than a phone call! This is worse than an onsite interview!
I was beyond terrified. I had no idea what to expect and no clue how to prepare.
Again, I turned to my fellow Cheeky Scientist Associates for advice.
The advice I received worked because I aced the Skype interview and got my dream job. Here’s what I learned…
Tips For A Successful Phone Interview
You need to practice your phone interviewing skills.
Then, when you think you’ve practiced enough, you need to practice more.
First, practice making small talk. This is a critical part of the initial rapport building process.
You need to literally practice saying your opening line out loud and practice talking about the weather out loud.
I also recommend researching the hiring manager or recruiter’s LinkedIn profile to find out where they live and what you might have in common with them.
Maybe you’ve both recently been to New York for a conference. Or maybe they’re based in a city you used to live in.
Find a few common threads and prepare questions that will lead to you discussing these threads.
Next, practice basic resume questions the interviewer may ask you. The most important part of this step is literally memorizing your resume.
You should know your resume like the back of your hand.
Make sure you print out a copy too and have it in front of you for the call just in case.
Once you’ve thoroughly practiced some basic questions, practice some harder interview questions.
Finally, when you’re practicing, make sure you practice out loud.
Going through answers in your mind or under your breath is not the same as speaking it out loud.
Articulate your words and have your “go-to phrases” for specific types of questions.
Tips For A Successful Skype Interview
You’ve probably used Skype (or FaceTime) with friends and family.
I’m guessing you enjoyed it.
But, using Skype or doing any kind of video call as part of a job interview is insanely awkward and scary.
It’s very different from talking to people you know well.
When you Skype with friends and family, you don’t think about your backdrop, your professional appearance, the lighting in the room, how visible your face is and a thousand other things you have to consider for a Skype interview.
Treat a Skype interview the same way as you would an in-person interview.
Dress professionally for your Skype job interview. I suggest staying with a dark grey, navy blue, or black suit and a matching tie if you’re a guy, and a navy blue or black suit with a white blouse if you’re a girl.
Gentlemen, groom yourselves.
Ladies put your hair up, or at least out of your face, and remember that a little make-up goes a long way.
Keep it simple and make it professional.
Choose a bare backdrop. If at home, pick a wall that does not have pictures.
Most importantly, get the lighting right. To do this, you will likely have to surround yourself with multiple lamps.
Your goal is to illuminate your face without creating a shadow on the wall behind you.
I suggest shining a small lamp directly in your face.
Yes, again, directly in your face.
It’s uncomfortable, it’s bright, and it gets hot. But it’s the only way to completely light up your face.
Do not cut corners here.
Your face must be highly visible because visibility creates trust and is crucial to building rapport during a video call.
Next, get a friend or family member to go on Skype with you so you can test to see exactly what you will look like to the interviewer. Don’t just go by what you see of yourself in the little Skype box in the corner.
Once the interview is in progress, make sure to look into the camera.
Don’t look at yourself in the little box in the corner and don’t look at the interviewer on your screen.
Look right into the webcam.
Then, just be yourself. Stay out of your head and focus on what the interviewer is saying.
Smile as you give your answers and as you ask your own questions. Know that you’ve practiced, done your homework, and are ready for this.
Whether you’re interviewing for a job over the phone or online through video Skype, make sure that you are professional, respectful, and practiced. Most importantly, stay true to yourself. Your skills for the job are important but your personality is just as important, if not more important. By preparing yourself properly, you can ensure a successful experience during what is normally a very awkward and daunting type of interview.
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