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How To Nail The Dreaded Phone Interview

Without the visual cues of an in-person meeting, phone interviews require special care.

How To Nail The Dreaded Phone Interview
[Photo: Flickr user Maurizio Costanzo]

It’s tough to pitch your potential value to an organization over the course of a short phone call. Perhaps more challenging than the time constraint is the fact that you can’t use nonverbal cues to convey your confidence or modify your approach and tone.

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It’s a widely accepted belief that 55% of communication is transmitted through body language, 38% through tone of voice, and 7% through the actual words spoken. This equation is attributed to research published by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, who concluded that the receiver trusts the predominant form of communication, tone, and gestures, rather than the literal meaning of the words.

And though the actual numerical distribution of relative verbal and nonverbal impact is often critiqued, the idea remains relevant. Nonverbal communication, whether through facial expressions, gestures, body movement, posture, or eye contact, has a substantial impact on the conversation.

But these days phone interviewing is a non-negotiable prerequisite to an in-person interview. As phone interview guru Paul Bailo will tell you, all jobs start with a phone call. So we’re going to have to keep doing it, and we’re going to have to be less terrible at it.

While our ability to connect with an interviewer often hinges on nonverbal communication, I have concocted a contingency plan that will help you capitalize on other ways of communicating your awesomeness. Here are the four tips that I have found to be most effective in conquering phone interviews:

1. Nail The Greeting

The beginning of the conversation sets the tone for the entire interview. In fact, many people will say that the outcome of the interview actually hinges on the first 15 seconds. Have your opening lines on autopilot by the time you pick up the phone, using them to simultaneously confirm the interview and to move the conversation forward.

Brent Peterson calls this snazzy duo the “Professional Greeting” and “Appointment Confirmation.” As such, picking up the phone with a simple “Hello?” is often the worst way to go. The interviewer has to ascertain whether you’re really you, and then figure out how to segue into the interview, which can quickly turn awkward.

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Instead, make good use of your opening lines:

“Hello, this is [you].”
“Hi [you], this is [interviewer] calling from [company].”
“Hi [interviewer]. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.”

You have now efficiently confirmed that yes, this is the target interviewee speaking, yes, you remembered the interview time, and no, you aren’t driving on the freeway. The interviewer will take it from there.

While you may be skeptical that the first 15 seconds will actually make or break the entire interview, starting off on the right foot can at the very least have a positive effect on the flow of the rest of the conversation.

2. Hit A Power Pose

Hormones have a significant impact on your confidence. Body language is a physical cue that informs the level of certain hormones. For instance, adopting a “high power” position, or one that is open and relaxed, can actually increase testosterone, decrease cortisol, and magically make you feel more confident and less stressed.

I like to couple a few pre-interview power poses with some good ol’ box breathing, which is another technique that relieves stress through regulating the autonomic nervous system, effectively combating the fight-or-flight response.

To box breathe, inhale for four seconds, pause for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, pause for four seconds, and then repeat the cycle. A few solid box breaths really will prepare you to think clearly and speak calmly and confidently.

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3. Use Verbal Cues

One way to overcome a dearth of nonverbal communication on the phone is to use strong, recognizable verbal cues. When you’re in the midst of crushing interview questions, you’ll usually be speaking for a longer span of time.

Make it easy for the interviewer to jump back in when you’ve finished your response. Instead of trailing off with a “…so yeah…” make it clear that you’ve finished responding to that particular question. Something clear and authoritative will do the trick: “That was how I resolved Problem X.”

As you get further into the interview, the conversation will hopefully flow along naturally, but it never hurts to be clear and concise with your language and verbal cues.

4. Get On The Phone More Often

I’ve found that an effective way to prepare for a phone interview is to simply get on the phone more often in the days leading up to it. Try picking up the phone instead of resolving something over email. Call your friends to negotiate or debate something. Better yet, find reasons to talk on the phone to people you don’t know as well. Log phone banter minutes whenever you can.

There’s something about the cadence and rhythm of having a phone conversation that falls into the practice-makes-perfect paradigm. It sounds silly–everyone knows how to talk on the phone–but I think that the more you speak on the phone, the more comfortable you will be speaking authoritatively without nonverbal cues, and as a whole, with the dreaded phone interview.

Kate Finley is the marketing director for Career Contessa, an online platform for women’s career development and inspiration.