Ace Your Phone Interview in 7 Simple Steps

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Ace Your Phone Interview in 7 Simple Steps 1

My first phone interview was a magnificent disaster.

I fumbled my own bloody name, couldn’t go through my  work experience without mixing up words, and I forgot the name of who I was speaking to.  Basically, I was ripped to shreds. At the first round, over a phone, by HR.

As interviewing is really one of the most important skills you need for job hunting, I’ve gotten quite a lot better at interviews since then. One day I’ll tell you about the time where I had to face 10 interviewers all at once…

The CFA exams and career topics go hand-in-hand, so I thought I’d add to our popular series of job-hunting skills articles and cover phone interviews. What should you do that might be different from a regular interview?

Step #1: Research the Company
“Know your enemy.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A phone interview is often the first step to the hiring process. So chances are you may not know as much about the company you’re interviewing for as you’d like. There isn’t really an excuse not to research the company you’re interviewing for these days. In a few Google searches you should know almost everything you need. In particular, make sure you check these off your research list:

  • What the company does. Nothing gets you booted faster than not know what the hell you’re interviewing for.
  • The main source of revenue. This can be different than what the company would like to be known for. You should know the difference between the two, because the main source of revenue reveals the company’s business sensitivities, and its aspirations reveal where they plan to invest internally.
  • Recent industry developments. Read up on the recent large events around the company’s industry. You’ll be able to come across as knowledgable and enthusiastic if you’re able to chat to your interviewer as if you’re already in the industry. Know and share the same hopes and concerns your interviewer would have for his/her industry.

Step #2: Know the Interviewer (through LinkedIn)
“An interview is like a minefield.” Michelle Williams 

Networking is key. Some companies let you know who would be interviewing you in advance. If they don’t, see if you can ask them. Knowing who is your interviewer in advance allows you to research the person on LinkedIn, or online. In particular you should know these thing about your interviewer:

  • Current role. The first and most obvious – what does the interviewer do in the company? Are they in HR, managing your team, or another?
  • Work history. You’ll need to know what your interviewer’s strengths and areas of expertise are. If you discuss, these areas in the interview, you have to be extra careful to know what you’re talking about, because your interviewer will be able to question you throughly on this. If you try and bluff your way through an interviewer’s area of expertise, then woe is you. Woe to the max.
  • Any recent activities. If they’ve published a research paper, or given an interview, you need to know! Having read their paper or gone through a recent interview they’ve given not only shows that you’re enthusiastic about the role, but it’s also a great way to stand out to your interviewer.

On LinkedIn a lot? Here’s our guide on how to get hired through LinkedIn, and how to accurately represent your CFA qualifications on LinkedIn.

Step #3: Secure a Quiet Location
“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Blaise Pascal 

With a phone interview, you can choose the location. So choose a setting where you won’t be disturbed! Make sure you’re in a quiet room where no one will barge in halfway, and all possible distractions are taken care of. Children in supervised care, pets handled, call-waiting switched off. Then you’re ready!

Step #4: Use an Old-School Phone, or at least Hands-Free
“There’s no school like old school, and I’m the f**king headmaster.” Lenny Cole, Rock-N-Rolla

If you can, go for a land-line. Your new smartphone may be fancy, but signal problems, email audio blips, battery issues are just a few problems that can and will crop up. You want to be impressing your interviewer in the first 5 minutes of your conversation, not endlessly repeating “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”.

If you must use a mobile, make sure your location has a good signal, and your batteries are charged up. And do not underestimate how achey your hand can get holding your phone up to your ear – opt for a good set of earphones for your conversation, and you’ll feel more comfortable (and therefore sound more confident).

Step #5: Make Sure You Cheat
“Knowledge is power, and you try to get the knowledge by whatever means.” Steve Sabol 

One of the biggest differences (and advantages) you have in a phone interview is that the interviewer is not able to see you. So make sure this exam is an open-book one!

  • You should have notes on everything you’ve researched on the company and interviewer so far
  • Print out a copy of the CV you sent to the company – they’re going to be referring to that too!
  • Also have an empty notebook to take notes during the interview. You may need to refer to them later!

Having a smartphone or a laptop to Google stuff is probably not a good idea though. It takes too long and the interviewer will be able to tell what’s going on.

Step #6: Body Language
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Peter F. Drucker

Wait. This is a phone interview. So why the hell are we talking about body language? It’s true that the interviewer cannot see you. But your voice reveals more than you think.

  • Smile. A smile translates across the telephone line, and also instantly improves your mood.
  • Stand up and walk around. Standing up and pacing fires you up and gets your brain thinking more actively. If you feel sluggish or have trouble paying attention, make sure you’re not sitting down. Standing up also removes pressure from your diaphragm and gives your voice more resonance.
  • Dress up. How you’re dressed also influences your state of mind and thought. I’m not saying that you should fully suit up for a 15 minute phone interview, but on the other hand, don’t plop in your house hobo-suit either.
  • Don’t look into a mirror. This is very distracting and you’ll start to focus less on the interview (this sounds like I’m assuming everyone’s horribly narcissistic, but it’s true!). Try looking at a photo of the interviewer instead.

Step #7: Make It Personal
“Tom, don’t let anyone kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business.” Michael Corleone, The Godfather

If you’ve done your previous steps right, you should know quite a bit about your interviewer. Remember not to seem completely impersonal during the interview. You have the notes – use them!

  • Always address your interviewer by name. If you’re not sure how to pronounce it, ask in the beginning and clarify.
  • Form conversations with your interviewer with their background in mind. If you have similar backgrounds (went to the same school, worked at a similar industry previously), mention them!
  • Even if you have minimal background information, you can still be friendly. Ask them about their day, plans for the weekend, any upcoming events.
  • Thank your interviewer (again, by name) for their time at the end of the interview, and remember to follow up with a thank-you note!

If you’d like to learn about other aspects of job hunting, you should check out these articles:

Have you got a phone interview coming up, or any phone interview experience to share? Let us know in the comments below!


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