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Posted by Eric Murphy, Senior Recruiter, Professional Search Division

It seems harmless. Almost casual. A “phone screen”. When suggested by a hiring manager or recruiter it may seem like a “formality”, something intended to simply separate the professionals from the ax-murderers. As a job candidate, it is tempting to overlook good interview preparation practices; after all, it’s just a phone screen. Right? Wrong.

The fact is a phone interview is incredibly important and frankly, it is much more difficult to be successful on a phone screen than a face-to-face interview. Why? One simple fact. Over 60% of communication is made up of your body language, during a phone interview, the hiring manager is making a decision based on the other 40%. That 40% consists of your voice and words. Your tone, pitch, speed, enunciation and your answers is what the hiring manager is evaluating. No eye contact, no open body position, no smiles, no handshakes, nothing – think about it; how do you evaluate others when you communicate with them? Primarily, through their body language.

In one recent example, a company phone screened 14 people to arrive at 5 to interview face to face. Those are not good percentages. And why did they pass on the other 9? Reasons included; didn’t sound excited, didn’t like their answer, couldn’t understand them, they kept interrupting.

So how do you avoid being a phone screen casualty? Try these 10 tips to nail that phone interview:

1. Start the interview standing up; standing up allows your voice to project better and more clear. It also helps reduce nervousness and talking too fast. Several minutes after the interview begins and you are more comfortable, take a seat

2. Under no circumstances do you interview on a cell phone. There are a million bad things that can happen on a mobile phone. Grab a quiet place that has a land line where you can concentrate and will not be interrupted

3. Smile. Smiling, although unseen, will improve your attitude, tone and project a positive image

4. Don’t chew gum, eat or drink. Seems like common sense, but you would be surprised

5. Keep a glass or bottle of water handy [contrary to #3 I know, but just in case you choke or something tragic]

6. Speak slowly and enunciate clearly.

7. Do not interrupt the interviewer, since you have no body language to key off of; give a 1-2 second grace period to the interviewer ensuring they are done talking before you begin.

8. Don’t be afraid of silence. We have a tendency to want to “fill-in” silent time on the phone. It is perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts. Ask the interviewer to give you a moment to think that question through. As long as you tell them you are thinking [or perhaps writing]; the awkward silence, won’t be that awkward.

9. DON’T answer a question with a question, but DO end your answer with a Question. When you finish your thought or answer with a question; it is a verbal cue you are finished, it helps the interviewer move on and it allows the conversation to flow easily. For example, at the end of your response, ask “Does that answer your question?” or “Would you like more information?”.

10. And finally remember this important fact: the goal of a phone interview is not to get an offer, but to get a face-to-face interview.

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