Think a phone interview is easier than an in-person one? It may seem so on the surface, but in fact there are a couple of ways in which it is harder.
The most obvious way is that you have to project your personality and personal brand without a visual. The interviewer can't see your eyes, your smile, or your body language and so you have to rely in part on how you sound to make the connection.
Another way it's harder is that the format lends itself less well to the conversational back-and-forth that enables you to make a personal connection and communicate your reasons for why you should be hired.
Here are some tips to help you succeed in the phone interview format:
1. Be sure to be in a quiet place (or reschedule until you can be) and free of distractions (don't be checking your email or IMing while you are interviewing!).
2. Stand up (walk around if you like) and smile slightly as you talk. Do these things and your voice will project better, be more energetic, and have greater warmth. If you can convey to the interviewer simply through the way you sound that you are an upbeat, outgoing, and lively person, you have already done something important.
3. The interview is apt to be more scripted than the in-person interview, so try to answer each scripted question in a way that helps you branch out into what the company is looking for in terms of this particular hire. If you can find out what constitutes success in this position six months down the road you will be much more able to communicate how your skills and experience would make you a low-risk hire. The back-and-forth of a conversation gives you much more freedom to make your case for yourself as the right person for the job.
4. Make that personal connection. If you can move from a standard question such as "Tell me about yourself" or "What are your strengths" towards a discussion of the challenges that will be facing the individual who is hired, the pain the organization is having that occasions this hire, or the strategic changes the company is in the midst of, you will be much more likely to engage the interest of the interviewer. The interviewer has a problem you can solve. If you are able to truly present yourself as the one with the answers, solutions, or abilities to meet the desired objectives of the company, you will boost your chances of being called for an in-person interview.
4. Even though the interviewer probably will have a list of questions s/he is working from, make every attempt to work your personal brand into your answers. Your personal brand is your professional reputation clearly delineated. What is your specialty? What are you known for? What are your primary attributes? And, most important for the interviewer, what is your value proposition? How do you make money, save money, streamline operations, solve problems, lower risk, facilitate the success of others? If you are able to make a strong, clear, positive impression on the interviewer, not just as a person but as a professional, you will be remembered way longer than the other 6 people who were interviewed that morning who did not project a personal brand.
5. Have a leave-behind message that will get you to the next stage. Express your interest in speaking more about how you could meet the needs of the company. Reiterate your value proposition. Express confidence that the hiring manager (if someone different from your phone interviewer) will be interested in your ideas about what you could bring to the position that would benefit the company. If you are able to do this, the interviewer won't just remember a string of answers to a list of questions, s/he will remember why the company should get to know you better.
As you wrap up the interview, be sure to find out what the timeline is in terms of finding out about next steps. That way you can get back to the interviewer if you don't hear from him/her in the specified time period.
Also, as with an in-person interview, it is a good idea to write a thank-you email or snail mail note expressing appreciation for the interviewer's time and restating your value proposition and interest in an in-person interview.
If you follow these tips, it is likely that you will set yourself apart from your competitors who may just be responding to the set questions and not attempting to broaden the conversation, project a personality, make a personal connection, or communicate a memorable message. Ace the phone interview and you are well on your way to a job interview and offer.
Anyone out there have tips to add from your experience with phone interviews?
P.S. For interview questions to practice with (phone or in-person), here's a good site.