September 1, 2006
Column | labor pool

Sit up straight and don't mumble!

By Donald Jacobson and Shelley Safian

Don't be surprised if the next interview you're offered turns out to be a telephone interview. More and more HR departments are scheduling phone interviews to save time and reduce the need for travel.

But if you've never had a phone interview, you're undoubtedly wondering how to prepare. Though you'll need to do the same kind of background research you'd do to prepare for an in-person interview (see "live and in person!" August 2006, page 63), there are also some considerations unique to phone interviews. Here are some tips for acing that interview:

  • Buy yourself some time. When you first receive a call requesting a phone interview, try to avoid answering the interview questions on the spot. Instead, ask to schedule an appointment within the next few days. Not only will that give you time to prepare, but you'll have a chance to set the stage. You want to make sure that you have a quiet, distraction-free location to take the call. Whenever possible, use a land line rather than a cell phone to minimize the potential for background noise and interference.
  • Rein in your inner comedian. Be cautious about using humor during a phone interview. Many people don't realize how heavily they rely on body language to provide a context for their jokes or to blunt the sting of a sarcastic one-liner. Without those nonverbal cues, an interviewer could easily misinterpret what was intended to be a light-hearted comment.
  • Dress professionally and sit up straight! It may sound silly, but dress up for the interview. Putting on a suit will serve as a subconscious reminder that this is a formal occasion. It will help you sit up straighter, which changes your breathing and discourages mumbling. You may even want to stand during the call, but be careful not to pace—your interviewer may be able to tell. Some coaches suggest having a mirror nearby to remind you to smile while speaking, which will give your voice warmth. But practice to make certain that this won't make you self-conscious. If it does, simply write the word SMILE on a card, in large letters, and keep it on your desk.
  • Put together a "crib sheet." You can probably expect to be asked the standard interview questions, so prepare your answers ahead of time. What's nice about a phone interview is that you can use your notes. But don't memorize or read from your page of prepared answers. You don't want your answers to sound rehearsed. Use bullet points to tickle your memory.
  • Set up an "interview" area. Set up a station near your phone where you can spread out the papers you'll need. Have a copy of your resume in front of you—this is not the time to test your memory—and keep a copy of your "crib sheet" handy. You may also want to print out a page that lists examples of your accomplishments and successes. Do not pile all these papers around you. Keep them organized so you can easily access the information you need at the moment you need it.
  • Prepare a strong close. As the interview winds down, don't let the conversation meander to an indefinite end. Ask if there is anything that was not covered during the conversation that the interviewer would like to know. Then push for whatever it is you've decided you want next—most likely, an appointment for an in-person interview. Don't worry about appearing pushy—you're more likely to come across as confident, assertive and decisive.

Editor's note: This is the fifth of a multi-part series on job hunting. Next month: negotiating the offer. Read part one: landing your dream job | Read part two: writing a killer resume | Read part three: you've sent off your resume, now what? | Read part four: live and in person!

About the Authors

Donald Jacobson
Columnist
Don Jacobson is the president of Optimum Supply Chain Recruiters, a recruiting organization that specializes in the placement of management personnel in the logistics field on a nationwide basis. You can reach him by calling Optimum SCR at (800) 300-7609 or by visiting the firm's Web site, www.OptimumSCR.com.

More articles by Donald Jacobson
Shelley Safian
Columnist
Shelley Safian is vice president of marketing for Optimum Supply Chain Recruiters, a recruiting organization that specializes in the placement of management personnel in the logistics field on a nationwide basis. You can reach her by calling Optimum SCR at (800) 300-7609 or by visiting the firm's Web site, www.OptimumSCR.com.

More articles by Shelley Safian

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