Not so traditional job interviews, Part 1: The Phone (or Skype) Interview

So you have sent in your resume and heard back from the hiring manager.

That’s great!

She would like to  interview you as soon as possible.

That’s even better!

Over the phone.

Um, ok, you think.  Sounds good.  That should be easy.

Au contraire, my friend.  Interviews over the phone are not simple and you can certainly screw one up.  They are not easy to get right and take just as much preparation  as a face to face meeting, at least they are if you want to succeed and get the job.

There are countless reasons why a company may want to interview an applicant over the phone, or perhaps over Skype or another video interfacing system.  The company may be on the other side of the country or even the other side of the planet, and a phone call is infinitely cheaper than a plane ticket and a hotel room.  The hiring manager may be travelling.  You may be travelling.  A common reason may be that the company’s hiring process begins with a phone interview to determine whether or not you are worth bringing to the office for a second look.

Regardless of the reason, a phone or Skype interview is still a job interview, and just because you are not going to the company headquarters is no reason not to adequately prepare.  You should do your research, review your resume, and rehearse with someone using a phone or Skype.  After all, you want the job, don’t you?

The heart of the interview is the interaction between you and the hiring manager of the firm.  Having a telephone or laptop screen between you and the person on the other side changes the venue, but the content is pretty much the same.

What a phone interview is not, however, is easier.  Here are a few reasons why:

First off, you don’t get a sense of the company or the interviewer that you would normally pick up by walking through the lobby, meeting a few people, and shaking hands with the hiring manager.  Instead, you are going from zero to sixty in the few seconds between “Hello?” and “Let’s get started.”

Secondly, it can seem deceptively informal and easy.  So easy, in fact, that you may not take a preparation as seriously as you would for a “real” interview.  It is over the phone, so why not do it in your pajamas?  Or over Skype, so all you need to do is put on a nice shirt and maybe a tie, right?  Again, au contraire.

The worst thing you can do in any interview situation is to be unprepared or not take it seriously.  Sure, you can do the interview in your underwear if you want and the hiring manager will never know.  Sure, you can watch Sportscenter with the sound turned down and the hiring manager will never know.  You will know, however, and it will affect the interview.  And not in a good way.  You need to get your mind right, steer clear of distractions, and focus.

Here are some recommendations that will help you have a successful phone or Skype interview:

Most importantly, prepare for the interview in exactly the same manner as you would for a traditional interview.  Get a haircut (they can still see you on Skype, after all, and getting a haircut is never a bad thing), wear your interview suit and tie or blouse and slacks, research the company, and review your resume.  Be ready fifteen minutes before it starts, and clear your mind in order to focus on the interviewer and the questions that you will be asked.

Prepare a location for the interview.  The interviewer is likely in their office, but you can be pretty much anywhere.  That said, driving down the freeway or sitting at your child’s soccer game are remarkably bad ideas for obvious reasons.  The hiring manager is devoting their time exclusively to you in order to determine if you would fit in their company, so the least you can do is reciprocate.

You should find a place that is quiet, has good lighting, and is as office-like as possible.  Sit at the kitchen table as opposed to on the couch, for example.  We are all creatures of habit, and if you are lounging on the couch as opposed to sitting at a desk or table you may well act or sound like you are sitting on a couch as opposed to a desk or a table.  Clear everything away except a copy of your resume and your notepad and a bottle or glass of water.  No distractions!

For a Skype interview you need to go a step or two farther.  What does the background look like?  It should be bland or uninteresting, if possible.  Is the light coming from behind you?  From the front or side?  Remember, the interviewer is going to see you and your surroundings, and if the light makes you look like Bela Legosi in a ’40s vampire movie it won’t help.  Your Twisted Sister poster collection is also not the best background, either.

Back to the interview.  Make sure that the quiet place you have found stays quiet: turn off your mobile phone, the dishwasher, television, radio, and everything else that makes noise.  Put a post-it note over your doorbell telling visitors to not ring the doorbell and to come back later.  Use your land phone line if at all possible, too.  You don’t want to drop the call or have a poor connection because that will only reflect negatively on you.  Have a copy of your resume laid out in front of you, take a deep breath, and call the hiring manager exactly on time.

Close all apps and programs on your computer for a Skype interview.  You don’t want to be distracted by emails or instant messages popping up on the screen during the interview, and the interviewer will instantly recognize that you are ignoring them and reading something else that popped up on your screen.  That is a guaranteed job offer killer.

Start the interviewer by introducing yourself, and then follow interviewer’s lead from there.  Lead off with something like “Good morning!  This is Mike, and I am calling in for the interview…”

From there the interview is similar to the traditional style, except that you cannot really gauge the interviewer’s mood, expressions, or mannerisms.  Skype offers a little insight because you can see the interviewer’s face, but that is about it.

Remember to keep your answers short, in the thirty second to two minute range, and speak slowly.  A big part of listening is seeing the other person’s mouth as they speak, and that obviously is not the case over the phone. Being interviewed is anxious business, and you may unintentionally speak faster than normal which can result in the interviewer not understanding what you are saying.  To help with this, try taking a breath after hearing each question, restate the question to yourself in your mind, and then start talking.  It will make you appear thoughtful (which is good) and articulate (which is also good).  Remember, the hiring manager has done countless interviews, and you want to make a solid impression, not sound like a knucklehead.

The same rules apply for Skype, except remember that you are on camera during the interview.  Sit up straight, look at the interviewer on the computer screen when she is talking and at the camera when you are answering.  Also, be conscious of what you are doing with your hands.  A famous actor once said that one of the hardest things about acting is knowing what to do with your hands, and that applies to interviews as well.  Put them in your lap or sit on them if you need to, because if you fidget or pick at your nails all the interviewer will see on the screen is you fidgeting or picking your nails.  You don’t want to distract the interviewer.

As the interview draws to a close make sure to thank the interviewer for her time and make sure that you close out the call professionally.  Again, we are all prisoners of our past experiences, and if you say goodbye on the phone by saying pithy things like “Later!” or “Out here…” then the last impression the hiring manager will have of you is not particularly professional.  A simple “Thank you for your time today. Goodbye!” will go a long way.

As with all interviews make sure to follow up with a thank you note.  It is fine to send an email immediately, but go that extra classy mile and send a note in the mail too.  It is important, expected, and if you don’t you will be viewed as less desirable than those who do send in thank you notes.

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Lessons Learned.

1.  A phone or Skype interview is just as important as a traditional interview.  It is imperative that you treat is as such.  Make sure to thoroughly prepare, get dressed in your interviewing clothes, and be on time.

2.  Tips for preparing an interview setting: sit at a desk or table, sit up straight, use your land line, have some water and your resume at hand, and for a Skype interview check out your background and how the lighting affects your on-screen appearance.

3.  Take a breath, restate the question, and then provide answers in the thirty second to two minute range.  Try not to talk too fast!

4.  Make sure that there are no distractions, and turn off apps, televisions, mobile phones, or anything else that could interrupt your interview.

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The next step: getting ready for job interviews

So you’ve written a dynamite resume and married it with the perfect cover letter, and after sending it off to the company where you want to work, you receive the much-anticipated call.  The firm would like to invite you to an interview!

It is a thrilling feeling when the phone rings and the hiring manager is on the other end of the line  – kind of like having having someone you like say “yes” when you ask them out on the first date.  It is also slightly terrifying – also kind of like having someone you like say “yes” when you ask them out on the first date.  Seemingly thousands of thoughts race through your head: what to wear?  when should I arrive?  what does the company expect from me?  what will the interview be like?

It can be overwhelming, but in the next few posts we will take deeper look at the various types of interviews that companies employ to find the right employees.  Some are very traditional, such as meeting the hiring manager in his or her office, and some are very eclectic, with such hoops to jump through as impromptu essay writing, math quizzes, and team building exercises.

The long and the short of it is that all of the work that you have done to this point – researching the company, writing a resume, crafting a cover letter, and sending it in – is wasted unless you can close the deal in the actual interview.

Before we get into the individual interviews and how best to prepare for them, we first need to go over some basics.

Remember always that the purpose of the interview is for the company to fill a need in their organization.  It is never about what a great person you are.  That said, if you fit the need of the company, then you are likely to be hired.  That’s right, you are likely to be hired.

Why is that?  Why only likely?

I’m glad you asked.  Your skills and talents are what got you the interview in the first place.  In the eyes of the company, they are bringing you in and expending resources (in terms of the interviewer’s time, maybe lunch, or maybe even airfare and a hotel room) because you look good on paper and are worthy of a closer look.  Your resume opened the door, but it is up to you to go through it and secure a job offer.

Simply put, the interview is more about how you will fit in with the company’s culture and the way things are done there than your skills.  They want to see how you articulate yourself, how you dress, what your manners and mannerisms are like.  They want to see if you trim your fingernails or pick your nose or scratch yourself in awkward places, or if you project the image that the company wants.  That is what the interview is really all about.

So in the next few posts we will look at how to prepare for specific types of interviews, but before that let’s look at things that pertain to all interviews.

First off is personal hygiene.  Ask someone you know and respect of the opposite sex how you look.  Don’t ask your mom or dad (because they still think of you as a kid in the third grade) but someone who will give you an objective opinion.  Ask them to look at you in terms of a hiring manager.  How does your hair look?   If it is a super-motivated flat-top then you may want to consider growing it out a little bit.  Your posture?  If you slouch in your chair it will project an image of slovenliness.   How do you speak?  If every third work is the “F”-bomb or you use acronyms in every sentence then you need to change your vocabulary.  Do you have any mannerisms that you are not consciously aware of yet are distracting to others, such as drumming your fingers, wiggling your toes, or biting your fingernails?  If so, recognize that you do and make a conscious effort to stop.

Make sure not to take anything that your friend says personally because they are really helping you out.  An unintended benefit is that you may actually pick up on some things that will improve your appearance and help you find a date for Saturday night, but that is an entirely different subject.

Look at how you dress.  As a transitioning military person you likely have a closet full of uniforms and a single navy blue blazer with a rumpled pair of khaki trousers.  That was fine for your time in the military, but it is completely underwhelming in the corporate sector.  Time to do some shopping.

I personally like going to the clothier Joseph A. Bank.  They carry a quality line of professional clothing, and more importantly the staff in the store is there to help you build a complete wardrobe.  This is a bit more challenging than you may realize, but after years and years of wearing exactly the same thing to work has a tendency to dull your fashion sense.  Nobody wants to hire an employee who wears a suit fresh from decades gone by, and just as importantly the sweet threads you wear to a nightclub are definitely not going to make a good impression at your interview.

Talk to the salespeople at the store.  They will show you the current trends in professional attire as well as instruct you on how to coordinate your wardrobe.  Believe it or not, there are color choices outside the green, brown, and khaki palette, and if you choose poorly you will end up looking either comical or color blind.  Swallow your pride and listen to the experts- you will be better looking for it!

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Lessons Learned:

1.  There is a lot more to interviewing than just showing up at the hiring manager’s office.  Before you show up, you need prepare, and a significant part of preparation centers around how you will come across in the interview.

2.  Have a trusted friend give you an honest evaluation of your appearance, habits, and hygiene.  Then work on your deficiencies and shortfalls.

3.  Get a new set of clothes.  Talk to the pros at a place like Joseph A. Bank, and listen to what they say. You will look a lot more professional, and that will go a long way in presenting a solid impression at your interview.  They also have some wickedly good sales on suits and whatnot- so take advantage of them when you can.