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Ten Ways to Screw up a Phone Interview

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To save valuable time, most hiring processes include a phone interview step. The purpose of phone interviews is to narrow down a stack of resumes to a small number of people who will be seen in person. So if you’re called for a phone screen, you’ve passed the first hurdle! Unfortunately, however, many people self-destruct at this stage. Here are ten mistakes that you don’t want to make:

1. Be difficult to find.
When you have resumes out, you should always be close to a phone. Even if you can’t talk at that moment, it’s better to take the call and arrange another time. That way, you’ve at least made contact. If you can’t answer the phone, check your messages hourly. And remember not to block people who don’t allow caller ID. You could miss some interviewers who don’t want you to have their phone number.

2. Have a silly or unprofessional message.
Now is not the time for cute, silly, or sexy recordings on your voice mail. Interviewers need to hear a simple message that conveys a professional image.

3. Use bad phone equipment.
If there is static on the line or your voice sounds remote, the interviewer will not get a positive mental picture. This can be a particular problem with cell phones. Try calling your number to check out the sound. People are often unaware of their own phone problems.

4. Forget where you’ve sent your resume.
When an interviewer calls, you don’t want to sound confused about the company name or the nature of the business. Keep a copy of every ad you answer and make notes about all referrals you get from others. Organize this information so that you can easily grab it when the phone rings.

5. Talk at a bad time.
If your child is screaming or you just stepped out of the shower or you’re driving down the freeway, don’t hesitate to politely ask if you can schedule another time to talk. You won’t make a good impression if you are distracted or if there is background noise. But try to set a specific time for the callback.

6. Assume that you can “wing it” when you get a call.
As with any interview, you need to have a game plan. Start by identifying the most important information that you want to convey about yourself, then practice doing it clearly and concisely. A phone interview is likely to focus on your resume, so decide what you want to say about each aspect of your background.

7. Fail to do your homework.
Interviewers will be impressed if you can sound knowledgeable about their business during an unexpected call. Whenever you send out a resume or fill out an application, print pages from the organization’s website. Have that information available at all times, organized so that you can quickly access the appropriate pages.

8. Sound like you’re half-dead.
A phone interviewer is developing a mental image from your voice. No one wants to hire someone who sounds down, depressed, listless, or tired. So you need to come across as enthusiastic, energetic, and upbeat. If necessary, learn to fake it.

9. Babble on endlessly.
When you have made your points, stop talking and wait for the next question. You want to keep your responses crisp. On the phone, you lack visual cues to tell you when the interviewer’s attention is wandering.

10. Say anything negative.
Remember that a phone interview is all about screening people out. Anyone who comes across as complaining, whining, or hard to manage will be quickly put in the “do not hire” pile, so don’t say anything bad about your former employer, your manager, your workload, or anything else.

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