Career Audit

Dialing Up the Next Job

The future may be calling, so don’t get hung up on phone interviews

Posted Jul 1, 2007 7:19 PM CDT
By Hope Viner Samborn

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Before Bill Worth answers the telephone, he clears his desk, spreads his notes in front of him, sets down a glass of water and ensures that his home is quiet.

Worth, a pseudonym, is a 30-year veteran attorney and former general counsel at three public companies. He has been searching for a general counsel or associate general counsel job for a year. More often than not, company representatives interview him by telephone before they consider seeing him in person.

“I would like to get my face in front of a human being,” Worth says. “You build up more of a rapport with a human being than you do over the phone.”

The upside is that telephone interviews save money and time. And law firms and corporations use them to eliminate individuals who may not be a good fit. But there are drawbacks—for the firm or company as well as the job seeker.

“I don’t think it is a clear win for the company,” says Cheryl Rich Heisler, founder of Lawternatives, a Chicago-based career counseling firm. “The opportunity for a misread is huge. You are limited to the spoken word. You are missing the body language of someone squirming in his or her chair.”

And job applicants lose the opportunity to gauge the interviewer’s body language and facial expressions—and to respond. “Very few people do great phone interviews,” Heisler says. “It is difficult to use humor.”

Experts recommend that applicants dress for the interview even if they are at home. “I don’t think you can be as effective in your PJs and bunny slippers as you can in a suit and heels,” Heisler says. In a suit, “you get revved up” and adopt a more professional mindset.

At their fingertips, phone interviewees should have a list of their job skills, points they want to get across and questions to be asked, according to Dianne Y. Sundby of Career Counseling and Assessment Associates in Los Angeles.

PREPARE AS IF YOU’LL BE THERE

She also recommends that job applicants take notes—normally inappropriate in person but extremely helpful in a telephone interview. Conducting the interview in a quiet space is also key. “You’ll kick yourself until Tuesday if the baby sitter knocks on the door or the dog wanted to go out,” Heisler says.

“Turn off the radio and the TV,” Sundby says. “If you have a noisy dog, don’t do it at home. Do it where you can concentrate.”

Nor should a job applicant jump to do a phone interview whenever a prospective employer calls. “You need to be prepared,” Heisler says. “You want to show that you are flattered, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it right then just because that is when they called.”

“You can’t be on a StairMaster talking to a senior partner and make the impression you want to make,” Heisler says.

Job seekers should prepare for a telephone interview the same way that they would for any other interview. Study the employer carefully and review company or law firm Web sites.

Voice-mail or answering machine messages and calls to set up interviews also can be challenges. Experts caution that each of these contacts should be professional.

“It should be the persona you want them to see,” Heisler says. “Don’t be cute.

Don’t be improperly informal. This is their first impression.” She adds that “there is nothing wrong with rehearsing what you will say to the secretary” or on a recorded message.

Wrap up a phone interview by mentioning that you would like to continue the conversation and would enjoy meeting the employer in person, Sundby says. Also, she adds, don’t forget to say “Thank you.”

Says Heisler: “You are not looking to hit a home run. You are looking to get to the next step.”

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