What do I need to know to interview successfully by telephone?
What do I need to know to interview successfully by telephone?
If someone calls you unexpectedly for a telephone interview without prior arrangement, they have to expect they may not catch you at an appropriate time, so don't be afraid to ask (politely) if you can call them back in a few minutes. This will give you a chance to collect your thoughts, perhaps asking roommates or family to quiet down, and arranging a place for your call where you can be focused with pen and paper in hand. Use any extra time that you have to research the company and the unit with which you would most likely be placed. Find out what drugs they are developing (specific compounds if possible, but also the overall diseases that their drugs address). Print these out and keep those notes available when you are about to start your phone interview.
Try to prepare statements anticipating questions that the hiring manager will ask you. "Tell me about yourself," or "Why are you interested in our company?" Also, "Where do you see yourself in three years?" is popular, as is "Describe a situation where you demonstrated your interpersonal skills." Have those notes in front of you when you are interviewing, but do not read your responses verbatim. Remember, you're also interviewing the manager who represents the company; the manager has to put the company in a positive light so that you remain interested in the job. Don't forget to smile often during your phone interview (you may want to place a mirror in view as a reminder). Add verbal cues to your responses. For example, you can say "Three points come to mind... first...., second...., lastly..." to help your listener know where you are in your response (without these clues, answers can seem longer). Saying "lastly", "finally", or "so, to summarize," is also helpful in getting the conversation back on track if you tend to ramble, or get lost in your response.
It helps to have a watch on the table, and to give your listener five seconds after each answer. They might be processing what you're saying, or taking notes. At times, interviewees are uncomfortable with the silence, but they need not be. If silence goes on a bit long you can use a verbal cue such as, "Did that answer your question?" It may also help to keep a glass of water nearby.
To add to Sara's point, one area she's getting at is that the dynamics of having a phone conversation are different from a face to face, for that reason, the person on the other end can't read your body language or face. So you need to depend on your tone, pace and amplitude of your voice for both having an effective conversation and building rapport.
One other piece of advice I will give is to tailor your technical language and depth to the audience. For example, a telephone screen with an HR person is not the place to have deep technical discussion about your PhD project - you sufficently need to communicate you have the know how and skills enough to check the box when it comes to expertise requirement. Save the more technical discussion for the hiring manager, if you find its relevant. In both cases be succinct. And as Sara indicated, ask clarifying questions to ensure you're being targeted with your response.
Sara's comment about smiling is right to the point - it comes across in the tone of your voice. One other thing - sit straight up with both feet on the ground - just like you would in a face-to-face interview. Not only does this come across in your voice - it also puts you into an alert and business-like frame of mind.
I love the advice provided by Sara as well as both DX and our forum advisor, Dr. Dick Woodward. Thank you to all of you for jumping in. Just so the growing audience here knows, we've had Dick on and off the forum for a couple of decades, and DX has just come over from the "old forum" with his or her great advice. DX is one of the most prolific authors of advice and commentary here on the Forum.
Dave Jensen, Moderator
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Another important point about Sara's answer - she is absolutely correct about giving the interviewer several seconds to collect their thoughts - but it goes deeper than that. In our Western culture, a 5-second break in conversation is uncomfortable, and after 10 seconds, the person with whom you are conversing will often start to speak again just to fill the silence. 15 seconds is almost intolerable. If you are the questioner, you can use this to your advantage. I used to train salespeople that if, in a sales interview, they were not happy with the answer to their question, or if they suspected that there was additional information to be had, say nothing after the response - within 10 seconds, the person that they were speaking with would start talking again, generally providing more information.
Now, a good interviewer might know this little trick, and be silent after your answer - in that case, Sara's answer is right on target - after 5-10 seconds, ask something innocuous such as "did that answer your question?" Resist the urge to elaborate on your answer - let them elaborate on the question instead.
A word of warning - this is a cultural thing, and by all means do not try this "silence trick" with a native Japanese and expect it to work. Having worked for a major Japanese company, I learned fairly early on that in the Japanese culture, if you have nothing to say, you say nothing. I have sat in meetings where no one spoke for minutes at a time - imagine that happening here! Parenthetically, in the 1980s and early 90s, much was made of how the Japanese could out-negotiate Americans. In 1990, when I went to work for the Japanese company (a terrific experience, by the way), I quickly learned that a large part of the apparent superiority in negotiations was that the Americans were rattled by the silence, and tended to "show their cards" when they did not have to.
You may think that this is silly, so I invite you to try a little experiment. When you can find an appropriate place in a conversation, make the comment that "in our culture, people cannot tolerate ten seconds of silence in a conversation" - then start counting the seconds in your head. I have done this several times - often in conversations about cultural differences - and invariable the other party responds in less than 10 seconds.