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March 8, 2011 > Counseling Corner: Your Best Job Interview Ever

Counseling Corner: Your Best Job Interview Ever

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

You've been job hunting for months and not getting any callbacks (which, by the way, is unfortunately a fairly normal experience for job hunters in this economy). One day, while you are out buying groceries, you get a call from an unlisted number. Focusing more on which chocolate chip cookies to buy, you absentmindedly answer the call with a laid back "Yeah?" To your shock and horror, it's a HR person from the one company you were hoping to hear from. The voice on the other line says brightly, "We received your application and were wondering if you could answer a few questions?" Caught off-guard, you answer their questions - or more accurately, you bumble and stumble through the questions, distracted by the muzak playing from overhead, the toddler screaming for cookies, and the overhead announcement loudly advertising rump roast at 50% off. It is your worst interview performance ever and you kick yourself for not doing better.

First the good news: congratulations on getting a phone interview. Take it as a compliment to your skills and experience that you've been chosen for a phone interview. I consider a phone interview as significant as a face-to-face interview since it's a step that can move you closer to the job you want. Phone interviews are a fairly common occurrence for companies wishing to screen and narrow down the pool of applicants.

The not-so-good news is that phone interviews can be tricky - you have very little idea with whom you're talking and you can't get a feel for them based on their body language or facial expressions. In addition, there are times when you may be caught off guard and unprepared.

But let's focus on the advantages to having a phone interview - you can sit in your comfy chair at the interview and have your lucky charms right by you, you can have whatever cheat sheets you need to get through the interview, and you don't have to travel anywhere.

Although you may feel that you have no control over the phone interview, the reverse is actually true - you can do a lot to prepare yourself and set the stage for excelling at the interview. One of the ways I control the situation is I schedule the phone interview at a time that works for me. I'm not an early morning person so I never schedule a phone interview at 6 a.m. In addition, I do not pick up the phone if I think it is a work-related call. This gives me the opportunity to go to a quiet place and call the employer, rather than risk having them listen to my child scream while I'm trying to focus on the interview at hand.

Here are other key strategies:

Before the Interview
* Treat the interview just like a regular interview. Research the company thoroughly - know its mission, its history, and its current and future goals. You can make notes and tape them to the wall in front of you so you can refer to them during the interview.
* Prepare a list of three questions about the company so you'll be prepared if they ask, "Do you have any questions for us?"
* Make a copy of your resume so you can refer to it during the interview. Review your resume before the interview and highlight your skills and experience that are needed by the company.
* Practice with a friend or career coach - remember practice makes perfect and this is especially true of interviews.
* Right before the interview, disable call-waiting so you won't be distracted during the interview. Ask your loved ones not to interrupt you while you are being interviewed.
* I feel that I do my best when I'm in comfortable clothes whereas others like to put on their interview clothes to get into the right mindset. Do whatever works to bring out the best in you.
* Choose a quiet place for the interview - away from distractions, kids, interruptions, background sounds such as music or TV, and anything else that would make you appear less than professional.

During the Interview
* Act professionally during the interview, just as you would in-person. Don't slip up and get too comfortable just because you are in the comfort of your own home. For example, if you need to cough or sneeze, do so with the phone held away from you and say "Excuse me."
* This may sound silly, but smiling during the interview (even if they can't see you) will help you sound more friendly and engaging. Remember, no one wants to hire a grouch so if you think you sound too serious on the phone, be sure to correct that impression.
* This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating - do not multi-task during the interview. This means no texting, surfing the internet, or flipping through a magazine. Focus completely on the interviewer.
* Take notes of key statements made by the interviewer so you can refer to these when you answer, e.g. "You mentioned that marketing is an integral part of this job. Here's how I could contribute to marketing efforts... "
* Try to end the interview by referring to something that was discussed during the phone call and telling them how excited you are about working for the company. If it feels right, ask if you could possibly be scheduled for an in-person interview to discuss your skills further.

A phone interview does not have to be a scary or impossible proposition. In fact, there are some definite plusses to a phone interview that you can finesse to your advantage. Whether you are interviewing on the phone or in person, do your best to present yourself in the most positive light by preparing properly for the experience. If you've done your homework, you can tell yourself that you did your best to position yourself for the best possible outcome.

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

(c) Anne Chan, 2011

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