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The Phone Interview: Vague, But Vital

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A quick preliminary phone interview can help hiring managers screen candidates and narrow down a wide applicant pool before the formal, in-person interview process begins. So when you’re selected for a phone interview, expect a brief conversation designed simply to help interviewers scan for red flags.

Since you won’t have the benefit of body language or eye contact during your phone interview, try to sit up straight and smile when you greet the caller. These things won’t be visible, but they will affect the tenor of your voice and make you seem more confident and approachable. Make sure you accept the call in a quiet place with few distractions. Be prepared to answer questions like the following:

Tell me something about yourself.

Don’t be caught off guard by this common question. And by all means, don’t respond with “What would you like to know?” Instead, provide a brief summary of your career path so far, highlighting episodes relevant to this specific position. Your answer should be 1) on message and 2) interesting. Stick to the point (this job) and don’t ramble, but feel free to add one or two interesting details relevant to your own life. For example, if you first took an interest in this field while on a trek in the Himalayas or while recovering from a broken leg, mention that. Then move on.

What are your experiences in this specific field?

If you answered the first question well, then this question will allow you to add dimension to what you’ve already said. Be careful how you phrase your response, since your interviewer will be scanning for key phrases and comments that highlight your understanding of this position.

Explain some of your strengths and weaknesses.

Have a list of strengths already in mind before the interview begins, and again, stay relevant. As for a list of weaknesses, most savvy interviewers skip this tired question, since it doesn’t provide much valuable information and it comes off as somewhat hackneyed and manipulative. But be ready for it anyway. And answer honestly, but briefly. Don’t dwell on the subject of your weaknesses. Just gently take control of the conversation and steer it back to a list of your qualifications. Consider telling the story of a weakness that you had years ago but have since overcome.

How much would you like to be paid?

This question is more appropriate for an in-person interview, but phone screeners often test these waters when a candidate seems especially overqualified or beyond the company’s financial reach. (There’s no point bringing in a candidate for an interview if there’s no way she’ll accept an offer later.) If you sense that you’re being asked about salary because you’re overqualified, allay these fears in a diplomatic and honest way. Otherwise, explain that you don’t yet know enough about the position to provide a clear answer. If you feel pressed to respond, offer a wide salary range based on your research and experience.

Do you have any questions for us?

Your final question, if you haven’t discussed the subject already, should be as follows: “When can we meet in person?” If you make it through the first round of cuts, the in-person interview will offer you a true opportunity to shine.

If you have additional questions about the job search process, feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to the experts at CSS using the contact information on our website.

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