by Patti Wilson
Dec 9 2013
More crucial perhaps than the in-person interview for the global executive, is the telephone interview. As the initial executive interview, it is the door-opener to follow-on conversations with a company. Frequently, cost savings and necessity demand that subsequent interviews with multiple representatives from the company will be conducted by phone - flying an executive thousands of miles for a day or two of interviews is not realistic and unnecessary with the current available technology.
There is no question that interviewing by phone, even when enhanced with webcam, is far more difficult than in person. The interviewer will rely much more on the sound of your voice for their impressions. Here are some suggestions to navigate your way through a successful phone interview:
Times zones present the biggest challenge for international executive interviews - morning in California is night in India, and lunchtime in New York is after dinner in the UK. You have to accommodate the company’s business hours regardless of how that conflicts with your schedule and sleep time. Be sure you are fresh, mentally alert and ready regardless of time.
Because of time zone differences, emails can fly back and forth in attempts to arrange schedule as well as chat messages if you are using SKYPE. Keep track of all communication documentation either in printed form or in a folder on your computer. Ironically in this age of technology, a three-ring binder with tabs can be the most portable and efficient method for keeping track of interview records. If you are adept with a contact management system such as MS Outlook, or ACT, then attaching all emails to the contact’s record works equally well as your calendar appointments can be linked as well.
I have found that Microsoft Notes is probably the best software tool for PC users for tracking and recording one’s executive job search. Notes let you embed emails, video clips, PDF files, PowerPoint slides, and other documents directly onto a Note page for easy viewing.
The important thing is that you have easy access to an historical record of all your exchanges with the company as well as company literature, brochures, and other data.
Knowing what you are going to say in advance and having crib sheets to refer to is the big advantage of the phone interview. Preparing scripts to use during an interview will be a very profitable investment of your self-marketing efforts over the long-run. Whatever you write about yourself can - with some modifications - be used in social networking profiles, your professional website, and cover letters.
The kind of scripts I am referring to are not written answers to job questions. Though writing out those answers will give you good practice in organizing your thoughts, relying on them in any executive interview is not a good idea. Every company is different and though they may often ask the same exact question, your answers will vary based on the company’s business market, style, and employment need. The more spontaneous you can be the better.
However, when talking about yourself e.g. your elevator pitch, using a written script is a good reference tool. You'll find that as you deliver your elevator pitch, over time you will be able to insert nuances, variations and enhancements. Using a written script during a phone interview will enable you to capture those improvements in quick notes during or after the call.
You need to be heard which may necessitate using a landline phone rather than a cell phone. Reception is crucial. In some countries, cell phone service is perfection - and I'm not referring to the USA at all which has a mediocre record of good cell phone reception: I know of some professionals in San Francisco who cannot use their cell phones in their homes due to poor reception. While traveling through Eastern Turkey, I have never had a dropped call going from one cell signal to the next and the reception was crystal clear. Some countries do not offer a choice of cell phone carriers but if there are options go for the best sound quality, not the widest coverage.
Make sure you always have the best possible computer microphones, web-cams, cell phones and cordless telephones available to you. The difference in sound quality and noise cancelling ability of a JawBone Bluetooth headset ($149) versus a less expensive brand ($49) is more than substantial. Many people are turning to VOIP (voice over IP) services such as Vonage and SKYPE. It is important that your broadband service can easily handle VOIP calls and not lag when opening other Internet connections. You may need to be emailing or sending files as well as talking. Your service needs to handle all the data packets without dropping them.
Test out the sound quality of the speaker mode on your phone before using it. Speaker mode has improved such that it is a viable hands free option during an executive interview. Of course it goes without saying that it is not a good idea to phone interview while driving.
Where will you physically locate yourself for the interview? Regardless of time zones, interviewing at your current workplace is not a good idea. Interruptions happen and phone line security is always a question as the communications outlets are the property of your company. Optimally, a home office space with peace and quiet will provide you the best stage to present yourself.
If you have a mirror, consider putting it up in front of your desk on a wall some distance away. This will let you monitor your body language and actually keep your tone and delivery positive. Seeing yourself naturally engenders a smile not a frown, and improves your posture which in turn helps you to speak with confidence and enthusiasm.
Have your information about the organization coherently organized before you. The last thing you want is to shuffle through files and notes for information. Turn off call waiting on your phone and have any incoming calls go straight to voicemail. Make sure you are comfortably seated. If you are standing and walking because you think better on your feet, don’t get out of range of you phone’s station. Many a lost opportunity has hung on a dropped call.
Finally, when using a web-camera set up a clean, well-lighted place as background for your interviewers to see. Given the differences in cultures and customs from country to country, a neutral and professional space that is devoid of clutter, toys, over-flowing bookshelves, and stacks of computer equipment is a given. In fact, the background can be so distracting that it ruins you as the centerpiece of your production.
Remember above all that there is a human being on the other end of the line, not just a voice. Though you may not be using a web camera with a VOIP such as SKYPE, be very sensitive to the cultural differences between you and the interviewer. Accents are even more problematic on a phone call compared to in-person where you can add body language and facial expressions to help understand the communication.
If English is your second language and it is the first language of the business world, speak slowly and enunciate. The hubris of some executives is beyond the pale when it comes to how they measure their own speaking abilities. The best way to assess your accent, tonality and voice modulation is with your voice mail. Call yourself up and deliver your elevator pitch to your voice mail. See how you sound and correct accordingly.
Most importantly, make an extra effort to be engaging, friendly, personable and warm. Those qualities are harder to enunciate and project though air waves and wires.
Approach a phone interview as a well-orchestrated live production, as if it were being recorded for television or YouTube. You are the star, the director and producer. You control the audio, video, content and the delivery. This can be a work of cinematic perfection if you rehearse setup well, use the right equipment and make a relaxed, personable delivery.