Phone interview tips

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Most tech companies will interview a person over the phone before bringing them in for an in house interview. This saves both the company and the candidate time. Being prepared for this interview is probably just as important as answering the questions. For a phone interview, you don't have to wear a suit, but that doesn't mean you don't have to prepare. Here are some tips to help the phone screen go well.

  • Be expecting the phone to ring. In most cases, the interviewer will call the candidate, and often the candidate will be at home. The candidate should be awake and answer the phone. It's helpful, but not expected, for the candidate to say something besides 'Hello' when (s)he answers the phone. The candidate should know it's not their mother calling and say something like 'Hello, Joel speaking', or 'Spolsky residence, this is Joel'. This way the interviewer knows straight away he has the right person on this phone.
  • Have a good phone connection. I like using Skype and my mobile phone, but for a phone interview, I almost always want to be on corded phone. Often, the candidate won't know in advance exactly where they are going to be, so their give their mobile number. If the mobile connection is anything less than crystal clear, it's perfectly OK to ask the interviewer to call you back on a land line. Have a poor connection is just going to cause frustration for both parties.
  • Find someplace quiet. You do not want street noise or kids to muddle the conversation. If the candidate does not pick a quiet location, it tells the interviewer that they didn't plan ahead very well. One place that sometimes works is your agencies office. They often will have a quiet room with a good phone that you can use for an hour. Once, I had a candidate in for in house interviews, and after a couple of hours he told us he had a phone interview with another company scheduled. We let the candidate use one of our offices for an hour to phone screen with another company.
  • Have answers to the most common interview questions prepared. You'll find these questions in any sort of book, and they usually are along the lines of 'What's you biggest weakness?'. You don't want to say 'Gee, I never thought about this before', but rather, give a thoughtful pause, and the your 4-6 sentence answer.
  • Have your CV, the job spec, and some scratch paper in front of you. You should know everything which is on your CV. Often an interviewer will pull out a word or two from somewhere on your CV, and you need to quickly know the larger context. You might have something five years ago which said 'Refactored stored procedures to improve end of day reporting', and the interviewer might ask, 'Tell me about your improvements to end of day reporting'. Having you CV in front of you will allow you to quickly jog your memory about the subject.
  • Smile, and be confident. If you're at home, you may want to put a mirror up with a note that says 'smile' on it. Although the interviewer can't see you, studies have shown that people can your expression in your voice.