When assessing a job candidate, many employers like to conduct their initial interview over the phone. It’s convenient for both the interviewer and the job seeker.

However, speaking over a telephone does present certain limitations: namely, the interviewer can’t see the way you’re smiling when you talk about the job. That’s why it’s so important in a phone interview to use your voice to create a picture of someone the employer will want to hire!

It’s often said that over 90% of communication is non-verbal. Indeed, this article at Psychology Today cites, “55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.”

So, more than half of communication is visual, and all of that gets lost in a phone interview!

The good news is that 38% of communication is your tone of voice, and you need to use that to your advantage when talking to an employer over the phone.

The phone interview will be all about what the interviewer (and you, of course) hears – both literally and figuratively – when talking with you on the phone. Not being able to see you, the interviewer will not know your intended degree of eye contact, your style, attitude, handshake, mannerisms, personality, courtesies or smile, except through your voice. Your voice and how you use it will paint the “you” the employer pictures in his or her mind during the interview, and will likely make or break your chances of taking that next important step – an in-person interview.

Emphasis on What is Heard

You will need to convey through your voice the many things that would normally be conveyed through physical appearance, facial expressions and gestures. You might not be used to thinking about the importance of your voice. This is definitely the time to focus on it.

Of course, some of the things you’ll do to get ready for the phone interview are the same as for a face-to-face interview, and every bit as important. Here are some valuable tips to help ensure your phone interview goes smoothly:

The Surprise Phone Interview

Your phone rings and it is an employer you weren’t expecting to hear from. Are you ready? Are you prepared to talk about the company, the job, and how you are a fit? Do you have notes nearby? Have you rehearsed answers?

You can choose to fly by the seat of your pants, hoping you do a good job in the interview. Or, you can tactfully say you are so sorry, you are in the middle of something, and can you set a time a little later that day (thus getting some time to prepare.)

It’s a tough call because you might miss the opportunity to interview with this company. On the other hand, you don’t want to go into any interview unprepared.

Be Prepared, Just in Case

Whether you are expecting to hear from an employer or not, be prepared!

  • Be prepared to discuss how you are a fit for each job for which you have applied, whether some additional training might help, and why you are attracted to the job and the company.
  • Be prepared – i.e., rehearse – for how you will answer some of the tough questions about yourself that might be asked. Some of those might include:
    • What is your greatest weakness?
    • Where do you need improvement?
    • What’s the worst situation you ever encountered on the job and what did you do about it?
    • What do your coworkers say about you?

When You Have an Appointment for a Phone Interview:

  • Shower and dress; groom as if you are going out to meet someone. This impacts how you are feeling about yourself and your chances of projecting good qualities over the phone. You are what you wear!
  • Have papers with notes carefully placed near you, including your resume; no shuffling sounds allowed!
  • Have the company website and job description up and ready on your computer for reference, right in front of you. This will help you speak smoothly and knowledgeably, with few pauses. Awkward hesitation and the sound of silence seem much longer and louder when there are no visual cues.
  • For the best connection and the best sound quality:
    • Be alone in a quiet place without distractions
    • No wind blowing across the cell phone speaker as you drive with the car windows open
    • No kids crying or dogs barking
    • No TV, music or radio talk show, or video games, etc. playing in the background
  • Call or be at your phone on time. This is a real, bona fide The time set is a real, bona fideappointment.
  • Smile, even before you pick up the phone. Believe it or not, the interviewer will be able to hear the smile in your voice. Of course, even an invisible smile should be sincere, so no need to smile inappropriately when the conversation is more serious.

During the Interview

  • Stand or sit with your best posture. This will positively impact how you sound.
  • Use your voice to convey such positive attitudes as Enthusiasm, Friendliness, Energy, Interest, Happiness Excitement and Confidence.
  • Be aware of the technical sound of your voice. Be honest with yourself about it and adjust accordingly. The interviewer will be noticing, and drawing conclusions about your:
    • Tone– Do you sound critical? Accepting? Arrogant? Humble? Positive? Negative? Willing? Unwilling?
    • Pitch– Does your voice sound pleasant, i.e., would people enjoy hearing it?
    • Volume– Is it loud, soft, or medium? You can control it. Do you show that you are considerate about others hearing you? Do you turn down your voice so as not to disturb others?
    • Speed– Is it slow, medium or fast? Talking too quickly can be a sign you don’t care if others “get” what you are saying. Talking too slowly can imply you are low energy, or slow to catch on.
    • Diction– Is it clear or garbled? Do you tend to mumble? Show you care about effective communication – speak clearly.
    • Emphasis– Speak emphatically (not dramatically) about your fit for the job; you will increase the chances of the interviewer agreeing with you. Speak without emphasis and the interviewer will think you are bored or not really interested.

Before You Hang Up

Wrapping up the phone interview can seem tricky. You can start by warmly asking the interviewer if he or she has any more questions for you. Quickly confirm the interviewer’s full name, title, email address and phone number, if you don’t already have that information.

Jim Fergle, Manager of Job Search Services at the DuPage County Workforce Development Division, has this advice for how you might best bring the phone interview to an end:
“You could say, ‘I’m really excited about this opportunity and how I can help your company grow (or solve a problem, or implement a solution). I would enjoy furthering this conversation in person. What is the next step of the process? If I don’t hear from you (by a certain time), do you mind if I follow-up?’

“This is my humble opinion,” Fergle suggests. “There are other ways to go about it, but I believe the candidate should show some initiative.”

When it’s time to hang up, sincerely thank the interviewer for contacting you, say a friendly good-bye and “I hope to hear from you soon.”

Your Voice Paints a Picture

Your voice conveys an amazing array of qualities, if you let it. It can create positive impressions of you – on the phone as well as in-person. Listening to and learning from your own voice will be time as well spent as the time spent buying a new interview suit.

If you successfully utilize that 38% of communication consisting of “tone of voice,” your phone interview can lead to that in-person interview that says you are officially in the running for the job!

Need Help With Your Phone Interview Skills?

Our Job Search Boot Camp workshops will help you with key aspects of your job search, including two whole workshops on interviewing in person and on the phone.