Preparing for Your Phone or In-Person Interview

by The Amtec Team
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Are you about to be interviewed? That’s great! It’s important that you make a good first impression on your prospective employer, because this first interaction could solely determine whether or not you will be offered a job. The interview is a good method for hiring managers to become personally acquainted with you and ensure you are a good fit for their organization. In this fast-paced environment, phone interviews are becoming as common a screening method as in-person interviews in the initial phase of the hiring process. Whether on the phone or in person, your initial interview is the most important aspect of your job hunt. This article weaves together tips for both scenarios, since preparing for either type of interview is much the same.

Doing your homework to prepare in advance will help enhance your value, make you more effective, and lower your stress, allowing you to perform better during the interview. These tips for both in-person and telephone interviews will help you differentiate yourself from other candidates who are competing for the same position.

BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Research the company. Do your homework and learn as much as you can about the company, key players (executives, management team), revenues (if public), mission, product lines, services, and divisions. Conduct a search on the Internet and read all new press releases on the company and executive team. Print, read, and highlight company information to demonstrate your knowledge of the company, its niches, mission, products, service offerings, and number of years in business. (Whether you’re starting out in your career or making a career change, we also recommend making your own scorecard to help you find the best fit.)

Prepare a list of intelligent questions to ask related to the company or position. It’s best if you develop your own questions and put them into your own words. Below are a few examples (for more sample questions, click here):

  • How does your company differentiate itself from other competitors?
  • How would you describe your culture and work environment?
  • What type of employee thrives within your company?
  • What are the core values of the company?
  • What are the short- and long-term goals you’d like to see achieved in the department?
  • What attracted you to this company and how long have you been here?
  • What is the average tenure of employees in the department/company?
  • How would you describe the management style of the leadership team?
  •  What are the biggest challenges facing this position?
  • What do you consider to be the critical skills needed to succeed in this position?
  • What are the top 3-5 key accomplishments the person in this position needs to achieve in the first 30-90 days to help the department/company?

Print the job description. Have it in front of you to reference the listed key duties and required qualifications.

Make a list of your 5 professional goals. Written goals convey that you are a focused professional with a 
mission and are committed to achieving personal growth.

Review your resume, and catalog your skills and accomplishments. Whether you’re interviewing in person or on the phone, you’ll want to differentiate yourself by highlighting your qualitative and quantitative accomplishments for past employers. Be prepared to share the contributions you can make to the company. Here’s what you’ll need to have with you during the interview:

  • A note pad and pen
  • Your resume (2 copies if interviewing in person)
  • Your Performance Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ) if applicable
  • A list of your soft and technical skill sets
  • Your list of 5 professional goals
  • A printout of your research on the company’s mission, revenues, products, services, management team, structure, and number of years in business
  • A list of 5-7 company- or position-related questions you’d like to ask your interviewer

Find a quiet, secluded place for your telephone interview. During your phone interview, you will need to isolate yourself from noise such as radios, TVs, and background talk from children, family, or bystanders. If you’re at home, be sure that everyone in the house knows you’re taking an important phone call so that you are not disturbed. Above all, make sure that no one picks up an extension in another room until after the interview is complete. Using your cell phone, if you’re sure it has good reception, may be the best way to avoid interruptions. However, using a landline whenever possible provides the clearest communication.

If you must use your cell phone, it’s best never to interview while you are driving. In our experience, phone interviews in the car seldom go well! Answering interview questions while driving often makes candidates appear unfocused, and unreliable cell phone reception can make it difficult to hear or maintain a complete, uninterrupted conversation. If you must answer an interview call while you are driving, explain that you are in your car, then find a place to pull over so you can give 100% attention to the interview.

Dress for success even for a telephone interview. Even though you and your interviewer may not be able to see each other, your ability to project a professional appearance is very important. Dressing in professional apparel will support your attitude. Your seriousness about the opportunity will be reflected in the way you dress and subsequently communicated by your professional tone. During a phone interview, you won’t be able to visibly highlight your discussions with physical gestures and expressions. Therefore, you must be confident in projecting your character and personality though your tone, pace, and words.

Dress for success for your in-person interview. Since first impressions are lasting expressions, dress up and look your best. You only have 15 seconds to make a good first impression, so pay attention to personal details. Your recruiter can advise you on the company culture if any variations such as casual dress are recommended, but here’s what we generally recommend:

  • Men: Wear a suit and tie or sports coat. Make sure your shoes are shined and your face is clean-shaven.
  • Women: Wear a business suit, high-cut top, hosiery, and dress shoes.
  • Everyone: Avoid wearing or revealing anything such as excessive jewelry or make-up, strong perfume, tattoos, nose rings, or scuffed heels that may take attention away from your skills and qualifications.

Rehearse for your telephone interview. Practice speaking clearly and confidently into the phone while you maintain a professional posture. Try to sound like you’re speaking to the hiring manager in person. Spell out the name of the person who will conduct the phone interview, and practice saying the name aloud until you’re comfortable with it and can pronounce it correctly. Work on mirroring your interviewer’s tone and pace. Role-play with your recruiter or a friend to evaluate your level of professionalism and the quality of your responses to general interview questions.

Rehearse for your in-person interview. Practice your answers, eye contact, handshake, facial expressions, and body language. Role-play with your recruiter or a friend to evaluate your responses to general interview questions. You may also find it helpful to video your interview practices with your phone so you can actually see and hear yourself as the employer would. (If this seems too complicated, practice in front of a mirror.)

Print directions to the location of your in-person interview and make sure you arrive 15 minutes early. Allow extra time for unexpected traffic conditions or being unfamiliar with the area.

Prepare yourself 15 minutes before a telephone interview. Take a few minutes before your scheduled phone call to gather your thoughts and get in the right frame of mind. Have a glass of water nearby so you can take a drink when your mouth gets dry. (Just don’t sip audibly enough for the interviewer to hear you!) Don’t take any unusual medication beforehand, and don’t chew gum, eat, or use the restroom while you are on the phone—all these will affect the quality of your interview! Phone interviews usually take less than 30 minutes, but you’ll want to allow plenty of time for any questions your interviewer may have.

Block out a minimum of two hours for an in-person interview. Employers want to spend quality time with you. They may want you to meet other key people, tour their facility, take pre-employment screening tests, and so forth. It’s a mistake to feel rushed, or to leave the impression that you have more important things to do than be interviewed.

Be prepared to jot down the important questions that you are asked so that, at the end of the interview, you can check to see 
if you have answered them to the interviewer’s satisfaction. 
Your objective in the interview is not just to advance in the process, but to get to the offer stage. Undoubtedly, the interview will be your first opportunity in making a great first impression. Applying these guidelines will help differentiate you from other candidates and give you an added advantage in being considered as the ideal candidate for the opportunity.

DURING THE INTERVIEW

  1. Be positive and upbeat in your telephone interview. Greet the interviewer with the same enthusiasm that you would demonstrate face to face. This initial impression should set a positive tone that will carry through the rest of the interview. Maintain a professional posture as you speak clearly into the phone.  Take your cues from the interviewer’s tone and pace. Remember that the hiring manager can’t see your reaction to a question, so try to avoid uncomfortably long silences as you’re formulating an answer.
  2. Be polite and maintain good eye contact in your in-person interview. Show respect to everyone you meet, whether it’s the receptionist, prospective peer, employee, or senior executive. Maintain good eye contact with all the people who are involved in the interview.
  3. Focus on the value that you can bring to the company. Avoid being introspective (What’s in it for me?). Instead, talk about how you are seeking a career opportunity where you can add value and contribute to the company’s growth and success. Refer to your list of 5 professional goals.
  4. Be a good listener. Avoid interrupting or talking over your interviewer. Waiting for a pause is especially important if you’re being interviewed on the phone. Be a good listener and try not to be long-winded or overly talkative. Stay focused on the question(s) you are asked, and answer with specific examples and as briefly as possible. It’s good etiquette to check with the interviewer to see if you’ve answered the question to his or her satisfaction.
  5. Don’t come across as arrogant or full of yourself. Show confidence without arrogance. Most interviewers/employers value humility and a willingness to learn. Being a proud know-it-all has been the downfall of many!
  6. Sell yourself. As you answer interview questions, think of yourself as a retail product like a Mercedes Benz with features and benefits that you want to convey and sell. What are your features? Suppose you have 10 years of sales/product development experience that helped previous employers increase revenues by $50MM. You’ll want to express your passion to make a difference, along with a desire do whatever it takes (e.g., work long hours) to help the company complete projects, improve quality, increase revenues/profits, grow market share, etc. In every position, there are three areas where you can talk about your features:
    1. Personal Character – passion, integrity, values, and work ethic
    2. Competence – technical knowledge, relevant qualifications, skills, and strengths
    3. Chemistry – ability to interact and work with people
  7. Ask the right questions: Using your research about the company, include some of what you’ve learned to frame your answers and ask intelligent, relevant questions, referring to the list of questions you pre-prepared. This will set you apart from the rest of the pack and demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm about the opportunity and organization. It also shifts the focus from your own career objectives to your desire to learn how you might help the company achieve their goals. You may not have as much time as you’d like to ask all your questions. Plan on asking the most important questions in case the interviewer closes the interview before you’ve had time to ask them all.
  8. Bring extra resumes with you. Even if the interviewer has a copy, bring two extra copies with you.
  9. Stay positive. Avoid making negative comments about past employers or supervisors. No interviewer wants to be the next in line to be criticized.
  10. Listen, take notes, and avoid interrupting. Be a good listener, take notes on important information that is being said, 
and wait for the interviewer to pause.
  11. Don’t talk about pay in your first interview. Avoid asking about compensation, benefits, or bonus incentives during your initial interviews unless the interviewer brings them up. Bringing up the subject may be misinterpreted by the hiring manager and give the impression that you’re only interested in what you are going to get out of the job. Remember, the goal of an interview is for you to communicate the value you have to offer the employer. The time to talk about compensation and other benefits is when both you and the potential employer agree to advance to the final offer stage.
  12. At the end of the interview, convey your interest in the position if it’s a good fit. “I’m very excited about this opportunity and think I would be a valuable asset in helping you achieve your goals. What is the next step in the interview process?” (This demonstrates your interest in possibly becoming a member of the organization.)

B. Sample Interview Questions You May Be Asked

Below are some sample questions that you may be asked during your interview, from the book Best Answers to the 201 Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions by Matthew J. DeLuca. Prepare your answers in advance with specific examples. You may want to consider purchasing the book to more thoroughly prepare yourself.

1. What were your major accomplishments and contributions in your last 2-3 positions?

  1. How do you explain your job success?
  2. Compared to others in your same field, how would you rate yourself and why?
  3. Cite specific examples of how you positively affected your previous employers with… (new 
products, design, projects, sales growth, quality, production, processes, etc.)
  4. How will previous supervisors describe your performance?
  5. How will previous supervisors and peers describe your attitude?
  6. How were you measured?
  7. Describe the specific things you are doing to improve your knowledge, skills, and performance.

Past performance is the best indicator of future behavior, which is why many hiring managers will ask you behavioral questions that start with, “Tell me about a time when you….” If you can communicate your value with past employers, it helps the interviewer(s) perceive and expect that they will receive the same kind of performance and results from you for their company. Bring tangible examples (reports, recognition letters/e-mails, work samples, performance reviews, etc.) of your work.

2. How do you manage multiple tasks and pressure?

  1. Describe three (3) projects you recently handled with pressing deadlines.
  2. How would past supervisors describe your organizational skills and time management?
  3. What are your strengths? (Technical skills, personal qualities, etc.)
  4. What would you say is your biggest weakness?
  5. What are your professional goals?

The interviewer is trying to learn how much work (capacity) you can handle and how you deal with multi-tasking and project management.

3. What was been your favorite position and why?

  1. What did you like and dislike about it?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. Tell me why you want to leave?
  4. What are the things you liked and disliked in previous supervisors?

The interviewer is looking for relevant experience, including what you really love and want to do. Is the position a long- term or short-term match? With what type of management style do you work best?

4. Why should you be considered for this position?

  1. What value, knowledge, skills, and experience will you contribute to the company?
  2. Why do you desire this opportunity?

Employers are looking to hire “A” players who are the best in class and have the right chemistry. “A” players work well within the culture and framework that is already established within the company, as well as show they will work the hardest for their employer. Communicate how you are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Express a passion to be a profitable contributor who exhibits a stellar work ethic, high integrity, and ability to build trust with others.

To be prepared for what has often been called the toughest interview question, “Tell me about yourself,” click here.

For more behavioral interview questions you might be asked, read Davenport’s Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers. It explains from an interviewer’s point of view what he wants when he asks how your education has prepared you for this position, or whether or not you are a team player. Here’s one example:

What are your top five strengths, and why should I hire you? 
The easy answer is that you are the best person for the job. And don’t be afraid to say so. But then back it up with what specifically differentiates you. 
For example: “You should hire me because I’m the best person for the job. I realize that there are likely other candidates who also have the ability to do this job. Yet I bring an additional quality that makes me the best person for the job–my passion for excellence. I am passionately committed to producing truly world-class results. For example . . .” 
Are you the best person for the job? Show it by your passionate examples. Personalize your response : At ABC company … I … and… (give specific examples of your past behavior and work).

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

Send a thank-you card. Follow up with a thank-you note expressing your appreciation for the interview and convey a strong desire to help the company grow. Highlight key points that you discussed in the interview and communicate your desire for the position. (If the employer is making an immediate decision, then send a thank-you email right after your interview.) For more tips on following up after your interview, click here.

Here’s a sample thank-you note for a phone interview:

Dear __________, Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview with you by phone today. It was a pleasure talking with you and learning more about the (position title). I’m extremely interested in pursuing this opportunity. After our conversation, I feel confident that I can make a valuable contribution to you and the company,  and I’d like to help the company achieve its goals and objectives. The possibility of working in this position excites me, and I look forward to interacting further with you.

Sincerely, (Your name)

Next is a sample thank-you note for an in-person interview:

Dear __________, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to interview with you today. It was a pleasure meeting you. I’m extremely interested in the (position title). I feel very confident that I will be a valuable asset to you and the company, especially in the area of (your strength as it applies to the position), and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help you and the company achieve its goals and objectives. I am excited about this opportunity and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, (Your name)

If you have any questions before your interview, call your recruiter. And after your interview, be sure to call your recruiter to let him or her know how it went and what next steps to expect. Also, be sure to connect with your recruiter on LinkedIn so we can follow your career! We wish you success in your next interview. May it further your journey toward meaningful work, a great fit, and a satisfying career.

Your Amtec Team

Our Mission

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“Helping Clients Build High-Performing Teams and Helping Candidates Find Meaningful Work”
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