There comes a moment, after having written and submitted your resume to many jobs, when the phone finally rings. The caller informs you that they are calling to have “a quick conversation” regarding your application, and to determine whether you will be invited to an in-person interview.
Pre-interview telephone calls are becoming an increasingly popular way to help employers sort through the many qualified candidates that come their way. The problem is that call can come on your cell phone at any time and at any location, completely unexpectedly and out of context. At that stressful moment, when you know that your reply could be the deal breaker, you want to be able to answer the employer’s questions in the best way possible, and not sound as if you were caught off-guard, or are unfocused and unprepared.
To prepare for the pre-interview call, consider the following:
Who is the caller and what do they want?
Listen out carefully to who the caller is – their name and title. Note it. The caller might be the Administrative Assistant to the employer, who’s been given a short list of quick questions to ask, but they also might be the Hiring Manager who will be in the position to make the final decision about who is hired. Another possibility is that it’s a Recruiter preselecting candidates for the employer, and who might be in a position to consider you for other positions, if this one doesn’t work out.
Don’t underestimate any of these people – all three are important, including the Administrative Assistant who might be asked for their opinion about how well you handled yourself on the phone. Frontline administrative staff might be able to offer you extra information or tips, if they like you, or remember who you are when you call to follow up. They can be the gateway to the Hiring Manager.
Keep in mind that the caller might not necessarily have a lot of time, so take your cue from them in regards to how much can be said at that moment. On the other hand, they might want to use this time for a more indepth interview, and might not be in a hurry. Listen carefully to how they speak, and ask how much time you have to answer a question (or how much detail they would like), if you are not sure.
How to prepare?
While you cannot be perfectly prepared, it would be best if you have a list of the jobs you have applied to, so that you can identify the employer when they call. However, that is not always possible – there’s always the possibility of hearing from employers who you do not recognize, if you are using LinkedIn properly — you might get a call from a recruiter who was simply impressed by your profile.
- Keep track of your job search. Have the details of when, where, and for what positions you have applied accessible, either electronically (online, even), or on a hard copy. Some job seekers keep a spreadsheet of the jobs they have applied to, and use it to track dates they receive replies, when they had an interview, etc. There are some useful online tips on how to do this, including apps and websites that can help.
- Have your resume easily accessible, both for you to review when they call, and to be able to email them if they request it (if you were found on LinkedIn, or via a referral). It may sound strange that I am telling you that you might want to review your own resume while talking on the phone, but sometimes it helps to have a reminder of your exact dates and job titles at that moment the phone rings unexpectedly.
- Be ready to talk about yourself. This is a skill that will be vital throughout your job search process – think through what you want to say when asked “tell me about yourself”: what does the employer need to know about you that can be said concisely and yet be interesting enough for them to be impressed? Write it out, and practice it until it comes naturally. You can use your Profile/Summary of Qualifications on your resume for inspiration, and make sure to address typical employer requirements. Be ready to detail and describe your skill levels, if asked — especially in regards to technical skills such as software or the languages you speak.
- Think through what you want to ask. Don’t ask too many questions; there usually isn’t a lot of time to talk about the job on the phone – save that for an in-person interview. But you do want to make sure that you get all the details you need for the interview if they invite you one.
- Have your calendar/day timer quickly accessible. One of the main reasons for the call, is to book an appointment. Be ready to do so immediately.
How to deal with the call?
The physical space in which you have the telephone conversation can impact an employer’s first impression of you. If necessary, politely ask the employer if they can wait a quick moment while you find a focused place to talk.
Find a quiet, undistracted place, and – only if possible – quickly retrieve your records (resume, calendar, job application records).
Some people report that it is better to talk standing up, if you can (people tend to be more focused when they’re standing or walking).
It is most preferable that you do whatever you can to take the call, but if it’s an impossible circumstance (you’re dealing with a screaming child, driving, or in with your doctor, for example), apologise and explain to the caller that they called at a difficult moment. Ask if you can call them back. Be very specific about when you will call (or when you are available for them to call you) and make sure to adhere to that time absolutely. Try to make that happen as soon as possible – preferably on the same day.
End the call by expressing your gratitude for the call and your enthusiasm about the position. Don’t gush – just be professional, yet eager. Ask for the necessary details – the name and contact details of the person you spoke to, as well as the interview specifics. If it turns out that you are not the right candidate for the interview (perhaps you don’t have the specific software skill needed), ask the employer/recruiter to keep you in mind for other possible positions that may arise.