The interview provides a potential employer insight into who you are and how well you will fit into the company. It also provides you with the opportunity to assess the work environment and people you will potentially call colleagues. This is true whether an interview for a job or for graduate school.
Always prepare for an interview. Know as much as possible about the mission and work of the company or program. You also need to know the role you would assume and prepare for questions about your skills and abilities as fit the role.
There are two basic types of interviews - in-person and over the phone. Each requires preparation.
At some point in your job search, you may be invited to participate in a telephone interview. This type of interview is often used when considerations of time and distance preclude a face-to-face meeting. Telephone interviews are generally used only for screening purposes, but they must be taken seriously as they lead to the next step - the all important on-site interview.
For those who are accustomed to meeting with employers in person, the phone interview poses unique challenges. By anticipating some of these challenges, you can better prepare to deal with them. Through planning, certain aspects of the interview format can be used to your advantage.
Focus on the Conversation
You will probably notice that phone interviews tend to be a bit more businesslike than face-to-face meetings. Less time will be spent breaking the ice with informal conversation. Don't take it personally. If you are subsequently invited for a site visit, you can be assured that the interviewer will spend much more time getting to know you. Yet, you should look at the phone interview as an exchange, where you have the opportunity to educate the interviewer about your relevant background and experiences. Don't be afraid to ask questions throughout the conversation. But, be careful not to dominate the entire interview.
Another characteristic of phone interviews is the lack of nonverbal feedback from the interviewer. When two people meet in person, it is possible for each of them to listen silently while conveying interest in the information that is being shared. By smiling, leaning forward, or nodding his or her head, the listener can provide support and encouragement to the person who is speaking. In a phone interview, it is impossible to provide this type of feedback. Therefore, the candidate must learn to live without it.
One approach that can be effective is to engage in a bit of "creative visualization." Since you can't see the interviewe, why not picture her/him sitting on the edge of her/his seat, smiling and nodding in approval? This type of image can make periods of silence seem much shorter and less threatening.
The inability to engage in nonverbal communication can place limitations on you, as a candidate. Your words will be more important than ever, since the interviewer will be focusing on what you are saying rather than on how you are saying it. Pay close attention to the content of your speech.
This is not to say that gestures should not be used. While the interviewer will not benefit from your nonverbal behavior, you will. Although gestures are used primarily for purposes of communication, they also provide the speaker with a means by which to release nervous energy. You may feel a little bit silly, sitting alone in a room and waving your hands around, but it's better than a quivering voice.
You are the only one who ever has to know what you look like during the interview. In fact, this can be one of the biggest advantages of the phone interview. Employers who meet face-to-face with candidates often form their overall impressions during the first two or three minutes of the interview, and appearances often contribute significantly to the impression that is formed. Telephone interviews can have an equalizing effect that benefits the majority of candidates. Imagine being able to interview in your sweats! Take advantage of the opportunity to dress in your most comfortable clothing. It will help you to feel more relaxed and to perform better in your interview.
Another benefit of remaining unseen during your interview is that you can keep notes in front of you, to make sure that you don't overlook any important points in your discussion. At least a day or two before the interview, write down a list of topics that are likely to be raised. Once you have generated a complete list, write up a separate note card for each topic, with related information about your education, experience, and philosophy. You will also want to note any questions that you might have which relate to various aspects of the position and the organization. Also be sure to have a pen and paper handy during the interview, so that you can take notes. Don't forget to write down the name and title of the interviewer!
As the interview time approaches, make sure that you have done all that you can to prevent interruptions. If you have a choice in scheduling the interview, try to pick a time when external demands on you are low, but when your energy level is high. Get a good night's sleep beforehand, to make sure that you will be alert at the time of the interview.
Write a Thank-You Letter
Immediately after the interview, review your notes. Make sure all the information that you have written down is clear and complete. Fill in any gaps while the information is still fresh in your mind. Within 24 hours, sit down and write a thank-you letter, just as you would after most interviews. As you write your letter, refer to the material in your notes. Relate your interest in the position to the concerns of the employer, as expressed in the interview, and provide any additional information requested by the interviewer.
A Word About Conference Calls and Speaker Phones
One of the most obvious disadvantages of phone interviews is the possibility of technical difficulties. Telephone interviews may be conducted as conference calls, with several interviewers on the line simultaneously. Depending upon the interviewers' level of familiarity with the phone system, there may be a bit of fumbling before the questioning begins. Don't let it throw you. Stay calm and focus on the content of your discussion.
It is possible that the interview team will use a speaker phone, in which case, you may experience difficulty in hearing some of the questions that are raised. Don't be afraid to ask an interviewer to repeat a question. It is easier than bluffing, and invariably produces better results.
With preparation and planning, you can excel at the art of phone interviewing. The next step is to prepare for the on-site interview!