Rocking the Phone Interview

Sometimes I feel like this blog becomes a chronicle of my graduate school existence. You, the readers, are dragged along on all of my misadventures, though I do that only to help you through pitfalls I have already encountered in hopes you can avoid them or at least minimize the damage!

Back in January, I discussed the application process and how I was tackling it. Good news, folks: I’ve been contacted for phone interviews, so I did something right. Of course, I was relying on others who had been there, done that because they would have good insight as to what worked for them. I can’t say that my phone interview experiences have made me an expert – let’s be real, if you become a phone interview expert during your job search, either you’re a truly special individual wanted by tons of places or you’re stuck in purgatory – but I have become increasingly more comfortable with every one I have, which allows me to provide better answers to questions I’m asked.

When I got the first interview, I had no idea what to do or say, or how I was going to prepare. If you’re looking for an archival job and you haven’t come across That Elusive Archives Job, I cannot recommend it enough. Written by Arlene Schmuland, it provides solid explanations for each step of the job searching process. The section on phone interviews is where I looked first when preparing for my first one. Other excellent advice I gathered came from Forbes (short video included), US News & World Report, US News & World Report again, Yale, and – yes – Cosmopolitan. Some of these sites have conflicting information, and some of the suggestions did not fit me as an individual, so I’ve condensed some of the best tips.

  • Be prepared to talk about holes and red flags in your resume.

When I quit working on the Hill in 2011, I moved back to Georgia, thinking I would get some sort of state-level political job, but before I got too far into the application process, my dad and I realized my 90 year-old grandmother, who had always been healthy and spry, was rapidly deteriorating. I ended up caring for her from January through August, which was a full time job. However, it appears as a large hole in my employment history, especially since when I was finally ready to begin looking for jobs in September, it took me an additional two months to land a job. A two month job search is certainly acceptable, but eleven months can be taken a different way by a potential employer. If you have gaps like that, even if you think you’ll know what to say, practice it so that it comes like second nature.

  • Listen to talk radio (or at least a sports game) before the interview.

This is out of Cosmo, no kidding. 55% of communication is through body language, but that’s all taken away during a phone interview, so your one instrument to convey your meaning is through your voice, and your word choice is vitally important. Announcers and disc jockeys have this skill because they paint pictures with their words every day, and listening to them can spur ideas on how you can do the same with your experience.

  • Re-read the job ad prior to the call. Also, have a copy in front of you during the call.

As you know if you read my post on job applications, my cover letters address every job requirement (thanks, Kate Crowe!), but that may not be so for you. I still print the job ad out and have it in front of me to be safe. Besides, there are occasionally different things in the “job specifications” or “responsibilities” sections than what is listed in the job requirements. You’ll want to be able to address all of those areas.

  • Also, print out your resume and cover letter.

Archivists aren’t known as a real “gotcha!” bunch, but you never know when you might confuse a date. If I left a job in 2009, but I’m telling the search committee that I was around in 2011, there’s a problem. Better to have it in print before you than to have a “senior moment” at the wrong time.

  • Review the library’s website paying close attention to the mission statement, collections policy, survey of collections, employee list, and placement of archives within the organization.

You’ll want to impress them with knowledge of their organization, as it shows you’re really interested in the job. It also helps you ask more relevant questions. Finally, one of the websites I reviewed had pictures of the librarians, which helped me picture who I was speaking with during the interview.

  • Have pen and paper at the ready to take notes during the interview.

I write out questions as they’re asked and then respond. This helps me ensure I’m answering the full question, as some can be multi-point and require some organization to answer completely. I’m a slow writer, so I if I get behind, I tell the committee that I’m writing out the question to ensure a complete answer and will respond momentarily.

  • Compile a list of typical interview questions and develop answers to them.

If you’re not sure what might be asked, The Elusive Archives Job has a great list. Yale recommends also compiling a list of strengths and weaknesses, as well as accomplishments. It’s made it much easier to have a good answer if it’s pre-prepared, rather than made up on the spot.

  • Have a glass of water on hand.

This is is contested, but from my experience, having one is important. I got dry mouth during one of my interviews, and needed the water. It was much better to take a sip than continue and cough (or worse) my way through it.

  • Get rid of distractions.

Anyone who knows me knows that my cats, Alfie and Edie, are the center of my universe. However, Alfie, my lap buddy, had to sit in the bathroom (in his kitty bed, next to his food) for an hour earlier this week. Yes, he pouted about it terribly after the fact, but it’s better to have him up than it would be for him to unexpectedly jump in my lap or try to make friends with the “phone people,” as he does quite vocally at times. The same is going to be true for your adorable dog and child. If that means you’re doing the interview in your bedroom closet, well… better than losing your concentration and seeming unprofessional.

  • Answer the phone professionally.

Some places suggest saying, “hello, Holly Croft speaking,” or something that clearly identifies me. I just say “hello.” I do not say “hi,” “what’s up,” “speaking,” or any other casual greeting that might be appropriate in other situations.

  • Remember to enunciate and speak slowly. Sitting up will help.

When my posture is good, it becomes much easier to speak clearly. This may have something to do with years of choir and voice lessons, but if I’m sitting up, it’s more likely that I’ll naturally enunciate and speak at a more determined gait.

  • Be aware of your tone.

This is another one from Cosmo, y’all. Studies have found that if you sound more likable and friendly, it’s more likely to leave a good impression on the hiring committee.

  • Don’t ramble.

This one, right here, is why I write out answers and study them beforehand. I can tell a story the long way and the wrong time, and it can be disastrous! Counter to making you sound like you know more about a topic, it’s more likely to make it sound like you’re trying to stretch what you know.

  • Have between 3-5 questions prepared for the committee.

This question is coming, so you are going to do yourself a favor if you’re prepared your list beforehand. I’ve found that five is my magic number, just in case one or two are answered elsewhere in the interview.

  • Say thank you.

I’m a big believer in written thank you notes, though many feel that email messages are fine for phone interviews. I spent a long time Friday writing out notes, as I think it conveys that I really do want to work for the place I’ve interviewed. If not everyone takes the time, it will put you a step ahead.

Good luck! Let me know if there are any other tips that you think I’ve overlooked or if there’s something in particular that works for you.

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