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How to prepare for telephone interviews
Gauri Mitra
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February 22, 2007

After years of conducting telephonic interviews -- and even appearing for some -- I have realised that many candidates miss major opportunities due to some minor slip-ups during interviews.

More so when the interview is telephonic, and you can't see the interviewer.

Here's help on how to ace those telephone interviews.

Be punctual

If you have agreed to an interview at 4 pm at one or more numbers, ensure you are ready and have access to those numbers by 3.45 pm.

If you are unavailable for any reason, the interviewer has to contact you again after a few minutes. The number of times they are willing to do this will depend on the interview panel. Some may be lenient enough to try your line three or four times to give you another chance. Others may not be so lenient.

Even if they are lenient, the damage is already done. The interviewer's first impression of you is of an unpunctual person. Don't lose out on this simple way to impress. Be punctual.

Also, if you realise even an hour or half-an-hour before the interview that you are not going to be able to make it -- whatever be the issue -- try to notify your consultant about it and get him/her to reschedule the interview.

It is far better to inform in advance rather than risk the wrath of an interview panel huddling around the phone, waiting for you.

Speak slowly, clearly

We all know how unreliable phone lines and mobile networks are. The line may disconnect, the voice may break or the disturbance may make it impossible to converse. Most of these are unavoidable and beyond our control, but to maximise the effect of your answers, it is best that you speak slowly and enunciate each syllable.

If you have a tendency to talk the way a 27-year old software developer from Bangalore told me the other day, 'MynameisArvindandIamaJavaSwingExpert' -- that is, in a way such that words fuse into each other, it's time to curb that habit.

This applies to a face-to-face interview as well. Practise by reading the newspaper aloud to friends or family and get their feedback. Try recording your newspaper-reading session and play them back. An added advantage of doing this -- you will be updated on current affairs.

Know when to stop talking

Often, people have a tendency to ramble on when asked even a simple question such as what are you working on currently. A 30-something software developer from Chennai once lectured me on the myriad aspects of his project for approximately 25 minutes, during which I couldn't even get a word in edgewise.

For any questions, if you feel the answer can turn potentially as long as a politician's lecture, you're in trouble. Be succinct, summarise, and provide only the significant points in your answer. By significant, I mean points that will highlight your knowledge and your role in the project.

Don't be uncomfortable about the silence once you have finished an answer. Many people tend to fill in awkward pauses in the conversation by digressing from the main topic or just repeating the same points. Avoid this. Get comfortable with the silence. Anyway, it will only last a few seconds until your interviewer comes back at you with the next question.

Don't be too brief

At the other end of the spectrum are people who give answers that are too brief.

Let me cite an example. I was recruiting .Net developers, and asked a 28-year old programmer about a particular project in her resume. Her curt reply was 'It is an ASP.NET project'. The answer might be 100 per cent correct, but it is also 100 per cent incomplete.

You don't have to give a rundown of every technology used in the project, but an overview of the project and its salient features would be handy.

Be prepared

It is likely that at the culmination of the interview the panel might ask if you have any questions for them. If you truly have none, say so. But at this point the safe and good questions to ask the interviewer are: 

It is not a good idea at this point to casually enquire -- like a 32-year old software engineer from Delhi did --  'So, what does your company do?'

Even if you have no clue what the company does, look it up on the Internet later. But flaunting your ignorance is not going to curry favour with your interviewer.

Don't chitchat

Resist engaging your questioner in a conversation. Don't ask him for feedback -- he cannot give it to you.

If he calls at the scheduled time but you can't give the interview at that time, don't try to reschedule the interview with him. This is not his job and will be done by the HR department. He will notify his HR who will either inform your placement consultant or talk to you directly.

I had the strangest experience of a 35-year old project leader from Mumbai telling me: 'Madam you state the time. Please you tell me when you are free. It is very boring to go through HR!'

--Gauri Mitra is a project leader with a well-known IT company.


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