- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

10 Tips to Ace the Phone Interview

By Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by: Colorado Springs Utilities


The importance of what is often the first step in the candidate selection process is underestimated - the phone interview. Why? Because its purpose is not to help get you in the door, but rather to eliminate you, say job coaches.

So, how do you ace the phone interview? How do you convince the interviewer that he or she needs to meet you in person? Here are 10 tips on how to get into the corporate offices for a face-to-face meeting and, hopefully, a job offer:

1. Set the right tone, right off the bat. "You only get this one chance. The impression you make will determine whether you get the in-person interview," says Jean Kelley, author of "Get A Job; Keep A Job," and president and founder of Jean Kelley Leadership Consulting in Tulsa, Okla. She adds, "People make decisions in the first 30 seconds, so it's important you come out enthusiastic and confident."

Put interviewers at ease by taking the lead and saying, "I'd like you to know that if you don't feel I'm the right person, just tell me, and I won't waste your time," says Jim Camp, author of "NO: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home" and founder of The Camp Group, a coaching firm in Vero Beach, Fla.

"When you set the agenda like that, you keep the barriers down. A lot of times, a new interviewee will push so hard or be so eager and so aggressive that the interviewer wonders, "What's wrong with this person?"" Camp says.

2. Set aside your emotions before the phone rings. "When people are needy, they have a tendency to turn people off. They elevate the voice, speak quickly and fast. We want interviewees to speak slowly, comfortably, lower the voice," Camp says. He suggests taking notes during the interview. Doing so helps you relax, think clearly and slow down your speech.

3. Avoid military jargon and acronyms. Describe your experience without the acronyms, Kelley says. Civilians do not understand military-speak, and using jargon will impede communication. Camp also suggests that you write up a script that is free of jargon so that you can more naturally eliminate it during the interview. "The idea is to create a vision of effectiveness," Camp says.

4. Choose words that emphasize your strengths. Camp says that all military interviewees can rely on three words if they draw a blank - discipline, responsible and leadership. Dovetail those words into your experience.

Take someone in the infantry, Kelley says. "Talk about competencies that are related to that particular position. You are alert, fast thinking, aware of surroundings, bold, willing to go the extra mile, willing to take a calculated risk, healthy, fit, willing to take instruction, to be open to other people's ideas other than my own - a whole list of competencies!"

5. Position yourself as the company's solution. Ask the interviewer for a current challenge that needs to be solved and then explain how you can help. When Camp exited Vietnam in 1973 as a fighter pilot, he interviewed to be a commercial airline pilot. When he posed that same question to an interviewer, he was surprised at the response.

"He said, 'You know, I'm not so worried about military pilots. You guys can fly. But I'm looking for a crew member to get along in small confined space for eight to 10 hours at a time going halfway around the world.' I told him I was used to confined space in fighter jets and that I got along with squadron crew members," Camp says.

6. Do not fudge resume details. "One of the reasons they're calling is to verify the resume," Kelley says. "They may ask some questions about background or dates in the first interviewing process to tack down if you're saying what the resume says. Eighty percent of resumes have a tiny lie or a big one. I've seen a million resumes in my career, and I will say there is a lot of 'date fudging' and quite a bit of 'education fudging.'"

7. Unearth the company culture. Ask if you can speak to current employees and get them to describe the corporate climate, Kelley says. "There are companies that are dishonest and are all show and no go. They have style against substance. You could say, 'May I talk to three people who work at the company to get a broad idea of what it's like there? This is going to be a major decision in my life,'" she says. "Even if they give you someone who is high on the company, you can still find out a lot about the culture."

8. Be likeable. How do you do that, especially if your personality is the opposite of that of the interviewer? Ask the interviewer questions about his or her own experience at the company, Kelley says.

"People like to talk about their companies. Say, 'You seem to like your job. What sold you on this company?' That's a cool question! It gives them an opportunity to talk about themselves and makes you seem better to them. It's a trick, but it'll work most of the time," she says.

9. Respond to questions in a nurturing manner. "If the interviewer asks you a question, then you make a statement, like, 'That's a good question,' or, 'That's an interesting question,'" Camp says.

"Make the nurturing statement and then come back with a question that will give them a chance to tell you what they're looking for. You influence the discussion that way," he adds.

10. Arm yourself with research on the company. When Camp left the military, he overloaded himself with research on the airline industry. He had a three-ring binder of every airliner that contained information about its best markets, the CEO, the fleet of air craft, the age of the fleet, etc.
"Then I literally went to the airport and would stop pilots walking in and ask questions about the airline," Camp says.

By the time he hit the interviews, he was ready. "The chief pilot said, 'Are you sure you're a pilot? You know so much about what we're doing. I've never interviewed anyone like this!'"

There were 30 job openings in the airline industry that year, Camp says, and he landed one of them.


Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.


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