- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Telephone Interviews for Military
by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

Initial interviews are frequently conducted in neutral settings and few settings are as neutral as a telephone conversation. Companies use telephone interviews for several reasons. Any geographic separation between the parties is neutralized and the cost in time and money is minimized. It is also an easy way to add personality to the resume. For those reasons you should expect that many of your initial interviews will likely be conducted on the telephone. Telephone interviews for military can be tricky, however, and deserve special attention.

Telephone interviews are scheduled events. Expect an advance call to arrange a mutually convenient day and time. Make sure that any time zone differences are addressed. Ask the person scheduling the interview for an approximate amount of time to be allotted and determine who is to initiate the call. Verify that both parties have each other's phone numbers. Confirm that the potential employer has everything needed from you to conduct the interview. As in every type of interview, attention to detail is critical.

Likewise, for any interview situation, you must prepare in advance. Make sure you have researched the company. Be knowledgeable about the specific position for which you are being considered. Most importantly, make sure your self-knowledge is sufficient to allow you to emphasize those attributes most relevant to the position.

Compose a set of questions. Select them with two things in mind. One, it is an excellent way for you to learn about the company, the job, and the opportunity. Two, asking appropriate questions sends a very strong signal regarding your level of interest. Do your best to avoid questions that are selfish in nature (salary, benefits or relocation costs, for example) - save those for later in the process.

Decide in advance where you want to be when the phone call takes place. Pick a quiet, comfortable spot where you are unlikely to be interrupted. The use of a desk or table is important because you will be taking notes. Make sure you have access to a glass of water, your resume, your list of questions, writing materials and information about the company.

Being late for an interview is often the kiss of death and this also applies to phone interviews. Be ready to make or receive the call at the scheduled time. End any other incoming calls as quickly as possible. Keep the line free - the interviewer will not be happy with a busy signal. If you have call-waiting on your phone, temporarily deactivate it.

Be patient. If the interview time arrives but the call does not, stay near the phone and wait. If the phone fails to ring during the time you have set aside, call the person and offer to reschedule. Likewise, offer to reschedule if you are initiating the call and the interviewer is unavailable. Resist the temptation to be accusatory. Allow for the possibility that the error is yours, even if that is not the case. Suck it up. Perhaps you are being tested.

Once you and the interviewer are on the phone, introduce yourself. He or she should return the introduction. If this is a multi-person conference call, it is appropriate to ask for introductions to the other individuals who are participating.

In a telephone interview for military, you do not have body language at your disposal, nor do you have access to the cues of the body language of the interviewer. Your words, both their meaning and their delivery, are the only tools at your disposal, so choose them wisely. Having a strong handshake and maintaining eye contact are irrelevant now, but you should still conduct the interview as if you were face-to-face. The fact that you are leaning forward in your chair, nodding and smiling will come through in your voice. You might even want to consider wearing your interview suit during the telephone interview. Although unseen by the interviewer, the fact that you have it on will reinforce the importance of the event and impart a positive influence on both your performance and the outcome.

Establishing rapport is critical. Whether or not the interviewer likes you has a major effect on the outcome. Hopefully your natural enthusiasm, sense of humor, and inquisitiveness will serve you well. To be safe, try to get the interviewer to talk a little bit about his or her background. Do not go overboard - remember who is interviewing whom.

To succeed in any interview, you must state your level of interest and ask for the next step. Since the preferred outcome of a phone interview is often a personal visit to the company (sometimes called a site visit or second-level interview), you should come right out and ask for this. Conversely, if you are not interested in the opportunity, let the interviewer know why. Perhaps you are misreading something or there is a different position available.

Finally, a telephone interview for military requires the same follow-up as any other interview. Send a timely, well-worded email that expresses both your level of interest and also gratitude for the interviewer's time and consideration.


Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military-to-civilian career transition and a Contributing Editor at Civilian Job News.  He served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978. Contact him via e-mail


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