Simon Gray en Career Development, Directors and Executives, Human Resources Professionals Ambassador • beBee 8/11/2017 · 5 min de lectura · +300

How to win at telephone / video interviews...

Through my private coaching and 'Executive Edge' online I regularly provide advice on how to win at face-to-face interviews.

When we hear the word 'interview' this is what most people immediately think of – a face-to-face meeting where you pit your wits against one, or sometimes multiple interviewers. They're often the thing people dread, but also want at the same time – the bridge to the job offer and something that must be crossed!

How you choose to approach your executive job interview is the key determinant of your success or failure. How To Win At Executive Job Interviews provides an overview of the approach I recommend and will encourage you to think about your next executive job interview in a completely different way.

A face-to-face interview is one thing, but what happens when your first interview is conducted by phone or video conference?

This was the question Charlie asked me last week and one I will provide advice on now. It's a great question, because phone or video interviews can actually be much more difficult to handle than face-to-face interviews, and in order not to falter it pays to have a strategy in place.

The first thing to say is that all the normal advice of how to prepare for, execute and follow up your executive job interview applies here too. If you need further help there is a chapter in Super Secrets of Successful Executive Job Search on this topic and also a comprehensive section in 'Executive Edge' online (step 4 of the process section).

Telephone or video interviews add an additional dimension, more complication and definitely more things to think about. In what follows I'll explain why employers conduct phone / video interviews in the first place and provide specific advice on handling each in turn to increase the probability of you progressing to the next stage of the recruitment process.

Why do employers conduct phone / video interviews?

There are three main reasons why employers decide to conduct this type of interview and it's important to note that a phone / video interview is usually not a replacement for a face-to-face interview, but instead an extra step in the process before an employer (or recruiter) commits to a meeting:

1. Quantity – if an employer has a high number of suitable candidates for a position and is struggling to decide on who to initially meet from CVs / resumes submitted, online research (this includes LinkedIn) or advice from an executive recruiter (assuming they are using an executive search firm), introducing a phone / video interview into the mix can increase the volume of candidates they can vet and is an opportunity to gather additional information before making a decision on who to meet in person.

2. Time – one of the reasons an employer can meet more candidates via phone or video conference is because the expectation of how long they'll last is usually less than for a face-to-face interview. For face-to-face interviews there is normally a minimum accepted time period over which these should run and this tends to be an hour. Even if the employer makes a decision 20 minutes into the interview they'll usually run to the full hour out of politeness. When it comes to phone / video interviews the expectation is shorter – 30 minutes is much more likely and as such more candidates can be brought into the process. Telephone / video interviews also tend to me more flexible – there are no travel considerations to worry about and there is more scope to fit them outside of normal working hours for both the candidate and the employer.

3. Test – phone / video interviews tend to push people out of their existing comfort zones. This could be a strategy adopted by the employer as an additional test or more likely used when telephone skills and online meetings will be an important part of the position – for example in multinational organisations with people located across different countries and time zones.

How to handle telephone interviews:

The main challenge with telephone interviews is that you can't see the person you're speaking with. As the majority of human communication is conveyed not in the words we say, but the body language we use, this can make seamless communication all the more tricky. When you meet someone in person it's rare to interrupt or cut across them because their body language assists to inform the transition from listener to speaker. Even without intending to, on the phone it's much more likely that you'll inadvertently talk over the other person – it's not that you're being rude, it's simply because a huge part of our communication is not in play. This is one of the reasons it can be argued that phone interviews are more difficult than video interviews, although the latter throws up its own challenges, which I'll share with you shortly.

How to win at telephone / video interviews...

Despite these challenges there's still an opportunity to turn the odds in your favour and remember, if your first interview is on the phone it's very likely it will be the same for your competition too. Following the advice below will give you an edge and help tip the probability of progression to the next stage in your favour, ahead of your competition.

1. Remove distractions – await the call in a quiet environment where you won't be disturbed. If the family are downstairs it's time to retire upstairs and make sure you let them know that you're not to be interrupted. Switch off anything in your immediate surroundings that could ping, ring or make a noise. This goes for visual distractions too – turn off email, social media and anything that could divert your attention. If you're distracted on the call, even if you think the other party won't notice, I can promise you that they will!

2. State – dress as you would for a face-to-face interview as this gets you into the right state of mind. Even if your interview takes place outside of working hours where you would normally be in more casual dress – you will feel and perform much better if you're dressed as you would be for a face-to-face meeting.

3. Project – a trick I learned during my time in recruitment was to stand up when on the phone. Opening your body empowers you to project your voice and psychologically this will give you more confidence (this is similar to the advice I provide for face-to-face interviews where while waiting, you should avoid sitting in reception).

4. Visualise – although you can't see the interviewer (or interviewers) you can somewhat circumvent this via their LinkedIn picture or similar from the company website. Although the social cues will be absent, having an image in front of you will reassure you that they're only human.

5. Ditch the mobile – mobile signals can be temperamental and the last thing you want to do is lose connection mid-sentence. A landline will provide a more robust connection, but if you're taking the call at home where a family member could answer, make sure they don't and are fully briefed (see point 1. above). Using a landline also forces you to think about your location and removes the temptation to conduct this important call on the move. [If a landline is not possible and you need to use your mobile to take the call, make sure you are in a good signal area and stand still. If you need to take the call outside think carefully about your location – a car park or underneath a flight path are never a good idea.

How to handle video interviews:

Whether it's Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting or some other platform that the interviewer decides to use for your interview, it doesn't really matter. All have similar functionality, but there will be specific nuances to each platform that it pays to be aware of.

Points 1. and 2. I presented for phone interviews are applicable here, but there are additional considerations that pertain specifically to video interviews.

1. Prepare – where possible familiarise yourself with the video-conferencing platform in advance. Skype is free and testing out the controls and functionality before your video interview is well advised. For more sophisticated platforms where a subscription is required this may not be possible, but a quick Google search will throw up a whole host of information on how the employer's chosen solution works and what you can expect.

2. Backdrop – if you're on camera dress code is critical to get right, but it's not only you that will be in view – what's behind you will be too. An uncluttered office environment will do the trick and if you're at home it's similar advice. Find a neutral backdrop that won't distract your interviewer and communicates a professional image. The bathroom might be the quietest room in the house, but your home office will send a much better message.

3. Audio – perhaps surprisingly, when it comes to video interviews audio is much more important. My advice is to always use a headset that you've tested in advance, which will reduce the risk of ambient noise impacting the conversation, and feedback from the interviewer's voice leaving your speakers and echoing back to them through your microphone. A professional headset (illustrated in the image below), which usually connects via a USB port will work well or more discreet headphones that connect through your audio jack will serve the same purpose. The key is to test the quality of your headgear in advance.

4. Look at the camera – one of the complications of video interviews is that looking into the interviewer's eyes doesn't equate to you actually looking into their eyes. To best achieve this you have to look at the camera, which can seem rather strange and is easy to forget – a simple tip is to use a visual reference next to your camera such as a post-it note.

5. Level playing field – with face-to-face interviews I advise establishing a level playing field. This sets the right psychological stage for any interview and also relates to video interviews. In the image below the lady in the picture is looking down at her laptop, which for the person on the other end of the video conference could send the wrong message e.g. talking down. Raising the laptop so that the camera meets her line of sight would serve her much better.

6. Internet connection – video conferencing relies on a good broadband connection (see Charlie's feedback below). If you don't have one arrange to go somewhere that has, which could be a friend or family member's house.

And finally...remember to stay in control:

In the approach I advocate for successful executive job search I emphasise the importance of proactive control.

If you have a phone interview set for 7pm and the employer is calling you, what happens if by 7.15pm you've heard nothing? What's your contingency plan and what do you do next?

If the telephone interview was arranged by an executive recruiter they may not be available to speak to and it's best practice to always have the employer's phone number (or at the very least their email address) to hand. A mobile number is preferred, as navigating an office switchboard after hours is never easy. Providing you explain why you're requesting this information upfront you'll generally be given it – you'll then feel more relaxed and know what to do if the call doesn't come in. [The same advice to obtain a phone number just in case also applies for video interviews – particularly if there's a last-minute technical hitch.]

However, despite your best efforts things can and do sometimes go wrong and you may be thrown a curve ball that you're not expecting.

Charlie emailed me earlier today to relay what happened on his video interview this week.

In his own words:

'After the first 30 seconds they asked me to switch off my video as their capacity could not cope with too many video calls! This was a bit surprising and removed my ability to sense the people or situation.'

In this situation the video interview becomes a phone interview and the conversation continues as normal...but sometimes as has been well publicised the unexpected really does happen. 25 million views of this video say so and despite planning to avoid such a scenario, if this happens to you, my advice here is to keep going. We're all human and when things happen beyond our control it's how we handle them that counts. Who knows, when decisions are being made on who to progress to the next stage of any interview process, they may even serve to make us more memorable!

I hope you found this article useful and if you've faced a phone or video interview and have an experience or some advice to share, please let me know in the comments box below.