Q: How do you prepare for a phone interview? Is the preparation different than for a face-to-face interview? Are phone interviews always just screening, to see who gets a face-to-face interview?
EM: The preparation is mostly the same – do research on the employer and salary for that kind of work in that area, and on the interviewer(s) too if you know who they are going to be, have ready answers for questions you are likely to be asked, have questions of your own to ask them, and so on. The ways in which the phone interview itself differs from a face-to-face (F2F) interview offer some things to beware of and some things that are to your benefit.
One of the biggest drawbacks of a phone interview is that there is no visual feedback (facial expression, eye contact, body language) from the interviewer(s). Until someone says something, you won’t be able to tell if they are happy or displeased with an answer you’ve given. Keep your answers on the brief side and to the point; don’t go on and on. Let them ask for more information if they want it, or say something like, “Do you want more details about that?”
You are also missing out on information you can gather during a visit to the workplace, including interactions between staff members, the physical set-up of the library and workspace, how happy and/or friendly the employees seem to be there, and how organized and prepared they are when you arrive.
Some advantages (with some preparation):
You can have a copy of the version of your resume you used to get the interview, and the job description, in front of you. These are the things the employer will be focused on, so you should be focused on them too. You can highlight or add notes for yourself of specific skills, experience and accomplishments you want to work into the conversation, if possible.
You can use your computer during the interview: to have the employer’s website open, look something up quickly, record the interviewer(s) name(s) and titles (which you’ll need later for “thank you”s), and/or take notes. Be sure that your attention is not hijacked by what is on the screen, though. Your use of the computer during the interview should be sporadic and brief. You may also need your calendar if all goes well and they want to schedule a follow-up interview.
You can have your questions for them in front of you.
You don’t have to worry about appearing nervous (although nervousness may still reveal itself in your voice).
No traveling, less worry about being late.
Do a mock phone interview, or even better, multiple mock interviews, before the actual interview. If you know someone who has done real-life job interviewing and who is willing to give you honest feedback, that person will be a better mock interviewer than an inexperienced friend who is just asking random interview questions. What I tell clients when I am advising them and/or doing a mock interview is, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with me, when there is nothing at stake.”
Confirm the day and time and who will be calling whom, a day or two before the interview.
Make sure you are in a place that is quiet and where you will not be interrupted or distracted. Have a glass or bottle of water nearby to take a sip if your mouth gets dry, but otherwise don’t eat or drink during the interview.
Smile at least some of the time during the interview – it can help you to feel less nervous and the interviewer(s) will be able to hear it in your voice. Take a (silent) deep breath before answering a question, to give yourself a moment to think. Take care that you are speaking clearly and not too quickly.
Wear a suit, and sit at a table or desk rather than on a sofa or bed or comfy chair. Even though the interviewer(s) can’t see you, you will feel and behave in a way that is more professional, and this is to your advantage when you are being evaluated as a professional.
As for whether the phone interview is for screening: all first interviews are used to decide who moves ahead in the hiring process, but phone interviews may be briefer and used for big picture questions to make sure the employer and applicant are on the same page regarding things like basic qualifications and what you know about the position and the employer. While you as the applicant should not bring up salary until an offer is made, the employer may bring it up earlier, including during a phone interview. Usually this is to determine early on if your requirements are more than they are willing to pay, so you should be ready to discuss that.
A phone interview is rarely the only interview before an offer is made; in fact that is so unusual that it would be a red flag for you as the applicant – you’ll want to meet them in person before making the big decision to accept a job offer, and they should want to meet you and get to know you better before making an offer.