Interview dos and don’ts

Before you buy that new outfit, cut your hair or do your nails, better find out whether they even want to see you in the flesh. Instead, you might want to charge your phone.

“Phone interviews for the most part are done as a preliminary screening mechanism for potential employees,” said Chris Hughes, career adviser for the American University Career Center.

If phone interviews are becoming more common, it is probably because it is more economical for employers, said Karen Burns, author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. 

“If something’s faster, then it’s less expensive,” Burns said. “Usually people are trying to screen you out, not screen you in. So it’s a faster way to screen out people that they probably wouldn’t have considered anyway.”

Ensuring that you make it to the next step of the interview process requires doing well in your phone interview. 

“Prepare for a phone interview almost as you would an in-person interview,” Hughes said. “I don’t mean literally getting dressed up in your apartment, but if you do have a phone interview, treat it just as seriously.”

Hughes noted that people instinctively let down their guard and slip into slang on the phone, often without realizing it. This is to be avoided.

Practice before the interview, just as you would for an in-person interview. If you’re the type of person who has trouble talking on the phone, focus on the advantages. 

“One good thing about doing a phone interview is you’re certainly much freer to refer to notes,” Burns said. “Say you’ve prepared answers to questions that you know you’re going to get asked, and if you’re nervous you might blank out sometimes. In real life, it would look odd if you were shuffling through [notes].”

Another advantage is the ability to move around. Find ways to use and focus extra energy. You can pace in a phone interview, whereas you would most likely be sitting during an in-person interview. “Some people say it’s helpful to look in a mirror,” she added. “At least then you’re looking at another human face.”

Burns suggested practicing speaking in short increments, even using a two-minute timer, to avoid monopolizing the interview due to the lack of visual cues. “Be in a room by yourself,” she also said. “It’s hard to be talking on the phone when someone’s interrupting you, and also it can be a little bit inhibiting.”

Whether by phone or in-person, an interview indicates that the potential employer has already invested time in you, said Kristine Bramsen, who oversees the Job Bank, an employment-assistance program at The Heritage Foundation.  

“Be respectful of that and be fully prepared,” Bramsen said, stressing preparation regardless of the format of the interview. “How well you perform on the phone will determine if you’ll be invited for the personal interview you’re trying to get.”

Burns has held 59 jobs over 40 years in four countries and 22 cities, including Washington. 

“There is a sense of momentousness” to jobs in D.C., she said, even when not working a government job.

Hughes said that researching the company with which you’re interviewing is particularly important for jobs in Washington. 

“Be aware of what that organization’s main initiatives are,” he said. “Also be aware of ideological fit. If you’re working for a group that advocates on behalf of an issue, for example, make sure you believe in that mission of that organization in terms of fulfilling your happiness.”

When it comes to Capitol Hill jobs in particular, keep in mind the fact that you are joining a team effort. “You’ll want to communicate in the interview that you can be a key, trusted asset that advances the mission of the office,” Bramsen said. “If you answer questions with the employer’s interests in mind, you’ll convey that you approach the opportunity from the standpoint of mission loyalty as opposed to ‘it’s all about me.’ ”

If all else fails, just be grateful the phone interview does not require a webcam. “I think phone interviews may decline as employers move increasingly to Skype or other means for video interviews as the initial screen,” Bramsen said.