Virtual interviews usually precede in-person interviews, but if you do not make a good impression in a virtual interview, you likely will not get the chance for a face-to-face one. The purpose of the phone interview is for the interviewer to decide whether to invite you to the next interview — which is hopefully an in-person one.
The Internet makes it easy for you to apply for a job anywhere in the world, but the company is not going to incur the expense of bringing you in for an in-person interview unless you are a good fit — and often that is determined through one or more virtual interviews.
You may have two (or more!) virtual interviews before your first in-person interview.
Traditionally, virtual interviews (usually phone interviews) were used to conduct a pre-screening for an in-person interview and to answer any questions not addressed in the résumé. But, today, phone interviews are also replacing some in-person “first interviews.” You may be asked the same questions on the phone you might have expected would be asked in a face-to-face interview. So prepare like you would for an in-person interview.
Virtual interviews are generally shorter than in-person interviews — they may be as short as five minutes, or last up to an hour. The typical phone interview lasts 20-30 minutes. When the phone interview is scheduled, that is the time to ask how much time to allow — and then add 30 minutes to it, just in case.
In-depth phone interviews are also more common in management and executive positions — especially when relocation is required. For these positions, one or two phone interviews may be conducted before an invitation is made for a face-to-face interview.
Virtual interviews can save you time — but they can also save you money. You do not have to drive to an interview (or travel, if relocation is required).
As with a face-to-face interview, there are two possible outcomes from a virtual interview. Either you will advance to another interview (either by phone or face-to-face), or you will be eliminated from consideration.
The most important advice for any type of interview also applies to virtual interviews: Practice really does make perfect.
The Phone Interview
So many first impressions are made on how a jobseeker looks. But what if the first job interview is a phone interview?
This can actually be an advantage to a phone interview — it focuses on content, not appearance. What matters is what you say and how you say it. Phone interviews can be an advantage for jobseekers concerned about age discrimination or being judged by how they look.
Approximately 70 percent of what we communicate is shared nonverbally. However, in a phone interview, all you have to rely on are verbal cues and context.
One of the hardest things about a phone interview is you cannot use the interviewer’s non-verbal cues to judge if you should keep talking or not. To compensate for this, it is best to keep your answers brief: allow the interviewer to ask follow-up questions if he or she wants more information.
Phone interviews are huge time-savers for hiring managers. Some phone interviews are very brief — designed to make an initial introduction, clarify issues on the résumé, or discuss the position. Phone interviews are sometimes called “screening interviews.” That is because they are often used to “weed out” candidates before beginning a round of in-person interviews.
The most common types of information generated from a phone interview are:
- Credential checks — the most common questions asked in phone interviews are those that corroborate facts or information on an application or résumé — or that fill in the blanks for missing information.
- Experience check — if the hiring manager has determined you meet the requirements of the position, the phone interview may be used to verify the experience (asking specific questions about position responsibilities and accomplishments).
- Predictive information — the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Behavioral types of questions ask how you handled a challenge in the past, giving the interviewer insight into how you would perform on this job.
One Forbes article estimated that up to half of screening interviews take place over the phone, not in person. This makes sense. Phone interviews do not require as much time and can be conducted outside the company’s normal work hours, which can be helpful for certain job applicants.
Not all phone interviews are scheduled in advance. If you get a call from a hiring manager or recruiter and it is not a good time to talk (i.e., you are at work, you are driving, or you are someplace noisy, do not answer the call). Instead, call back as soon as you are able to. Remember, you only get one chance to make that first impression. It is better to have the call go to voicemail and call the interviewer back than to perform poorly in an interview you are not prepared for.
If the prospective employer calls unannounced and you decide to do the interview right then, ask if you can excuse yourself to a quiet place and call them back in a few minutes. This will also give you time to prepare for the call. Even a five-minute break can allow you to prepare for the interview.
Most hiring managers do not expect you to be available at a moment’s notice. So if you need to schedule the call for the next day, that is generally fine.
Because a phone interview is perceived as less “personal,” you may be asked “difficult” questions in the phone interview, like “Why did you leave your last job?” or “Why are you looking for a new job?” Remember, one of the primary purposes of a phone interview is its use as a “screening” tool.
You may also find it easier to ask questions on the phone than in face-to-face interviews. For example, at the beginning of the call, you can ask the interviewer for the correct spelling and pronunciation of their name. At the end of the call, you can ask about the next step in the interview process.
Another advantage of a phone interview is that you can take notes. You can also use the information you have prepared ahead of time more extensively than in a face-to-face interview. (However, do not read from your notes!) Create a cheat sheet with your key accomplishments, have your résumé handy, and prepare a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer. The cheat sheet should have specific metrics and accomplishments on it (detail the numbers, percentages, and dollar amounts).
Next, we will take a look at Phone Interview Preparation