Paul Grasso is the president and CEO of The Development Corporation, Clinton County, New York.

For most people, nothing is more stressful than a job interview, with the possible exception of looking for a job but not getting any interviews.

Today, many employers are conducting initial interviews over the telephone. In this tight job market, employers are using telephone interviews as a less expensive way to screen applicants in order to create a smaller universe of candidates that will be invited to an in-person interview. In order words, "weed out" the less qualified candidates.

Often, telephone interviews are seen as being more economical, quicker and easier to administer than the personal interview, especially if the candidate is from out-of-town.


Regardless of whether I've been an employer or whether I've been a jobseeker, I've come to hate telephone interviews. I think they do a disservice to the company and the candidate. Interviewing shouldn't necessarily be quick, easy or inexpensive, especially when you consider how important it is to building a highly performing team.

Maybe I'm old fashioned (my staff would say, "full stop after old"), but how can you assess a candidate without meeting him/her face-to-face? Let alone eliminate him/her from consideration. It makes as much sense as conducting in-person interviews blindfolded.

So you may be surprised to learn that, the above notwithstanding, this week I agreed to participate in conducting initial interviews for a position on the west coast — via conference call. Six candidates from Arizona and Oregon will compete for a job in Los Angeles, and we will whittle the field down to three without having tested a handshake or having looked any of the candidates in the eye.

Really, how impersonal can you get?

To personalize the process, I took the liberty of sending an email to each of the candidates suggesting they research telephone interview strategies. I also offered them the following thoughts on trainings I've attended and articles I've read. I want to share them here for anyone who may suffer the same fate as these six unfortunate souls.

First, I told them the importance of recognizing that a telephone interview is not the same as the traditional in-person interview. In an in-person interview, eye contact, nonverbal communication and personal appearance all play a part in the impression you make. On a telephone interview, everything must be communicated through your voice. Consequently, it is critical that you speak clearly and enthusiastically.

Second, while it's important to show enthusiasm and excitement, it is equally important not to speak too fast. Research shows that you can build rapport with an interviewer if you are able to match your speaking rate and pitch to theirs.

Third, I stressed the importance of keeping their responses concise and to align their responses to the employer's specific needs, as they would in an in-person interview. In my experience, telephone interviewees, because they can't see how the interviewers are reacting, tend to lengthen their answers to ensure they haven't missed anything.

Fourth, I told them that practicing their interviewing skills is as important for a telephone interview as it is for an in-person interview. Maybe more important. Talking intelligently over the phone isn't as easy as you might think. I suggested they have a friend conduct a mock interview and record it, so they can see how they sound over the phone. Those "ums" and "uhs" actually sound worse over the phone than they do in person.

Fifth, I suggested to them that perhaps the only benefit of a telephone interview is that they would be in their own environment. Consequently, they could dress comfortably and put their feet up, or do anything else that relaxed them. However, I suggested they practice interviewing standing up because standing helps a person project a more positive image.

Finally, I suggested that they:

▶ Turn call-waiting off so their call isn't interrupted.

▶ Find a comfortable, quiet setting without children, spouses, roommates or pets.

▶ Use a landline instead of a cell phone.

▶ Remember to smile; it can make your voice sound more friendly and enthusiastic — even over the phone.

As much as I dislike them, telephone interviews are becoming more common. Don't take them lightly. The better prepared you are for a telephone interview, the better your chances for landing an in-person interview.

Paul Grasso is the executive director of the North Country Workforce Investment Board the counties' designated workforce development planning agency, and the North Country Workforce Partnership Inc.

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