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6 Tips From a PR Pro on Tackling a Phone or Video Interview

Whether you’re looking to get an internship or a job, it’s inevitable that you will be faced with a phone or video interview at some point. On one hand, these types of interviews are great because you can do them anywhere and they give you the freedom to interview without having to make the trip in person. On the other hand, they aren’t exactly like a normal interview, which means they come with their own set of rules and formalities. To give you all the information you need to rock your next phone or video interview we talked to Maddie Schmitz, publicity assistant at Penguin Random House and former Her Conference speaker. So take notes, because with these tips you’ll be ready to tackle any interview.

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1. Know your interviewer

This is a universal tip, whether you have an in-person or digital interview. Not only should you research the company, but also the person conducting the interview. We’re not talking CSI background checks, but a little digging on LinkedIn to see some of his or her past experience can’t hurt. Understanding who you’re talking to can help guide the way you answer questions.

“Check to see if there are any alumni from your university who currently work at the company, and ask if you can ask them about company culture and what their favorite things are about working at there,” suggests Schmitz. “I work in book publishing, for example, and during a phone interview an interviewer asked which of that particular publishing house’s books I had read recently—luckily I had written down a list of recently published books and kept the notes close by during my interview, so I could answer!”

Being over-prepared is always better than under-prepared, so taking notes and keeping them close by is a trick you should use during phone interviews. For video interviews, it’s still great to keep notes, just remember to focus on the interviewer. It’s completely acceptable to take notes during an interview, so writing your prepared notes on the same paper you’ll take notes on is a good trick to make it look less obvious.

2. Know your greeting

For an in-person interview this seems fairly obvious, but for a phone interview especially, this is a super important step. It sets up the tone of your entire interview, so answering confidently it key. One huge mistake collegiettes make is answering the phone with “hi” or “hello.” This response is confusing because your interviewer doesn’t know if you’re the right person, leaving him or her having to ask who is on the other end of the line. This interaction puts you off to an awkward start and can leave you feeling shaky for the rest of the interview.

To avoid this uncomfortable situation, Schmitz suggests, “When you first greet an interviewer, a good start is ‘Hi [name], this is [your name]. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today!’ By saying the interviewer’s name out loud at the beginning of the call, he or she will likely feel instantly more connected to you (and it’ll help you remember his or her name for the rest of the interview)!” If you’re not sure how to address the interviewer, check out how they sign off on their emails to you (assuming you set up the interview via email). If they sign off with just their first name it’s fine to refer to them that way. If you don’t have any emails to reference and you’re still not sure, it’s always appropriate to refer to him or her as “Ms. or Mr.” Once you’ve set up your interview to succeed, you’ll be much more confident in answering questions and sound prepared and focused.

Related: Phone Interview Tips: How to Ace Your Phone Interview

3.  Know what to do if you need to call the interviewer

This is a rare circumstance, but on occasion, the interviewer will ask you to call them. If this is the case, you might be faced with the impossible question of whether you should be early, on time or a little late in calling. But don’t get too caught up in the logistics of it all; your best bet is to call on time. If thy don’t pick up for some reason—you never know, it could happen—then leave a brief message with your name, reason for calling and number.

“[Calling on time] shows that you are taking the interview seriously and are respectful of the interviewer’s time,” says Schmitz. Being prompt is always the best way to go because it shows that you’re serious about the position and reflects your punctuality in the workplace.

4. Be prepared for multiple interviewers

Sometimes you’re faced with a panel of interviewers. This is so multiple employees can get to know you and determine how well you would fit into the company. Oftentimes they are also people you would be working with if you secured the position. But whether you’re face-to-face or over the phone, panel interviews are daunting. It can easily feel like you’re being ganged up on, so it’s important to understand how to attack a panel interview.

Schmitz says the preparation for this interview is similar to a normal interview. “[T]ake a peek at each person’s LinkedIn page to figure out if they are the same level professionally, and try to get an understanding of how each person relates to the others within the company,” says Schmitz. “Do they all work closely on the same team? Does one work just with interns/new hires? During the interview, try to engage with each person on the call equally and call people by name to avoid any confusion.”

This last tip is important because things can get a little confusing over the phone—you remember three-way calling with your friends in fifth grade. For phone interviews, you should also jot each interviewer’s name and position to help keep things straight.

5. Know the types of questions they might ask

Obviously it’s impossible to know what questions your interviewer will ask you because there are countless choices, but for these types of interviews you can usually predict the type of questions you will be asked.

“Phone and video interviews are generally first round, screening interviews,” says Schmitz. “The interviewer (often an HR person) is looking to see how you think and approach problems, how you express yourself, and what your overall personality is like, in addition to making sure that you have the requisite experience and skills that are listed in the job description.” Because these interviews are typically preliminary, it’s best to expect that you will be asked about items on your resume and background information.

Schmitz also says, “Some phone interviews are more casual, and interviewers will ask questions like, ‘Where do you usually get your news?’ or, ‘What kind of books do you like to read?’ These questions help the interviewer understand more about your general interests and determine whether you’ll be a good fit for the culture of the company.” Knowledge about what the company does will help you in these situations, which is why your preparation will pay off in the interview and is extremely important.  You can even check out popular sites like Glassdoor to see what the job interview process is like, and maybe some frequently asked interview questions. The more information you gather, the better.

6. Find a good spot and come prepared

Just because you aren’t going to an office doesn’t mean you can just chill in your living room or at a Starbucks for a phone or video interview. You want to limit all distractions, so find a quiet spot and get there half an hour before your interview to ensure everything works correctly and that you can go over your notes. For a video interview, you want to make sure the wall behind you is plain—it doesn’t look super professional to have old Twilight posters behind you. This way, your interviewer will be focused on you—not all the distracting things around you. In addition, remember to dress for a video interview like you would dress for an in-person interview. The last thing you want to do is accidentally stand up while you’re wearing pajama bottoms. You can also dress professionally for a phone interview, but the most important thing is to feel comfortable. Wear something that makes you feel confident and ready to go.

Lastly, Schmitz says, “Keep a glass of water at hand! And smile while you’re talking—that energy translates across the phone.” Also, be sure to find a space with reliable WiFi. If your apartment’s WiFi isn’t great, reserving a private study room at the library is a good alternative. Give yourself some time to get comfortable and relaxed; with all the prep work you’ve done, the only thing left is to nail your interview!

Interviews can be stressful, and whether they’re on the phone or through video, if you’re prepared mentally and physically you’ll be ready to go. So keep these tips in mind and be ready to start accepting job offers!

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Reilly Tuccinard

South Carolina

Reilly Tuccinard is a University of South Carolina graduate with a love of writing, reading and learning. After spending two years as the Beauty Editor for Her Campus Media and the Editor-in-Chief of HC South Carolina, she is focusing on a career in creative strategy. Friends will tell you she's a a self-proclaimed Grey's Anatomy addict, she can't just watch a movie once and she is a firm believer in anything and everything chocolate.