The Ultimate Guide to a Great Phone Interview

Even though you are a freelancer, probably working from home in your pajamas, you might have to have an interview …

Even though you are a freelancer, probably working from home in your pajamas, you might have to have an interview to land your next gig. In today’s world of freelancing, you may be feeling a little rusty when it comes to interviewing.

Often freelance writers are hired based on their portfolios and communication takes place via email. It makes sense that you might feel a little out of practice when a request for a phone interview comes along.

But have no fear! I have lots of little tips and tricks to get you on track and feeling confident in no time.

13 Ways to Rock Your Phone Interviews

Educate yourself

This is the one time it’s okay to stalk someone (sort of.)

First, look up the company online. Check their “About Us” page. Follow them on social media. Read their blogs and tweets. Get a real feel for their vibe.

Remember, they are not just interviewing you! You are interviewing them as well. It is just as important that you feel the company is a good fit for you. You may be able to find other writers on their site and check out their social media.

This will give you insight as to what kind of people they hire.

Do as much digging as you can (legally, and non-creepily of course!) For example, you may find out the person doing your interview is a dog lover. You’ll be able to throw in a few comments about how important animal welfare is to you. Find something to make a personal connection.

Talk about the company with self-assuredness. This shows that you did your homework and the job/company is something you are truly passionate about.

Find the best location

If you have a home office, remove all distractions. Turn off music and the TV. Give the dogs something to keep them busy so they don’t start barking in the middle of your phone interview.

Schedule the call for when the house and the neighborhood are the quietest.

Not all freelancers have a home office. If you leave your house to work, schedule the call during a time when a café or the library is the least busy.

Check your reception with a few practice calls. Make sure there is little to no background noise.

Make sure your phone is charged up and ready to go.

What if they are using FaceTime or Skype?

First, ensure it is just a phone call. Many employers will use Skype to make long-distance (international) calls, but they only plan on using the voice software.

If it is a Skype call and they are expecting to see you on camera, follow these tips to make the best first impression.

  • Look professional. An interview via camera is no different than an interview taking place face-to-face. Yes, that means putting on pants. What would happen if something started falling, or there was another kind of emergency? You might jump up quickly without thinking and put on an exciting show for viewers if you aren’t fully clothed!
  • Choose a neutral background. Don’t sit in front of posters or pictures or busy background wallpaper. Aim for a solid color wall or curtain. It’s best if your back is against the wall so that the interviewer isn’t distracted by whatever is happening behind you in the rest of the room.
  • Sit up straight. Good posture makes you look and feel confident. It makes you look serious and professional as well.
  • Check the video and audio settings. Make several practice calls with the software. Make sure you can see and hear everything.
  • Look at the camera and not at yourself on the screen. This will mimic a face-to-face interview, and the client will appreciate that eye contact.
  • Smile! Even if you are nervous, smile, smile, smile. Interviewers want to see someone who is relaxed and is enjoying the conversation.

Be prepared to brag with relevant examples of your work/history

You could do this by having a copy of your resume in front of you. Prepare to discuss some of your biggest accomplishments.

Write down a list of your skills and expertise. Most of us have been taught that it is impolite to brag. Because of this, it may feel uncomfortable to list off all the reasons you are awesome.

To avoid feeling arrogant, think about this: A client wants to know what you can do for their business.

Instead of starting your sentences with the all-too-common “I am creative, I am efficient, I am a fast learner,” start your sentences with concrete evidence of those abstract ideas.

Try saying something like, “I have always performed best in challenging leadership roles,” or “My co-workers have always been able to rely on my ability to hit deadlines and increase sales.”

Focus on keywords that demonstrate your skills. After all, you are a writer.

Power pose before the interview

Have you ever posed like Wonder Woman or Superman and felt silly? Don’t! It’s actually been proven that power posing instills immediate confidence.

Try this out: Five minutes before taking the call, stand up.

Plant your hands firmly on your hips.

Okay, now shoulders back, puff out your chest just a little.

Take some deep breaths and survey your surroundings, as if you were a king.

Stand like that for a full two minutes. You’ll feel a rush of endorphins and confidence, which will lead to a much smoother telephone conversation.

Breathe

Sometimes when I am nervous I start chatting and then I can’t stop and then I start to say things that are irrelevant and possibly embarrassing, and…yikes. You get the picture.

Take time to focus, breathe, and relax. It may feel impossible to relax, and that’s okay.

Even so, take slow deep breaths right before the phone call begins. It will slow down your heart rate, and you’ll be able to speak slowly and deliberately.

When we are nervous, we tend to speak faster; by forcing ourselves to speak slower, it will just sound like a normal, relaxed conversation.

Smile

A smile is our most powerful tool, not to mention it’s free. Years ago, before I became a full-time freelance writer, I worked in tech support. I had to answer calls and talk to grumpy people all day long.

My smile was my secret magic weapon against the hordes of dissatisfied customers.

Clients can hear a smile, believe me. If you are happy (or even faking it) while speaking to a client, it speaks volumes. It lets the client know that you are excited about their project or company.

Try putting yourself in their shoes. Would you want to hire someone who sounds happy or someone who is quietly answering questions nervously and without enthusiasm? The great news is that even if you are faking the smile, you will genuinely be smiling by the end of the phone call, which translates to a natural happiness high.

Make notes and take notes

This is not a time to rely on your memory. Have a notebook and pen at the ready.

Yes, I do mean take notes the old fashioned way! During an interview, it is likely that your potential client will be able to hear you click-clacking away if you’re using a keyboard. Even if you are diligently taking notes on your computer, the interviewer does not know that.

For all they know, you are emailing your grandma about Sunday dinner.

Using a pen and paper will serve two purposes. First, it’s quiet. You won’t seem disrespectful by typing while the potential client is speaking.

Second, you’ll remain more focused and retain more information. Many experiments have proven that when writing something by hand, you tend to remember those things more easily and for a longer time.

That means that anything your potential client says will be seared into your brain, making you look super awesome when you recite facts back to them.

Bonus tip! If you inform your interviewer that you are taking notes, they will be impressed. Also, they won’t be weirded out when you are silently writing, or if you ask them to repeat something. It shows that you really care.

Stay on topic

We’ve all been roped into conversations with Chatty Cathy and Talkative Ted. Sometimes they are interviewing us.

When this happens, it’s possible that the conversation may lead to unrelated topics. While this could be indicative of a client who doesn’t do a lot of listening, it could also just mean they are nervous as well.

Try gently steering the conversation back towards work-related matters.

Some examples:

“That’s great Ted. I know that you are very busy, so I don’t want to hold you up for too long. Back to what I was saying about…”

“Thanks, Cathy. I have another call to make at 2:30 today, and I want to make sure we have plenty of time to discuss the project at hand…”

Alternatively, you can make sure the potential client knows you have a strict schedule to keep and the interview must be finished by a certain time.

Now, if you are the Chatty Cathy or Talkative Ted, try your best to remain focused on the end goal. However, it is important to strike a balance between being human (talking about your family, for example,) and being a competent candidate.

Listen

Again, this is all about finding a good balance of sharing your personality and making sure you click with the potential client while also keeping the conversation on track.

You should take notes while you listen. Write down the small details of the company and job.

Don’t interrupt the interviewer. Listen closely and wait until they are completely finished asking a question or explaining the project.

Be prepared to answer all the usual questions

One of the hardest, most nerve-wracking parts of the interview process is answering the questions that you know are coming. It’s almost as if we build up these simple questions and answers so much in our mind, that we start to freak out a little.

And then your mind goes blank.

To fix that problem, simply be prepared. Here are the usual questions you will probably be asked.

  • Tell me about yourself. UGH! This one is the worst, isn’t it? It feels so vague. But what the client is really looking for is whether or not you are at ease or a huge bundle of nerves.

When asked this question, refer to your resume. Answer confidently and speak of roles previously held. Don’t ramble.

  • What is your greatest accomplishment? (This question is also disguised as What are you most proud of? or Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond.)

Your response to this tells the client what things are most important to you. Prepare a valuable example to share when asked.

  • Why do you want to work here? It’s probably best you don’t answer with “Because I need a paycheck.” What they are really asking is what makes you perfect for the job. Focus on the specifics of the role or project that really interest you. Be enthusiastic.
  • What is your biggest weakness? Another favorite. But listen up, this one is actually easy because no one is perfect. Place an emphasis on areas you are currently skill-building. Talk about skills that are you sharpening up.
  • Most importantly, when they ask “What questions do you have about the company?” be prepared with a list of questions. It shows enthusiasm and a true interest in the role. Here are some questions you can ask.
    • What is the hardest part of your job?
    • What difficulties is the company currently facing?
    • What type of training is provided?
    • Who is your ideal employee?
    • When can I expect to hear back from you?

Be yourself

Finally, just be you. You are far more likely to stutter and flub up answers when you are trying to be someone else. If you relax and let your true personality shine, everything else will come naturally. And most of the time an interviewer is looking for someone who is genuine and honest, not the best technical writer.

Be honest.

Be thoughtful.

Be thorough.

And don’t forget!

Always send a follow-up thank you note. I do this immediately after hanging up. Everything is fresh in my mind, and I can be specific.

Make sure to point out details that show how well you were listening, and reiterate how thrilled you would be to work with him or her.

Luckily, as a freelancer, you probably don’t have as many formal interviews as a traditional career seeker. Even so, brushing up on your interviewing skills is time well spent. These telephone interviewing skills will help create opportunities everywhere you go.

Ready to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business?
Join Contena

Keep reading

More >
shares