Phone Interview Tips for Engineers – A Technical Recruiter's Perspective

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Infographic of phone interview tips for engineers

Throughout every engineer’s career, he or she must participate in conversations with hiring managers when seeking new employment or a new position within their current firm.

The typical tool for initiating this process is a phone interview.

Just as your resume is designed to outline your strengths as an engineering professional, the interview process is designed to promote your overall value to an employer, and enable them to envision you on their team.

When you understand how the process works, and apply proven tips for successful employment conversations, you can approach the task with confidence.

Successful Phone Interviewing for Engineers:  Tips from a Recruiter

In my experience of connecting thousands of candidates and employers throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island who seek to find or fill positions for Mechanical Engineers, Quality Engineers, Robotics/Automation Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Manufacturing Engineers, and Civil Engineers, among many others, I know firsthand the steps that candidates should take ensure that their initial phone interview will lead to an in-person interview, and ultimately a job offer.

Phone Interview Tips for Engineers

As with any type of interview, a phone interview is an opportunity to impress a hiring professional with your conduct, personality, knowledge, experience, and work history.

Interviews by phone have become a common means that employers use to screen candidates – and to eliminate them from the slate of people who may otherwise be considered for a face-to-face interview. As a candidate, your goal is to be invited for a subsequent face-to-face interview. Thus, it’s important to remember that you can’t get the job with a phone interview, but you can lose it.

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How to PREPARE for Your Phone Interview

Treat a phone interview as you would an in-person interview. Be prepared by following these tips:

  1. Research the Company and Your Interviewer: Do your research – not only about the company, but also the person who will interview you by phone. Will he or she be a human resource professional, or the technical hiring manager? Knowing these details will enable you to plan your questions and answers accordingly. For example, an HR professional may not ask as many technical questions as a hiring manager, so you’ll want to think about the “bigger picture” when answering, and be careful not to get too technical with your answers.
  2. Prepare Some Questions: In preparing for your interview conversation, write down some questions, and practice asking them out loud. Open-ended questions are best. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to research the firm’s capabilities and services/products, and familiarized yourself with the industry.
  3. Confirm Who Will Initiate the Call: Plan in advance who will call whom, as well as the date, time, and time zone if applicable. Be clear about phone extensions, in case you must use an automated system to reach your interviewer by extension number, or use a dial-by-name directory using a first and/or last name. If timing was not previously discussed, you may also ask how long a phone interview typically takes.
  4. Print Your Resume for Reference: Print your resume and the job description for which you are interviewing, for your reference during the phone interview. Review your strengths and accomplishments, and give serious thought to how and why you are a great fit for the specific open position. Be ready to customize your answers to fit the needs expressed in the job description or by the person who interviews you.
  5. Practice with a Friend over the Phone: Ideally, it’s best to practice with someone over the phone – or to record yourself and listen to it – to help you identify if you speak too quickly, or rely too much on filler-words such as “um” or “like”. This is also an opportunity to notice if you breathe too heavily or hold the phone too close to your mouth. Practice clearly enunciating your words, and get comfortable with speaking at a moderate tempo, with slight pauses as appropriate.
  6. Plan Ahead to Minimize Distractions: Ensure that your conversation will take place in a quiet setting. If you’re interviewing from home, be sure that pets are in separate rooms, and close your windows to minimize sound from vehicles or neighborhood pets. It’s best to use a land line, but if you must use a cell phone, be sure that you have a strong cell signal and that your phone is fully charged. Avoid using speaker phone.
  7. Plan Ahead to Avoid Interruptions: Remove any potential for interruption by disabling the call waiting feature on your cell phone, silencing other land lines or cell phones, hanging a “do not disturb” sign on your door, and lowering the volume on your computer, to avoid the sound of email notifications or reminders.

How to Conduct Yourself DURING Your Phone Interview

  1. Take Notes: Note-taking can be a valuable tool to aid the flow of your conversation, and help you remember and refer back to key points discussed throughout the interview. Hand-written notes are always recommended, since the sound of typing can be distracting to you and your interviewer.
  2. Maintain Your Focus: If you are in front of a computer during your phone interview, do not check your email, surf the Internet, or engage in anything that distracts your focus from the conversation. Some candidates find it helpful during the call to view the Home page of the website of the firm with whom they are interviewing, or a photo of the person with whom they are speaking, if it is available on the firm’s website.
  3. Listen Well and Be Thorough but Concise: Let your interviewer guide the conversation, and listen well to pick up the key points and subtle points he or she makes. When it’s appropriate for you to talk, do not over-talk, and provide thorough but concise answers. Know that it’s OK to have natural pauses in conversation, and gather your thoughts before answering questions; don’t feel compelled to fill “empty air”.
  4. Remember That the Interviewer Cannot See You: In a phone interview, your interviewer cannot assess the non-verbal cues and body language that accompany what you say. All that he or she can use to gauge your enthusiasm and level of interest is your voice, so inflection and tone are very important. Remember to smile, because it can help you to project a positive image and tone of voice.
  5. Evoke a Professional State of Mind: Some people prefer to stand during a phone interview, to project more energy and resonance in their voice. Some people find that dressing as though the interview is in-person helps to evoke a proactive and professional state-of-mind.
  6. Don’t Eat: Avoid chewing gum, sucking on hard candy, or eating anything. It’s a good idea to keep a small glass of water handy, and take small sips to prevent mouth dryness and enhance your voice.
  7. Use the Interviewer’s Name: As often as it seems appropriate, address your interviewer by name. Whether you use his or her first name or last name (prefaced by the formal title of Mr. or Ms.) depends largely on you taking your cue from the conversation. Be sure to listen carefully, and when in doubt, formal is best unless or until the hiring professional invites you to use his or her first name.
  8. Thank the Interviewer and Ask About Next Steps: At the conclusion of the interview, convey your interest in the position discussed (if indeed you are interested) and ask about the typical next steps in the firm’s interview process.

What to Do AFTER Your Phone Interview

  1. Thank Your Interviewer: Within 24 hours, send your interviewer a message to thank him or her for their time and consideration. In today’s business environment, email is universally-accepted since it is faster than U.S. Mail and delivers immediate impact. Avoid texting, since it’s too informal for this purpose. 
  2. Assess the Conversation: Soon after your phone meeting, take time to consider what went well, as well as things that may help you improve for the next opportunity. Consider following up on any specifics that were discussed, should you be invited for a subsequent interview via phone, video, or in-person.
Video Interview Tips

Of the interviews we facilitate, approximately 95% of first-round, non-face to face interviews are conducted by phone. However, video interviews by means such as Skype are becoming more common for second-round meetings, or situations in which a candidate is located such that he or she will never receive an in-person interview, or if the parent company requires a video interview as one of the steps in their hiring process.

In addition to tips already mentioned regarding phone interviews for engineers, these also apply:

  1. Consider Your Backdrop: Make sure the viewable area around you is well-lit and appears to be professional, to minimize distraction and keep the interviewer’s focus on you. A simple, uncluttered environment can enhance the interview experience for you and your interviewer.
  2. Present Yourself Professionally: Even though today’s work environments are generally more casual, most companies expect a candidate to dress professionally for any type of interview. As noted in my article about in-person interviews, How to Prepare for Your Engineering Interview, the appropriate men’s attire is a suit, or a suit jacket and tie with trousers, and women may wear a suit, conservative dress, or blouse/sweater and trousers. To minimize distraction, be conservative with jewelry. Remember to smile and maintain eye contact. Practice your seated posture and minimize leaning or slouching, to enhance your professionalism and visually demonstrate attention to your interviewer.
  3. Test Your Connection in Advance: Be sure to test the video connection well in advance of your scheduled meeting, to determine if you need to relocate for better reception.
Interview Skills Enhance Your Success in Today’s Engineering Job Market

Engineering skills are in high demand in today’s candidate-driven employment market. Opportunities abound for qualified candidates to find exciting and career-enhancing opportunities in their fields of expertise.

More frequently than in the past, a phone interview is the first step to landing your next job. When you heed the general principals outlined in the above phone interview tips for engineers, you will increase your chances of making a positive first impression and advancing to the next stage in the interviewing process.

Don’t Neglect Your Resume

To gain any interview opportunity, it’s important that your resume promotes you well. Some of the most popular engineering resume formats include: Chronological, Functional, and Project-Based. The best format to use depends on your career experience, and how it supports the position you seek. You can learn more about the reasons to use each type, and view resume templates, in my article, The Perfect Engineering Resume.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Head shot of Kristen RoperKristen Roper is Owner and President of TRIAD Engineering Corp. (www.triad-eng.com), an engineering staffing firm based in Lynnfield, Massachusetts that connects successful firms with technical talent throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. For more than 45 years, TRIAD has provided clients with flexible staffing arrangements including contract, contract-to-direct, and direct placement services.