Many years ago, I had a phone screening interview in the nude. I was a student at Harvard and had answered an ad in the New York Times for an internal consulting position with a very large company. One day, I had just stepped out of the shower and was toweling off. The phone rang. I answered it.
The hiring manager for the job was on the line. He asked if I had some time to chat with him. I said, “Sure.” I sat down in my favorite chair and put the towel over my lap. We spoke for about 90 minutes – I was naked the entire time. At the end of the call, the hiring manager invited me to New York to meet a few other people. I got invited back the day before Thanksgiving and received an offer. I started work on January 2.
I never would have landed this job had it not been for my ability to switch into interview mode quickly upon receiving the call. I was able to do that for one reason: preparation. Even though I was naked and right out of the shower, I was prepared for the interview.
After I sent my resume to New York, I spent some time thinking about what they were looking for and how my skills and experience matched up. I thought about what I had accomplished and learned along the way.
The START Method
I used what I call the START method to prepare answers to questions I might receive and highlight certain points that I wanted to make sure I made in an interview. You might be familiar with the START method for answering interview questions. START stands for Situation or Task, Activity, Result, and Takeaway. I prepared a START answer for every criteria they had for the job. I also prepared a START answer for important points I wanted to emphasize.
Here’s an example. They were looking for someone who had great team building skills. I had done a lot of team building in previous jobs, so I created a START answer that went something like this…
“Just before I left my last job so I could return to school, I conducted a team building program for the VPs of Sales and Marketing at my company. They both invited five of their most senior leaders. Sales were down, and the VPs wanted to do some brainstorming to figure out what they could do to meet their annual sales target (the Situation and Task). I began the meeting by exploring reasons for the poor sales performance.
“We listed several potential reasons. One stood out. This was a consumer products business that relied on promotions throughout the year to hit their sales numbers. Sales were down because promotional products weren’t available on time. The Marketing department had taken ads in the local papers advertising the promotions, the Sales department had sold in the products. However, sales were lost because the products weren’t available as advertised.
“We brainstormed several reasons for this problem. Finally, I asked the team to do a flow chart of the product promotion process. Long story short, we found that they were allowing 26 weeks lead time for each promotion. As it turned out, they needed at least 28 weeks lead time to make sure the products were available as advertised. In other words, they were two weeks behind when they started, and that assumed that everything went perfect (the Activity).
“I suggested that they change the cycle to 30 weeks. They did, and the problem went away (the Result). I learned that sometimes really complicated problems can have a simple solutions. Now, when I work with teams, I always encourage them to look for the simplest solution possible (the Takeaway).”
I had about 10 of these START answers prepared. I got to use only five or six of them, but it was enough to get me invited to New York for an in person interview. And that’s all you want from a phone interview – to get invited to an in person interview.
To sum up, you can ace a phone screening interview by being prepared – even if your naked during the interview. Prepare by learning everything you can about the job and company. Then, prepare more START answers than you think you’re going to need. Practice these answers out loud. If you do this, you’ll be ready when that phone call comes.
You might be thinking this is a lot to do, especially if you don’t even know you’re going to get an interview. It is. Many people just won’t take the time to do it. But doing this type of preparation will almost guarantee your success when it comes to phone screening interviews. The extra effort will pay off. It’s only common sense.
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