Most of the interviews that I do with people are over the phone. Most practice interviews with consultants will happen by phone. McKinsey’s first round interviews are typically by phone. If you want to get a job in consulting, it may be imperative to be able to perform well through the phone. Here are some tips to help.
Of paramount importance is the sound quality of your interview. Here’s how to make sure you’re heard.
Get somewhere quiet
A cafeteria is not a good place for a formal interview. Your apartment may be a poor choice if you have loud roommates. Besides making it difficult for you to hear the interviewer, the interviewer may be unimpressed and distracted by background noise, and will often have a hard time hearing you. Get somewhere quiet.
Use earbuds with a mic
Speakerphone just doesn’t seem to cut-it most of the time. Using earbuds seems to greatly reduce the amount of information that you miss, and earbud mics tend to pull your own voice through more clearly than the receiver built in the phone. If you don’t have your own earbuds, see if you can borrow some from a friend when you have a real interview.
Reduce physical vibrations
If you must use a speakerphone, make sure the phone isn’t in direct contact with the table you’re using to write. Taps, bumps, and even scratches from your pen on the paper can come through and reduce clarity. You often don’t need to do anything more than putting your phone on a few books or a sweatshirt to reduce the excess vibration noise.
Sound issues are awful, but they can be forgivable. The interviewer will really be looking for how well you’re able to communicate.
If signposting is important when you are able to physically show the interviewer your paper, you better believe that it’s important over the phone. Effectively signposting and providing same-level agendas for every aspect of analysis or framework building you do can cover a myriad of mistakes when you’re compared to other interviewers. Signposting is one of the quickest paths to becoming a clear communicator when you lack a visual medium to help you explain things. For more on signposting, see here.
Speak more slowly
The fuzz of the phone can reduce the clarity of your consonants. Make sure you speak slowly enough for every consonant to come through clearly.
Repeat back information
You should verify certain bits of information when you’re working with an interviewer in person, but you should up the frequency when you’re on the phone. It’s easy for little bits of sound to get dropped and for neither party to be aware of it. If you repeat back the information that you think is vital (especially specific numerical information), it will reveal anything that the phone company tried to hide.
Don’t speak in a low register
Low, smooth voices don’t tend to come through the phone as clearly. If you have a naturally low voice, try to up your speaking register a touch. Don’t overdo it to sound like Mickey Mouse, but do make sure your voice can cut through the static clearly.
Write things down as clearly and orderly as you do when you’re interviewing in person
It’s a huge mistake to let your paper get sloppy just because the interviewer won’t judge you on it. The clarity and order of your paper will reflect in your vocal performance, so make sure it’s just as presentable when you do a phone interview as when you have an interviewer sitting across the table.
The interviewer may not see you in a nice suit, but it should still be clear that you can be highly professional.
Use a happy voice
Again, you shouldn’t sound like Mickey Mouse, but you should give the impression that you’re enjoying the case process. If you sound bored, intimidated, shy, or confused, the interviewer will be less impressed. Smile as you talk if you have a hard time sounding enthusiastic.
Even if you have a happy-sounding voice, you may still fall into saying everything on a single pitch. Since you don’t have body language or visuals to add punch to your points, you may have to add some (subtle) intonation to stress certain parts of your phrases. Make use of varying pitches and paces to keep the interviewer engaged, while being careful to not sound cartoonish.
Be extra careful about professional language
For whatever reason, many people that can keep strict professional language in person will slip into saying things like “sweet” or “legit” when they talk on the phone. Make sure your language stays elevated, even when you can’t see your interviewer. If you struggle with this, consider doing a phone interview while in a suit, and in a room that seems “business-ish.” Putting yourself in the right context might improve your language.
Make sure that wherever you are, the space will be yours for the duration of the interview. Many schools will have interview rooms that you can schedule for specific amounts of time that will guarantee that no one barges in. These can be good because even if you reserve a study room you may be interrupted by other people checking if your room is occupied, or mistakenly thinking that they have reserved your room. I’ve been on both sides of that mistake, and it can be a problem.
I hope that many of the tips are obvious to you. Focus on making sure that everything is set up to enhance your clarity of thought and communication, and the phone will cease to be a hurdle. With a little practice, many people end up performing better on the phone because it helps remind them to speak and think more clearly. Nail your process and you’ll perform well.
Keep seeking truth.
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