So you put in that application and got called up for the next round: the phone or virtual (skype, G+) interview. Go you! It might seem a bit incredulous, but as it turns out, you’re interesting enough after all! That said, you should by no means think your work is done. If anything, it’s just the beginning.

Unlike the in-person interview which – to some degree – allows you the opportunity to gauge some reaction from the interviewer, the phone or virtual interview leaves much to be desired when it comes to determining how you’re faring. Do they like you? Did you answer the questions to their satisfaction? Heck, lousy connection considered, did they even hear you?

You completed the first part of moving on in the hiring process – you caught their interest. Now to the second part – removing all doubt. Here are eight time-proven tips for aceing that phone or virtual interview.

1. Do Your Research

Information, they say, is power. And nowhere is this more true than when it comes to a job interview. Doing your research not only helps make you feel better prepared for the interview, it also makes you feel confident – and confidence on the job is a marvel to behold! What should you research on? First of all, the position you applied for – especially if you got called for the interview months after you forgot you ever applied! Go over the job description and the application you submitted to reacquaint yourself. It will also help ensure that you focus on the highlights; introduce other relevant elements that your one-page resume or cover letter didn’t allow for; and also so you avoid repeating yourself.

Next, do research on the company or organization you are interviewing with. Perhaps apply your Facebook stalking capabilities by checking out the company’s page – what kind of content do they feature? What do they pride themselves on? What’s the latest news in their industry? Based on what you find out, what are your overall impressions? Which of their values resonate with you and how? What are some gaps in their service – and more importantly, how can you help them fill it? What suggestions/recommendations can you can share during the interview? Finally, if you have never participated in an interview before, do yourself a favor and look it up. Google is your friend. Simply search for “how to interview” – or click the phrase – and you will have a wealth of information at your finger tips. Something you actually don’t understand or know? Note it down as a question (Tip 5). Needless to say, ignorance is no excuse.

2. (Don’t) Tell Me About You

We’re willing to bet this – or some variation of this – will be the first question your prospective employers ask you. Why? Besides the obvious – an opportunity to get to know you – it provides you with a chance to relax and calm those interview nerves. But does that mean you should go off on a tangent about the last meal of fufu and palm nut soup you had? Umm, no. Remember, you are in an interview; one for a job or career opportunity to be specific. Keep your response interesting, but targeted. A seasoned interviewer can tell – two sentences into your response – whether you are clueless or if you’ve never actually interviewed before.

Unless your latest fufu episode ties into how much of a good fit you are for the company, try to keep those details to yourself. Remember, the first 30 seconds of an interview are the most crucial – use it to elaborate how you can add value to the company, what your career aspiration is vis-a-vis the current opportunity or what skillsets you have. The fufu talk can come later after you’ve bagged an offer.

3. Dress the Part, Set Up The Mood (Minus the Candles, Please!)

This can be a tricky one. Do you go full business attire for the phone or virtual interview even if they can’t see you? Who is going to know if you just throw on your favorite jeans and a pair of chale wote? If it’s a phone interview, most likely no one. Except you that is. Many recruiters advise that phone interviewees dress the part – yes, down to the button-down shirt, tie and heels – not so you can impress your interviewer with your fashion suave, but so you feel primed for the job on hand: success.

Taking the time to choose your clothing prepares your mind for the interview and gets you into the zone. In the same vein, make sure your location resonates some level of seriousness, but is comfortable enough for you to relax. Again, not just because a noisy background can be distracting during your interview, but to indicate that you actually thought and prepared for your interview. Bad wifi connection? Let the recruiter know beforehand; chances are they will be willing to explore an alternative time or medium. Video interview? Watch the loud colors and patterns. Stick with neutral colors and tones – they can be very distracting. Finally, wear your smile. Proceed to Tip 4 to find out why.

4. Speak Up, Structure Your Responses

Everyone can agree that the outcome of an interview is based largely on what you say. What might not be so apparent however is that a lot rides on what you don’t say. Your tone, posture, gestures can all give you away (And yes, this is most likely why your interviewers can see you on video while you can’t see them). Don’t leave it to chance. Speak up when responding to a question. If you have a bad connection and are not sure about whether your interviewer can hear you or not, don’t be afraid to check in with a “Can you hear me okay”.

Tone. Oh the things a person can tell from your voice. A flat voice automatically translates as bored, uninterested, while a very high pitch rings as (extremely) nervous. If you have either of those, practice before your phone interview! Have a friend – who will tell you the truth – be your sounding board as you practice answering typical interview questions. Live alone? Use your phone to record yourself answering the questions and play it back to yourself, taking note of how clear you sound. Don’t forget to catch those comfort phrases – Umm, Ehh, Really, Definitely, and so on. Remember what we said about wearing your smile? Well, you can actually hear when someone is smiling. In your case being (or sounding) nice can’t hurt. So, yes, smile!

Finally, make sure you structure your responses. A two-part question should have a two-part response. If you can roll both responses into one – without diminishing the response – go for it (yay for summary skills)! Lead the interviewer through your responses. Equally important is to pace yourself. Need a moment to collect your thoughts? Take it. Excuse yourself to take a sip of water and re-collect yourself; that said, don’t over do it. Take note of how quickly the interviewer jumps in after you give a response – a lag or long delay could indicate that they are expecting you to say more (meaning you probably didn’t answer the question fully), while being cut off means you probably answered the question in a round-about way. Factor this information into your next response. At the end of the day, interviewing is a dance – a give and take.

5. Ask Questions, Or One At Least.

I cannot stress how important this is. You might think you are bugging your interviewer – they have jobs to get back to afterall – but you’re not. If anything, recruiters want you to ask them a question. It helps for clarifying doubts upfront and prevents a whole lot of misunderstanding down the line. More importantly, asking questions depicts that you are actually interested in your employer. “I am interested in working for…” How many times have you written that on an application? (We’ll wait while you attempt to count). Now’s the time to prove that interest. Finally, while the power dynamics might have you thinking your whole life depends on this one opportunity, the fact is, you’re also evaluating your employer. Will they be the lucky ones to have awesome you doing what you do best? Bottomline, prepare at least one thoughtful question to ask when “Do you have any questions for us” shows up. And choose it wisely.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice. Get Objective Feedback.

If Tip 4 is any indication the bulk of the work will be on yourself. Unfortunately I have no cookie cutter solutions to offer in this regard – the only way you will get better (and more confident) at interviewing is to practice. In your head, in the shower, with your alter ego or imaginary friend. Right before bed, in front of the mirror, out loud, in a whispher. Have access to a career center or professional? Schedule a mock interview. Heck, organise a mock interview party with your classmates in celebration of senioritis (right at the finish line; the worst kind of procrastination ever).

Practice every chance you get. The more comfortable you are with answering those interview questions, the less pressure you’ll feel. And we can all do with a little less pressure. It’s also important to get some objective feedback – preferably from someone who will give you tough love. The kind of feedback you need? Whether or not they understood you. The point of the interview is usually not to arrive at the right answer, but rather, to lead the interviewer to understanding. (Kazing! As Oprah would say, Tweet Tweet!)

7. Be Yourself.

Now that you’re done reading this, I’ll go ahead and contradict myself. Forget everything I just said. Simply be yourself. If any of the tips and suggestions I have outlined above doesn’t resonate with you, then by all means, put it to the side and find what does. I’m saying this based on the assumption that you are applying for an opportunity you are genuinely interested in or passionate about. In which case you will find something above that resonates with you, or at the very least, you will want to try.

So if all of this sounds like gibberish to you, you probably don’t want that opportunity enough. Do yourself and the recruiter a favor and save everyone some time. Because at the end of the day, there’s no point in pursuing something at the cost of losing who you are. If you do find some value in the above, then add this: when the phone line connects or the G+ Hangout video pops up, smile, and bring yourself to the table. They are interested in you. You got called for that interview. Be creative. Let your personality shine through.

8. Follow Up, Thank You Very Much.

Now this one might sound like a no-brainer, but you will be surprised how many people forget to say a simple thank you. In writing. Sure, you might have thanked them profusely for the interview opportunity, but you also said a lot of things that day. Following up with an email to say thank you shows thoughtfulness, but also – aha – keeps you in their thoughts. If you can, send a hand-written note. Even more thoughtful. All about coding? Code up a robot that delivers the thank you note – no really, if it’s a tech-job and they’ll get the gesture, why not? Get it in the record books – you said thanks! Now what if you had to go on some life-changing mission to Mars and forgot to send a thank you note? I’d say you can still send a note 2-3 days later. A week might be pushing it though. Get it in early.

On that note, thank YOU for reading! Don’t forget to share with someone who might find this useful! Got interview tips? Share below.

Written by Jemila Abdulai. Originally published September 1, 2014.

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