How to prepare for a phone interview
Been invited to a telephone interview? Here’s our top tips on how to ace it.
So you’ve applied for your dream job and been invited for an initial telephone interview. Congratulations – getting to the first stage is often the hardest part. But whether you’re a natural on phone calls or they fill you with fear, the telephone interview should not be overlooked.
What is a telephone interview?
Telephone interviews are a way to filter out candidates who recruiters and employers feel are unsuitable based upon the job description, personality fit and experience required. It can be carried out by the companies HR and recruitment teams, or it might be with your potential new line-manager.
It can be as short as 15 minutes, or take up to an hour, and it’s essentially a way for your potential new employer to ensure that your CV sticks to the facts, before they bring you in for a face to face interview.
How do you prepare for a telephone interview?
First and foremost, have a snappy elevator pitch in the front of your mind that sums up who you are and your experience in a brief and concise way.
Start with your current position, and lay out your key responsibilities there. Then, summarise the key educational and professional steps you’ve taken to get there.
Top Tip: Remember to keep it brief – three to four sentences will do. You’ve got the whole interview to go into further detail on your key achievements and skills.
Make sure you know your CV and cover letter inside out. Alternatively have it with you at the time of the interview as a referral tool. This is what you’ll be questioned on. The best part of a telephone interview is that you can keep your CV in front of you, so you can refer to it if you get tongue tied.
Top Tip: In the call, they’re going to be fact checking your CV and cover letter, so make sure you go over these and think of anecdotal evidence of your previous experience that you can share on the phone.
It’s also important to show your enthusiasm for the job on a telephone interview.
How do you conduct a phone interview?
While the interviewer can’t see you, it’s still a good idea to dress smartly. This will help you feel more professional, and you’ll carry out the phone interview with more confidence. Plus, if your phone signal cuts out and you have to resort to video interview, at least you’ll look the part if this happens!
Starting the call
When you answer the phone make sure you sound professional – not like you’re greeting your mates!
Be sure to smile too, as this naturally ensures you sound enthusiastic.
When it comes to answering competency-based telephone interview questions, try to use the STAR technique, where you lay out the situation you were facing, the task you had to do, the action you took and what the result was.
- Situation: Start by outlining the situation you were in.
- Task: Talk about the task at hand. What was required of you?
- Action: What did you do? What action/s did you take and why?
- Result: Summarise the results of your actions.
This will help you to show your experience for the position, and to formulate your answers in a clear, concise and confident manner.
Telephone Interview Questions
Each telephone interview is different
Questions are used in a way to confirm the details on the CV were correct, gaps in the CV can be accounted for, that the experience matches the language used by the individual, the confidence matches the level of experience, and the candidate can demonstrate their work in a variety of ways.”
Job interview questions will be varied, but you’re likely to be asked questions in line with the below, so it’s a good idea to prepare for them using the STAR technique.
- Tell me about yourself and your experience?
- Why do you want to work in this industry?
- Why do you want this role?
- Why do you want to work at this company in particular?
- What is your greatest achievement?
- Can you share any experience of when you managed a team?
- Tell me about a challenge you have faced and how you solved it?
- Where do you see your career heading in the next five years?
- Why should we hire you?
- What do you do in your personal time?
Common telephone interview mistakes
A common mistake people make when on a telephone interview is that they start to waffle. It’s easy to do, when you can’t see the recruiter’s face it’s tricky to gauge what they’re thinking. But don’t worry about silences on the call - it’s not your job to fill them. Feel comfortable to stop talking when you have made your point.
People can make the common mistake of thinking that the interview is less formal when it takes place on the phone, but it’s important that you treat it in the exact same way that you would a face-to-face interview. Keep it professional, and make sure you’re fully prepared.
What should you ask your interviewer?
Asking questions during a telephone interview is a good idea, and shows your aptitude to the job in question. This is not the time to ask about holiday entitlement, or company bonuses; you should use this as an opportunity to find out about what the day to day entails, how big your potential team will be, and what opportunities for career progression are.
As long as you prepare, act confidently and show your enthusiasm for the role, you’ll do brilliantly. Remember to write down your feedback after the phone interview too, such as questions you weren’t prepared for, or questions you wish you’d asked, so that you can prepare better for next time.
Top tips for keeping calm during a phone interview
- Plan ahead
- Find a quiet place with no distractions
- Count to ten before the call
- Control your breathing
- Stay positive
- Have water at the ready
Research and plan your telephone interview
Be prepared. It's normal to be nervous before a telephone interview, but it will really help if you know you've done the groundwork. Make sure you find out as much as you can about the recruiter. Read the job description carefully and think about how you match the selection criteria.
Write down any questions you might like to ask, as well as planning answers to those questions you think are likely to come up – especially questions such as ‘Tell me about yourself’ and ‘What interests you in the job?’.
Practise before the interview
Practice makes perfect. Any experience you have of using the phone in a professional context will help, for example a temporary telesales job, research during work experience or voluntary fundraising. If you feel you need more experience to build your confidence, ask a friend, a relative or someone at your careers service to help. They’ll be able to give you feedback on how you come across by phone.
You could also record yourself so that you can listen back and identify any problems, such as speaking too quietly or quickly.
Control your environment
Turn off the TV. Let your housemates know what's going on and ask them to leave the room and give you some peace and quiet. Only use speakerphone if you're sure there will be no interruptions and you are comfortable with this way of using a phone.
You might want to sit next to a table or desk with your notes, a copy of your application or CV, the interview details and a pen and paper to hand. Put them into a good order so that you can easily reach for information you might want to refer to.
Before you dial, take a couple of deep breaths... and smile! It will show in your voice. You'll forget about your nerves once you're focused on the interview. Speak clearly and at a reasonable pace. If you’re asked a tricky question, take time to think – you can always say something like, 'Let me just reflect on that for a moment,' to buy time.
Pauses are OK, just as in any interview. If you couldn't hear or didn't understand a question, it's fine to ask for clarification.
Answer the phone professionally: 'Good morning, Joe Bloggs speaking' should do the trick. Address your interviewer as Miss, Mrs or Mr unless invited to use his or her first name.
Be animated and enthusiastic, but polite. Don't be overfamiliar and don't start chatting as if you were talking to a friend. Remember to listen carefully and try to be succinct.
It's unlikely that you will need to ring in to an interview, but if you are ringing in, think beforehand what you will say so that you don't fluff it: 'Good morning, please may I speak to Miss Jones; I have a telephone interview with her this morning.'
Remember this is only the preliminary round
Do ask questions at the end, but this is not the time for a discussion about salary, training and start dates. You may find that the telephone interviewer is working on behalf of the employer to do the initial screen of applicants and cannot answer detailed questions about the job and company. If you progress to the next stage, you will have a chance to assess the company in more depth.
Other telephone interview tips: use a landline, turn your mobile phone off, have a glass of water to hand, enunciate, remember to breathe.
Your research. Just like a face-to-face interview, start by finding out as much as you can about the company. Find out about the size and structure of the company, its products and services and the markets it works in (including looking at competitor’s websites). The best place to start is the employer’s website, but also keep an eye out for news articles, which may mention plans for growth and expansion.
Write down any questions you want to ask. A phone interview is a really good opportunity to find out more about the role you’ve applied for, the company culture and opportunities for growth. And always make sure you have a pen and paper handy for note taking (here’s our list of interview questions for employers, just in case you’re struggling for inspiration).
Have your CV to hand. In all probability, the recruiter will have a copy of it too, so you may not be asked about it in detail. However, they may open the interview by asking questions about your experience. It’s also a good way to ease into the call while allowing them to find out how communicative you are.
Smile. OK, so we know it sounds strange – but it actually works. Although your interviewer can’t see you (because that would be weird), always try and remain smiling throughout the conversation. It helps ensure you sound upbeat and, according to research, people can actually hear you smile. You have been warned.
Listen. Undoubtedly the most important element to consider. Take on board all elements of their questions, and make note of anything that seems of particular importance, just in case they refer back to it later. Even if they don’t, you can use it as a cheat sheet when answering the inevitable ‘any other questions’ invitation at the end of the interview.
Find a good location. Make sure you are in an area with good cellphone reception (or, ideally, use a landline), where it's quiet enough to hear and calm enough to give the interview your full attention. So, definitely not a Trader Joe's on a Sunday afternoon or a Starbucks during school vacation week.
Do your research. Take time to familiarize yourself with the company--check out their website, take a look at their blog, and get a general sense for what they're all about (pro tip: if you can mention a specific recent company blog post and explain why you liked it, you'll get major bonus points for doing your homework).
Find out about your interviewer on LinkedIn. Add your interviewer on LinkedIn and see what they've been up to. What were their past jobs? Do you have any similar interests in common? You never know, you may find a great point of connection. Most people won't mind if you bring up this LinkedIn-sleuthing directly--in fact, they may appreciate that you took the time to learn more about them.
Keep it conversational. Remember, interviewers aren't just looking for the perfect candidate--they want to find an employee they will enjoy working with too. That's why you'll want to use a friendly, conversational tone in your interviews, rather than robotically answering the questions put forth to you like you're being held at gunpoint.
Speak clearly. As mums around the world will forever remind you--annunciate! No mumbling is allowed around these parts. Speak clearly so your interviewer can hear you properly, and keep water handy in case your mouth gets dry.
Show enthusiasm. Ask about different aspects of the job and express genuine interest and excitement about the opportunity. Don't be afraid to dig for more details about the position--we all know how vague and horrifically bland job postings can be, often packed with garble that's difficult to decipher. You need to get a real sense of the job to know if it's a good fit for you.
Avoid etiquette awkwardness. When dealing with an initial phone interview, it's best to sit tight about benefit and salary questions. This first interview is about impressing your interviewer and showing all that you can offer the company. Save the salary questions for later discussions. On the other hand, if your interviewer brings the salary issue up, go ahead and discuss..
Ask if they have any questions for you. Once you've finished up your Q&A with the interviewer, end things by asking if he/she has any more questions for you. It's a nice way to cap off the conversation and gives a chance for any last-minute concerns.
What are the next steps? As the interview wraps up, make sure to ask what the expected next steps are regarding the position and when you can expect to hear about a follow-up. Not only is this valuable information to have, it also reinforces that you're truly interested.
Follow-up with thanks. Always send your interviewers a quick thank you note. It doesn't have to be a notarized letter of excessive acclamation--just a brief email of thanks will do. Sending a word of thanks simply shows that you appreciate the interviewer taking the time to chat with you. And who doesn't appreciate appreciation?
Don't phone it in. Treat the phone interview with the same seriousness and preparation that you would give to an in-person interview. Remember, this could be the first step to the best job you've ever had!
Treat it differently from a face-to-face interview. Strange as it sounds, it’s a good idea to dress like a professional. Obviously, the interviewer can’t see you, but it’s harder to feel – and therefore sound – professional if you’re still sitting in your dressing gown.
Get distracted. You need to remain focused on the task at hand, something that can prove difficult, if you still have one eye on the TV. The same goes for your partner/family members. They might be being supportive, but your interview should be a two way conversation. Having their frantic arm flapping and mouthed words of encouragement in the background will only put you off.
Eat. There is a time and a place for snacking. Five minutes before your phone interview isn’t it. You might think you’re being quiet – but chances are that you aren’t. A mumbled answer because you have your mouthful is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Especially important if you’re a nervous eater.
Interrupt. The easiest way to avoid irritating the interviewer is to let them finish their sentence, so always allow for a gap before you begin answering. Not only will it give you time to think of a coherent response, it will also mean you don’t speak over the person you’re trying to impress. Just make sure you approach gaps with a degree of caution. There’s a difference between a courteous pause and an awkward silence…
Telephone interview turn offs
- Lots of background noise: cafes are not good places to take the interview call.
- Munching and slurping: have a glass of water nearby just in case your mouth goes dry mid call, but don't eat or drink proper while taking part in a telephone interview.
- Taking other calls or responding to texts: switch off your mobile if you are using a landline; switch off your landline if you are using your mobile... or move to another room.
- Multitasking: resist the urge to reply to emails, check your Facebook page, make your lunch, wash up, and so on. Focus only on the person at the other end of the line.
- Being too laid back, literally: Don't slouch on the couch; sit up straight, as it will help you feel and sound more confident and alert. Some people find taking calls standing up immediately gives energy to their conversation.
Since we haven't descended into SMS texting interviews quite yet, phone interviews are still a regular staple to initially select a first shortlist
If you’ve been invited through to the next stage, read our top tips to nailing your first face to face interview.