Tackling Telephone Interviews

10 August by Miriam Heale


Despite the advent of Skype, Google Hangouts, Go To Meeting and all the other video conferencing tools, telephone interviews are still a commonly used ‘first interview’ technique for businesses big and small.

It allows a recruiter to get a feel for a candidate ahead of a face to face or use it effectively as a pre-interview to probe areas of the candidate’s employment history or knowledge that they have questions about.

Some organisations just like to use telephone interviews as a means of saving the time and expense of having a candidate travel to them, particularly if that company is based overseas.

Although a legitimate recruitment method, it’s not without its problems, etiquette and techniques. Here’s our guide to tackling telephone interviews.

1. Answer the Phone

Perhaps a little obvious but there is an etiquette that needs to be observed. If the telephone interview is arranged for a specific time then answering the phone within the first couple of rings is the equivalent of arriving on time for a face to face interview.

Make sure you are in a quiet, comfortable place, with good phone signal before the phone rings. Interviewers don’t particularly want to hear clunking doors, rushing traffic or background chatter as you get yourself settled.

If you are worried you may not be able to answer straight away or you are likely to be held up, let someone know. Proactivity in these situations is always the best approach.

Similarly, if a specific time hasn’t been arranged and the interviewer calls you when you can’t speak, be honest about it. It is far better to request a time you can call back then try and squeeze in an interview during a doctor’s appointment or in an area with poor phone signal.

2. Do Your Research

Researching the role, the company and (where possible) the interviewer is as essential to interview success over the telephone as it is in person. However, take advantage of the fact that no one can see you so make notes and have them in front of you.

It is also worth considering writing down questions you’d like to ask and answers to questions you think you might be asked in turn. If you’re really prepared you can also have copies of your CV and any other correspondence set out in front of you as well, in case you need to refer back to them.

If you have access to a computer or tablet, it will no doubt prove useful having the company website up to refer to as well.

3. Speak Clearly and Pay Attention

Telephone interviews afford you a lot of flexibility in terms of your level of preparedness and even where you want the interview to take place. You can even take the interview in your pyjamas and dressing gown should you so choose, although we wouldn’t recommend it.

However a major drawback is you get none of the visual cues that you get when you talk to someone face to face. A quip can fall flat over the telephone because it doesn’t have the accompanying body language to communicate that you are telling a joke.

When conducting a telephone interview speak clearly, speak concisely but more importantly: listen. Take in everything you’re being told (make notes if you need to), take a moment to reflect on the answer and then speak.

This has the added benefit of ensuring the interviewer has finished speaking. It’s not always apparent without being able to see the person you are speaking to and taking a moment will avoid inadvertently talking over your interviewer which could count against you.

4. Keep Mobile

For all the temptation that exists to have a telephone interview in bed (it happens) or sat in the garden with a cold drink, research suggests we sound more confident and communicate more effectively by standing and moving around. This is one big advantage a telephone interview has over a traditional face to face interview so take full advantage of it.  

There is a genuine advantage to getting yourself moving and the circulation flowing. It will put you in a better frame of mind, help to clear your thoughts and some find the physical activity helps to dispel the nervous energy synonymous with interviews.Those who have anxiety issues may find this particularly helpful. 

5. Be Positive

Because so much of our mood is understood through non-verbal communication - smiling, eye contact etc - it is very important, when speaking on the phone to a potential employer, to infuse your words with positivity and enthusiasm for the role.

Be positive about your skills and your experiences as well as major achievements. Avoid speaking negatively, even if talking about something that didn’t work so well or an area of improvement. Identify the positives, the lessons you have learned and how you can do better in the future. Absolutely avoid speaking negatively about your current role or employer.

End the call on a positive note by thanking the interviewer for their call and their time. Tell them how much you’d love to take on the role, how well you feel you’d fit within the company and that you are looking forward to hearing from them.

Get all these right and all you have to worry about is answering the questions and being amazing.

Register your details toady or call 01202 888 986 to discuss your requirements with one of our specialist recruiters.