Updated 26 February 2021
Telephone interviews often take place during the early stages of the job interview process. Some recruiters will use them as a method of shortlisting; others as an opportunity to learn more about the candidates who are applying to work for them.
A telephone interview is often an effective way for a company to screen many candidates quickly and cost-effectively, without having to invest the same level of time and resources needed for face-to-face interviews.
Telephone interviews (and increasingly, Skype interviews) are usually straightforward, since the aim is to eliminate weaker candidates, rather than to test stronger ones.
Often, all recruiters are looking for is a calm, confident telephone manner and an intelligent set of responses to common interview questions.
In some occupations, phone communication is an important responsibility. In this situation, the recruiter will be evaluating how well you can present yourself, convey messages and get your point across clearly and concisely.
Graduate-level telephone interviews are usually short – most last fewer than 30 minutes – and typically comprise a mix of competency-based questions and questions about your CV, work experience and education.
The questions that you will be asked at this initial stage are likely to include your motivations for applying, your career aspirations and to see if you would be a good fit for the company.
They are also an opportunity for you to ask any initial questions about the job or the organisation.
Your aim is to convey enthusiasm and commitment in a short conversation. Sometimes the recruiter will inform you before the interview what you will be discussing – use this to your advantage.
If, for example, they say that they will be discussing your motivations for applying, draw up a list of your skills and explain how they fit in with the company and the position that you have applied for, including positives about the company such as their track record, successes and opportunities for development.
Charge your phone, and have pen and paper to hand.
How to Prepare for a Telephone Interview
Even highly capable candidates can be rejected at this early stage if they are inadequately prepared or not used to speaking in a professional manner over the phone.
For many candidates, the whole situation can feel unnatural – without eye contact, it can be difficult to build rapport and display a strong personality with your interviewer.
Practice is useful, especially if you haven't worked in an office or used a telephone to speak with clients in previous jobs. If you can, try getting friends or family members to call you and ask interview questions.
Candidates who don't think they'll have any trouble with this style of assessment are often the ones that experience the most difficulty.
It’s important to find out as much as you possibly can about a company, and a job role, before any type of interview; a telephone interview is no exception.
You may receive some information from your prospective employer, but make sure you also visit their website, competitor websites, read relevant trade press, and keep up to date with current industry-specific commercial awareness issues.
Research the size of a company, its structure, its products and services, its markets, competitors and future plans.
Plan for possible questions you may be asked before your interview. Consider answers you can give, including good experience examples for competency-based questions.
Also, spend time thinking up questions you would like to ask your interviewer. Asking your own questions shows you are interested in the company and job role.
For example, ask questions that are relevant to you, but not questions that it would be easy to find out the answers to with a little research on the company’s website.
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How to Have a Successful Interview
Many candidates find it hard to adapt to telephone interviews and struggle to get into interview mode when talking to interviewers over the telephone.
This is not good enough. You need to be as professional and presentable as you would in a face-to-face situation from the moment your interviewer calls.
What to Wear
Although it may sound strange, putting on smart, interview-style clothes before your scheduled telephone interview can help you to focus and get into a professional mindset. You don’t have to wear a tie if that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Create the Right Environment
If you are taking the call at home, make sure that you find a quiet place free from distractions. Turn off the television and the radio, and only use speakerphone if you are sure that you won’t have any interruptions.
You may want to sit at a table or desk so you can make notes during the call or read from notes that you have already prepared.
Put yourself to work studying some relevant material on your company or industry before the scheduled call, so that your mind is already focused on work.
When the phone rings, make sure you smile when answering. If you force yourself to smile, you physically become more relaxed and as a consequence, your voice will sound more confident, friendly and assertive.
If you do this, you will come across much better when speaking.
Posture and Behaviour
Standing up, rather than sitting down, can be a good way to keep your confidence and enthusiasm levels high. Professional salespeople use this trick to keep them focused and alert when making high-pressure sales calls.
The best salespeople often recommend using a headset when making, or taking, important calls. Doing so helps you concentrate on talking and thinking, rather than holding your phone, and allows you to use your hands to complement your responses.
When answering a telephone call from a recruiter, you should answer in a professional manner such as ‘Good morning/Good afternoon, Joe Smith speaking’. Unless you have been told otherwise, address the interviewer as Mr/Mrs/Miss.
As the call progresses, convey warmness and enthusiasm, but don’t become over-familiar with the recruiter or begin talking as you would to a friend. It is important to strike a balance between friendly and professional.
It is not uncommon to be told a little more about the job and/or the company during the telephone interview. This is when taking some notes can prove beneficial. They may provide vital pieces of information that could be helpful if you are successful and progress through to the next stage of interviews.
Common Telephone Interview Mistakes
Candidates that fail telephone interviews often do so because of poor preparation or making minor mistakes. Some common mistakes are discussed below – make sure you steer clear of them.
Candidates who would never use colloquialisms in face-to-face interviews often accidentally use slang during a telephone interview without even realising it, because they are so used to using the phone to talk to friends. You should never use slang in any kind of interview situation.
Arranging Your Interview
Many candidates arrange their interviews without making sure that they will be in a suitable location to take the call. It is essential to properly plan when and where you will be when organising your telephone interview.
Otherwise, you may find yourself in a loud, busy place when your interviewer calls, which is distracting for both the interviewer and you.
Answering the Phone
Your telephone interview begins from the moment you answer the telephone and ends only when the conversation, questions and your goodbyes have been completed. Even your opening "good afternoon" or "good morning" message should be outgoing, engaging and enthusiastic. Aim to impress your interviewer at every stage.
Forgetting Your Interview
Candidates who forget a scheduled telephone interview are destined to fail. If a recruiter calls a candidate who appears to be confused, unprepared and disorganised, they will be unlikely to invite them for a face-to-face interview.
Almost as bad as forgetting your interview is organising your interview at a time, or in a place, where you will be interrupted. Ensure wherever you want to take your telephone interview is a place where you will be left in peace.
Charging Your Telephone
Assuming you’re using a mobile phone, remember to charge it on the day of your interview and put it on ‘do not disturb’ mode. If your phone cuts out or starts beeping during the conversation you risk irritating your interviewer or losing your train of thought.
In most telephone interviews time is strictly limited; you may even feel as though you are being rushed when answering questions. Sometimes time is so strictly limited that interviewers will stop candidates talking even though they have not completely finished answering a question.
This is usually because the candidate has already answered the question well enough and the interviewer has decided that they do not need any further information, and to save time they can move on to the next question.
Don't be worried to take a little time to consider questions, or your responses to them, before answering. Although time is limited, your interviewer should understand that candidates need to take some time to produce good responses.
Try to provide succinct answers that convey everything you want to say but in the quickest possible way.
Time can be limited: it's not always a bad sign if your interviewer cuts you off.
Typical Interview Questions
Telephone interviews are typically conducted by a member of a firm's human resources (HR) team, or outsourced to a specialist organisation (such as a recruitment consultancy or job assessment organisation). Questions will usually focus on:
- Your CV
- Work experience and academic history
- Your motivations for applying to the firm in question
- The particular industry and job role
- Your knowledge of the firm itself (i.e. competitors, global reach, future plans)
- Your skills, qualifications and competencies
It is less likely that a telephone interview will include technical questions, brain teaser questions or commercial awareness questions (although you should still prepare for these questions, just in case).
5 Example Questions About Your Background
1. "Can you tell me about your major achievements?"
Make sure this is tailored to the job description. Talk about how you improved performance, saved resources or helped to achieve company or individual targets.
2. "What major challenges or problems have you faced?"
Demonstrate that you showed resilience and exceptional problem-solving skills, particularly if, for example, you turned a negative customer experience into a positive one.
3. "Please could you explain why you are leaving your current employment?"
I am looking for a new challenge to further develop my skills in [x].
4. "Can you briefly describe your previous experience?"
Describe your hard skills and qualifications, as well as your soft skills and experience, but make them relevant to the job that you are applying for.
5. "What are your salary expectations for this role?"
It’s generally best to avoid giving an answer. Perhaps bounce it back and ask instead what they consider to be the salary range, and you can tell them if that sounds about right.
10 Example Questions About the Role
I am very interested in this job as I value the vision and values of the company. As a qualified /[job title], I look forward to applying the knowledge and skills I have obtained so far to the ongoing success of the company.
Because it focuses on marketing, which is one of my strongest skills. In my previous role I increased annual organic search engine traffic by 25% after one year. In addition, I can bring my academic knowledge to this role from my degree in marketing.
3. "What applicable experience do you have for this role?"
My academic studies and work experience have positioned me well for this finance role. You mentioned that accuracy and attention to detail are key attributes for the position; I spent a number of weeks during my work placement in a fast-paced procurement department, where I was responsible for checking transactions and cross-referencing paperwork.
4. "Do you think you are overqualified for this opportunity?"
My experience will be of benefit to the company and it will help me succeed in this position. Or something like: Not really – I can bring a wealth of skills, knowledge and expertise to your team.
5. "What contribution will you be able to make to this company?"
Project and teamwork skills. During a work experience placement, I deployed effective team-working strategies [state what exactly] which increased performance [state how] and allowed us to deliver a project before the deadline.
6. "Tell us what you know about this company"
Provide a short overview of the business, including notable events, and mention key phrases from the company mission statement if possible.
Not only are you an industry leader with a great business model, but you are renowned for producing high-quality products that people love. I hope to assist the business serve its customers using my knowledge/skills in [industry].
8. "What challenges are you looking for in this opportunity?"
In my previous job, I gradually took on more responsibilities including [provide real examples relevant to the job] and I look forward to further developing these skills within this role.
9. "What contribution do you think you can make to this organisation?"
I can bring my ability to streamline systems and processes, and save resources. As an example [provide a description].
10. "This opportunity may require some UK and international travel. Would you be willing to travel?"
I am always willing to travel. I believe it is important to meet and communicate with clients face to face, to create positive client relationships.
10 Example Questions about You
1. "What are you looking for in your next career opportunity?"
I am hoping to secure a new opportunity where I can use my written communication skills. As a [job title] at your company, I would be able to apply my extensive academic knowledge to make a valuable contribution to your projects.
During my studies, I would often leave assignments until the last minute, but I am learning how to schedule my time more effectively.
I take a great deal of pride in my customer service skills and take the time to resolve every customer query, even the more difficult or complex ones. I have learned how to effectively identify, understand and resolve a wide range of customer issues, such as [give an example].
4. "Outline a typical work week in your current role"
My work week does vary due to the nature of my role, but during a typical working week, I am responsible for ensuring that projects are progressing and clients are kept updated. Each Monday I attend a team meeting to discuss weekly priorities and then meet again on Friday to discuss the week’s work and set objectives for the following week. As the week progresses, I may need to participate in other meetings to troubleshoot problems or identify solutions.
5. "How would you describe your pace at work?"
I make it a priority to try and work at a consistent and steady pace. I am adept at organising my workload to ensure that tasks are completed before the deadline. As an example, I was accountable for delivering a project over a six-month period. I divided the project up into small, manageable segments, created a schedule and aimed to achieve each of these goals as the days, weeks and months progressed. Following my schedule, I managed to deliver the project two weeks before the deadline.
6. "How do you approach and handle stress?"
As a copywriter, I often have to coordinate multiple projects and clients – and do find that when I am under pressure, I produce some of my best work.
I am really focused on results and this is what motivates me. Whether it is improved customer service or increased sales, I always strive to create a comprehensive strategy to achieve my goals.
I have a range of hobbies such as astronomy, antique collecting, visiting museums and going for walks in the country. I am also an avid reader of different genres and authors.
9. "Explain your career goals"
In the short term, I would like to further develop my marketing skills. Longer-term, I would like to progress into a leadership role with full responsibility for coordinating projects and managing resources.
10. "What type of environment do you prefer at work?"
Generally a quiet one, with breakout areas where teams can have brainstorming sessions or informal chats.
Where possible, always use a different example when answering each question.
Click here for a more comprehensive list of possible graduate-level interview questions.
How Should I Conclude a Telephone Interview?
Part of the reason why firms conduct a telephone interview is to find out how keen candidates are about working at their company and in the particular job role applied for.
It is important to be enthusiastic throughout your telephone conversation, but make a particular effort to be forthcoming at the close.
Your interviewer may be able to tell you at the end of your conversation if they would like to see you for a face-to-face interview.
If they do not, there is no harm in asking when you might hear from them regarding the next interview stage.
If they do, thank your interviewer and ask them for some further details, such as: when, where and with whom your interview will be; if there is anything you should bring with you to the interview, what the interview format will be and how many people you will be up against; and, what are the crucial skills and key competencies the employer is looking for.
Summary: 5 Key Tips to Remember
- Relax. Telephone interviewers are more concerned with finding out about your personality than your answers to questions. If you prepare sufficiently for your interview, you will naturally be more relaxed, and more confident that you will be able to answer the questions that you have been asked in sufficient detail.
- Don't use slang or colloquialisms and make sure that you are polite throughout the conversation. Keep slang words for your friends or informal conversations. Also try not to talk too quickly, so that the interviewer can understand what you are saying.
- Try to sound confident and capable. It is really important that you focus on what the interviewer is saying, so you can answer the questions properly and correctly. Listen to the question, ask for clarification if you need it and speak slowly, confidently and clearly.
- Review company information before the interview to settle you into the right mindset. Find out as much as you can about the company, including its products and services, its markets and competitors. If you can, also try to find out about the department or team where you will be working, so you can learn how they like to work.
- Practice. Ask family or friends to call you and ask interview-style questions, before the real thing.