Many recruiters use "telephone interviews" as the first stage of a job interview process. A telephone interview is an effective way for a firm to screen many candidates quickly and with the lowest overall expenditure of any type of interview. This is why companies use this style of interview so frequently.
What is a Telephone Interview?
A telephone interview is a pre-scheduled interview that takes place between a recruiter and a candidate who has applied for a job role that takes place over the telephone. Telephone interviews are usually fairly straightforward and are mainly used to screen poor candidates out of an interview process, rather than to test high quality ones. Often, all recruiters will be looking for from candidates during a telephone interview will be a calm, confident telephone manner and an intelligent set of responses to interview questions.
Prepare for a Telephone Interview
Although a telephone interview is relatively straightforward, even highly capable candidates can be rejected at this early interview 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 talk to 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 have difficulties.
It is 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 aware of current industry specific commercial awareness issues. Be aware of 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 a company website, during your telephone interview.
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.
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. Find a quiet place (a study with a desk is best) to answer the phone and put yourself to work studying some relevant material on your company or industry before the scheduled call so that your mind is already focussed on work.
Make sure you smile when answering your phone. 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.
Standing up, rather than sitting down, can be a good way to keep your confidence and enthusiasm levels high. Professional salesmen use this trick to keep them focussed and alert when making high-pressure sales calls. The best salesmen also 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.
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 adequately considering when they will next be free. 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.
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
If using a mobile phone, remember to charge it on the day of your interview. If your phone cuts out, or starts beeping during 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 top quality responses.
Telephone 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); and, your skills, qualifications and competencies.
Typical Telephone Interview Questions
It is less likely that a telephone interview would include technical questions, brain teaser questions or commercial awareness style questions (although you should still prepare for these questions, just in case).
Example Interview Questions
Typical telephone interview questions may include:
- Why do you want to work in [industry in question]?
- Why do you want to be a [job role in question]?
- What are you most looking forward to in this role?
- Tell me about yourself/take me through your CV.
- Where would you like to be in five years? What do you think you will be doing?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your greatest achievements?
- What motivates you?
- Tell me about a time you have led a team.
- What was your degree grade? Were you happy with this?
Where possible, always use a different example when answering each question.
How Should I Conclude a Telephone Interview?
Part of 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 competencies the employer is looking for in employees.
- Relax - telephone interviews are more concerned with finding out about your personality than your answers to questions.
- Do not use slang or colloquialisms.
- Try to sound confident and capable.
- Make sure you are polite throughout the conversation.
- Review company information before the interview to settle you into the right mindset.
- Practice - ask family or friends to call you and ask interview style questions, before the real thing.
For further related information see:
- General Interview Advice
- Competency Interviews
- Competency Questions
- Common Interview Questions
- Questions to ask your Interviewer