A foolproof guide to handling telephone interviews.*

Typically used as a pre-screening exercise before a face-to-face meeting, telephone interviews are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s job market. Here’s our step by step guide on how to navigate them.

At this stage of the process you will be part of a long list of candidates that the hiring manager(s) and HR are looking to turn into a shortlist. Getting through this process is your first big hurdle and, as ever, preparation is the key to a successful interview.

Interviewing over the phone can be daunting, but if you follow our advice it will be easier than you expect!

1) Dress to impress and find a suitable place to talk

Ideally this should be somewhere you could comfortably do a day’s work. We have heard of candidates conducting phone interviews in their new Ralph Lauren tracksuits sitting in a quiet park, or swimming costumes and a vest sitting by a swimming pool sipping a bloody mary! This isn’t really ideal – in order to present yourself as confident and professional you need to feel confident and professional – and this is best done somewhere free of distractions and potential interruptions, preferably sitting up straight at a table or desk so you can take notes easily and comfortably if you need to.

2) Body Language

This may sound strange as your interviewer(s) can’t see you, but this doesn’t mean that poor body language won’t affect your performance. You should avoid being slumped over or leaning on your desk or kitchen surface. Instead you should have an upright posture that shows you are open to conversation. Personally, I am a fan of standing up to allow me to project my voice and confidence. It also allows you to breathe easier which will keep you focused on the task and relaxed. And remember to smile – you can hear it in your voice!

3) Preparation, preparation, preparation

A telephone interview requires exactly the same preparation as a face-to-face interview. In fact there is one major advantage over a face-to-face: you can refer to your (extensive) notes and throughout the interview without anyone knowing! WIN!
Ahead of the interview I’d recommend preparing answers to some of the following, commonly asked telephone interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself? It’s important to remember that this isn’t about your personal likes and dislikes, it’s about your experience and what makes you the right candidate for the role. Think about the role, what skills (both hard & soft) are needed and what parts of your experience match or are similar to the requirements of the role. Remember to use specific examples!
  • What do you know about our company? Make sure you have a broad understanding of what they do, their products/services, acquisitions, share price (if applicable) and general company performance/reputation. Remember, you do not need to be an expert to the nth degree, just show you have taken the time to understand who they are and where they position themselves.
  • Strengths and weaknesses? Again, remember to focus on the job in hand. Your strengths should show off relevant experience for the role you are discussing. When it comes to weaknesses, please, please steer clear of meaningless answers like; I work too hard, I have a lot, it’s far too hard to pick one. Pick an example of a weakness you’ve identified and worked on so you can show signs of improvement. And always use positive language.

4) You have ears! Remember to use them before you speak

The call will normally begin with the interviewer(s) setting the agenda. This is usually a description of the role with some high level background to the organisation and team/department. Listen and make notes! That way you’ll be able to use their words later to make your answers more credible.

Now that you’ve listened, you need to think about building rapport – just as you would in a face-to-face meeting. What problems or experience do you share with the person on the other end of the phone? It’s time to talk – share information about similar challenges/issues/problems you’ve faced. Talk about different ways to overcome them – and make sure you had a positive outcome or can talk about lessons learnt. This is a great way to break the ice and the interviewer will feel a lot more comfortable with you as a person.

5) Question time

An interview is always a two way street, and now it’s your chance to get some answers. It’s imperative that you have some questions prepared to ask. In my experience, you will often be judged on the questions you ask and not having any might put a question mark over your preparation, intelligence or, worse, suggest you haven’t been thinking at all!

There are hundreds of questions you could ask, try to make them relevant and topical. Think about what you really want to know about the organisation and what it’s like to work there. Avoid questions about salary, benefits and anything that has no relevance to the role or organisation.

6) Manners cost nothing

It never hurts to send a short thank you email to your interviewer (or to your recruitment consultant to pass on). In it you should thank them for their time and confirm that you are interested in the job. Highlight the key skills you have in relation to the role (taking into account what you listened to them say) and confirm your desire and belief that you will add value to the business and team.

Then you might need to show some patience. Depending on the role the interviewer might have a number of people to talk to and it may take a week or two before you hear anything. If you haven’t heard within a couple of weeks, follow up again.

Good luck!

*May not actually be foolproof – this will depend on the particular fool in question.

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