Preparing for telephone interviews

phone_interview_190When we think of interviews there is a pretty typical scenario we conjure up: office, suits, candidates waiting nervously outside the door. Well, unless you’re really lucky and manage to find a job without a formal interview (rare but it can happen!) this is probably a scenario you’re likely to encounter at some stage in your job search. But your very first interview may be altogether different – it may just be on the other end of a phone. Telephone interviews are frequently used as a screening tool by graduate recruiters to help select candidates for the next stage of the selection process. Just like any other interview you need to practise and prepare, so don’t wait until your phone rings. Find out now what to expect and how to respond.

Don’t get caught out…

  • Some employers will ring out the blue, so make sure you’re ready to take the call. Have some (brief) prompt notes and a copy of your CV/application ready to hand. Jot down some examples of key competencies for quick reference.
  • If you are given a specific time, then you can make more effort to manage your environment and minimise distractions. If you’re using a landline switch off your mobile and vice versa – you don’t want to be interrupted by other calls and text messages.
  • Always keep your phone fully charged and find a strong signal. Losing your connection or conversational flow, can affect your confidence and may well frustrate the interviewer. They are time poor, so not likely to be terribly forgiving of avoidable mistakes.
  • If you’re expecting the call, try to approach it as you would a face to face discussion. And treat it with the same seriousness. By all means, make your surroundings more comfortable (and it’s always a good idea to keep a glass of water handy to help with the dreaded dry throat) but lying on your bed, with the TV on (even with the sound off!) is probably not conducive to a good interview performance.

During the interview

  • Don’t assume that the interviewer has read your CV or application thoroughly – some will, but others merely scan the documents prior to the interview. You need to provide comprehensive answers with good, relevant examples – just as you would in a face to face interview.
  • On the other hand, don’t waffle on. Telephone interviews are quite tightly timed and may only last 15 or 20 minutes. Do your research beforehand (this is not the time to wing it…) and try to condense the salient points into concise interview notes. With this preparation under your belt you should feel more confident about providing good, crisp answers. If you focus on evidence and examples you should do well.
  • It’s normal to feel nervous and you may be tempted to write out verbatim answers, particularly if you’re not a native speaker or are worried you might ‘go blank’. Try not to do this. If you rehearse and regurgitate answers it will make you sound forced and robotic.
  • Word of warning: the interviewer is likely to hear you tapping away on a keyboard, so you might want to think twice about ‘googling’ information during the interview. Unless you are a highly proficient, stealth typist using an inaudible touch screen, it’s probably best to avoid doing this.
  • If you don’t hear the question properly or need further clarification – ask. You won’t get another chance and it’s much better to take the initiative than meandering round the question.
  • You can’t judge the reactions of the interviewer or pick up subtle clues from body language, so if in doubt ask the interviewer if they’re looking for another example or need more evidence. You can simply frame this in terms of, “Have I answered that question fully? Would you like me to elaborate?”
  • Smile! This may seem an odd suggestion given the interviewer can’t actually see you, but smiling (and being animated) will help convey energy and enthusiasm.


  • Some firms will use an external recruitment agency for telephone interviews so you may not be speaking directly to an employee of the firm. They may have a checklist of standard questions, so the process can feel a little impersonal.
  • Depending on the sector, questions may range from the broad and general to the detailed and specific. If you’re applying to financial services organisations you may be subject to a more thorough grilling, including technical, competency and motivational questions.
  • It’s probably sensible to brush up on your commercial awareness, just in case. Almost all employers – regardless of sector – will look for some commerical insight, and many applicants are still failing to deliver the goods.
  • Try to prepare one or two questions to ask at the end of the interview. Ask sensible, intelligent questions (not things that can easily gleaned from the company website or promotional material). This is your opportunity to leave a positive, final impression.

If you have a telephone interview coming up and are worried about what to expect or how to handle it, you can talk it through with a job search adviser or careers consultant. Practice makes perfect, so why not book an appointment to help you hone and refine your interview technique.

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