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11 Effective Tips for a Successful Telephone Interview

Telephone interviews are as popular as ever with companies who are recruiting new employees, but what are they and why do hiring managers use them?

What is a telephone interview?

Phone interviews are predominantly used as the first stage, or screening stage, of the interview process by a hiring manager. They are used to:

  • Clarify information taken from your resume
  • Determine if you have the right qualifications
  • Find out how interested you are in the role
  • Determine your communication skills
  • Decide if they can afford you
  • Understand if you are the right fit for their company

The telephone interview is a quick and cost-effective way of screening potential candidates before bringing people in for an in-person interview, which is a huge investment, in terms of staff time for many companies.

How to excel at a telephone interview

“It’s only a phone interview” is not the right attitude to adopt. The telephone interview is your chance to create the right first impression and it therefore warrants the same amount of preparation you would give to any face-to-face interview.

Here are 10 top tips for excelling at a telephone interview:

1. Plan and prepare

The end goal of the phone interview is securing an in-person interview, so do your company research now. In the best-case scenario, you can expand on this research when you get the face-to face-interview. The worst-case scenario is that you don’t get the second interview, however, you have fine-tuned your research skills, which is a benefit in itself.

Putting in the preparation will prepare you mentally for the interview. It will also help you to understand the job role, be aware of who the company are and know that you are 100% ready to impress the interviewer.

2. Pre-empt and practice

The types of questions you can expect to be asked in a telephone interview are:

  • Can you share any experience of when you managed a team?
  • Tell me about a challenge you have faced and how you solved it
  • Why do you want to work in this industry?
  • Why should we hire you?

Compile a list of potential questions and then prepare answers using the STAR technique:

  • Situation: Start by outlining the situation you were in.
  • Task: Talk about the task at hand. What was required of you?
  • Action: What did you do? What action(s) did you take and why?
  • Result: Summarize the results of your actions.

This preparation is invaluable and can be used for any interview, phone-based or face-to-face.

3. Dress for the job you want

Hang on, no one is going to see you on a telephone interview, so it doesn’t matter what you wear, right? Well actually, it does matter. You don’t have to dress to the nines, but going through the process of dressing for your interview will help you to mentally prepare. So, wear something that makes you feel professional, smart and business-like, as it will help you find your mojo!

4. Location, location, location

Think about the environment you are going to be in when on the telephone. Try to find somewhere calm, quiet and tidy. Can you really give your best if you are sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by chattering people and dirty dishes? Ask yourself where you will feel the most comfortable and professional, eliminate distractions and try to reduce the noise.

5. Landline or mobile phone

When providing the contact telephone number for the interview, think about whether using a landline over your mobile phone is the better option. Hiring managers will be on a tight schedule to complete all the telephone interviews and technical problems will not help your case with needing extra time for the call.

If you are using a mobile phone, check that you are in a full signal area, that you have a full battery and that you have turned off the call-waiting feature. Maybe even call a friend 10 minutes before the call to check that the line sounds clear.

6. Focus

Ensure you have a glass of water to hand and notepad and pen to take notes. Take five minutes before the call to sit and be ready, take a couple of deep breaths and get into the zone. Have a copy of the job description and your CV close by and remind yourself the end goal is to secure an in-person interview. You have planned and prepared, now you just need to be yourself.

7. Smile

The interviewer cannot see you to gauge your body language and neither can you see them, but you still want to make sure you answer the phone with a smile. Answer with your name so that the interviewer knows they have reached the correct person. Use their title when first addressing them and until they have told you to use their first name. Start with some polite small talk and then follow the interviewers lead. Be positive, enunciate your words and remember to smile as much as possible, as it does positively affect the tone of your voice.

8. Be concise

A telephone interview will usually be allocated 30 minutes and you can bet your bottom dollar the interviewer has another interview lined up for straight after yours. That doesn’t mean you should talk faster though. Talk slowly and clearly, but be concise. Resist the temptation to waffle and remember the STAR technique from above when answering any questions.

9. Listen carefully

Even when a phone line is completely clear, you will need to listen very carefully to the questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or if the interviewer could repeat the question. Never shy away from taking a few moments to think about your answers too. Do take notes during the interview, but don’t get caught up in your note-taking so much that you don’t hear what is being said to you.

10. Ask questions

The interviewer should still invite you to ask questions at the end of the phone interview, but remember this is the first stage interview. Now is not the time to start asking about career progression, holiday entitlement or employee benefits. As part of the planning process, you should have prepared a handful of pertinent questions to ask at the end of your interview. The type of question you ask should provide the interviewer with an insight into the research you have done on the company, your interest in the position and the fact that you are asking a relevant question, not just asking for the sake of it!

At the end of the interview, politely enquire as to what the next steps are and when you should expect to hear if you have been successful at this stage. Then thank the interviewer for their time and say goodbye.

11. Follow up

Afterwards, it is a nice gesture to email the interviewer (on the same day the interview took place) to thank them again for their time. Don’t expect a response and do not hound them about when the 2nd stage interviews will be. You will hear from them once they have finished this phase of the interviewing. If a few days have passed after the date they stated you could expect to hear from them, then by all means, drop them a follow-up email to enquire if you were successful and if they had any feedback for you.

Treat the telephone interview with the respect it deserves and by follow the tips above, you will be preparing for a second, face-to-face interview before you know it.

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About the Author Elizabeth Harmon