The foolproof guide to mastering telephone interviews

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It’s common for hiring managers to use telephone interviews as the first stage of a job interview process.

Why, you may ask?

Largely, it’s down to cost. Using the phone, rather than a face to face session, means that businesses can screen many candidates quickly, with the lowest overall expenditure.

Here’s a step by step guide to mastering what could be one of the most important 60 minutes of your career:

Step 1: Preparation

Although a telephone interview is relatively straightforward, 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.

Ensure you are prepared well in advance, once the interview is booked. Find a quiet space, with good mobile signal (assuming you’re not using a landline), preferably indoors and free from distractions. Don’t forget to charge your mobile too!

Step 2: Practice

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.

Step 3: Research

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.

Step 4: Plan

Plan for possible questions you may be asked before your interview. Consider answers you can give, including good experience examples for competency based questions. It may be wise to prepare an ‘elevator pitch,’ i.e. a set couple of sentences describing why you’d be perfect for the new opportunity.

Lastly, asking your own questions shows you are interested in the company and job role. 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.

Step 5: Master your technique

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. Before the session, you could study some relevant material on your company or industry before the scheduled call so that your mind is already focused on work.

Make sure you smile when answering your phone. If you force yourself to smile, you physically become more relaxed and therefore your voice will sound more confident, friendly and assertive.

Standing up, rather than sitting down, can be a good way to keep your confidence and enthusiasm levels high. Professional salesmen use this technique to keep them focused and alert when making high-pressure sales calls. You might consider using a headset, if you have one, which can help you concentrate on talking and thinking, rather than holding your phone. It also allows you to use your hands to complement your responses.

Finally, make sure you keep a copy of your CV, cover letter, application form, and any notes you may have made on the company in question to hand. Telephone interviews will usually be time limited, so questions will tend to focus on your 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.

Step 6: Conclusion

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 an 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 in employees.

For more advice, take a look at our blog or the candidate support pages on our website.