Commonly used by large organisations as a screening process, there's more to telephone interview etiquette than you might expect. Follow our advice and secure a face-to-face interview
A telephone interview is a pre-scheduled job interview, typically lasting half an hour. With technological advancements video interviews are becoming increasingly popular but graduate recruiters such as BT, HSBC, Shell, Tesco and Vodaphone still use telephone interviews as part of their recruitment process.
Popular with recruiters as they save time and help to keep interview costs down, they also eliminate travel costs for the interviewee. However, telephone interviews do have a downside. In most cases you'll be answering questions under a strict time limit and this can increase nerves. Not being able to see the interviewer also presents its own difficulties, as you're unable to gauge their response.
How to prepare
A confident phone manner doesn't come naturally to all and some candidates may feel uncomfortable talking over the phone, but with the appropriate preparation this shouldn't affect your performance.
Just like in any other interview situation you need to research the industry, organisation and job. Visit the company website, competitor sites and read relevant journals and news articles. Do this in advance. Avoid surfing the web for information once you've answered the interviewers call.
You can also plan your responses to frequently asked questions by preparing a list of examples of when and how you've demonstrated each skill or quality listed in the person specification.
To increase your confidence when talking over the phone ask family or friends to call you for a mock interview. Use your research and planned responses to answer their questions and treat this practise as the real thing. Try recording yourself and listening back to get a feel for how you come across over the phone.
Find more tips on how to prepare for an interview.
Telephone interview questions
A member of the HR team usually conducts telephone interviews and you should expect the same questions as in a face-to-face interview.
When answering the call you need to be professional and upbeat. If you've pre-arranged an interview time don't be caught off guard when the phone rings. Remember that this is not an informal chat with a friend. Answer with 'Good morning/good afternoon, (your name) speaking.' Avoid using slang or informal language and maintain this professional tone throughout the interview.
When answering questions be aware of the pace of your speech. Time is limited but don’t rush or mumble, despite your nerves. Be succinct and to the point.
Your responses need to demonstrate your knowledge of, and enthusiasm for the role. Find out how to answer common interview questions.
One of the downsides to telephone interviews is that without visual clues from the interviewer it can be hard to gauge how you're doing. In a face-to-face interview you're able to take direction from the employer's body language and visual responses but this is not possible over the phone. When you're being interviewed in person you're also able to smile and nod to show the interviewer that you're engaged.
During the interview use interjections such as 'Ok', 'I see' and 'I understand' to let the interviewer know you're listening. However, be careful not to interrupt them when they're talking.
Tips for telephone interviews
- Pick a suitable location - This is really important. Avoid noisy, public spaces and instead opt for a private, quiet location such as your home. If you live with family or friends warn them in advance of the call that you need some peace. Minimise background noise by closing windows and turning off televisions or radios. Unless your mobile is charged and receiving full reception, use a landline. Turn electronic devises to silent to avoid distraction.
- Dress to impress - It may sound strange as the recruiter can't see you, but dress for an interview. You shouldn't treat telephone interviews any differently than face-to-face interviews and you wouldn't turn up to meet a potential employer in your pyjamas. Dressing for the part helps to put you in a professional frame of mind and boosts confidence.
- Stand up and smile - Smile to ensure that the interviewer hears the enthusiasm in your voice from the start. To covey energy and confidence take the call standing up. At the very least make sure that you're sat upright at a table.
- Refer to your notes - Being able to have application documents and notes to hand is one of the main advantages of a telephone interview, but don't rely on them too heavily. The employer will hear if you're rustling papers and will be able to tell if you're reciting answers from pre-prepared notes. Instead of reams of paper use concise bullet points as prompts.
- Have a glass of water nearby - Interview nerves and lots of talking can lead to dry mouth, not ideal when you're trying to eloquently express yourself.
- Don't be afraid to ask for clarification - If you miss a particular question don't try to second guess what it might have been. Apologise and politely ask the interview if they can repeat it.
- Take notes - If you're able to multitask jot down any useful information provided by the employer and the questions you're asked during the interview. These notes could be a valuable resource if you're invited for a second interview.
Following up an interview
Don't end the interview with a polite thank-you and then hang up. Just like in face-to-face interviews employers expect you to have a couple of questions of your own. These could be about the role or the company. Stay away from questions about salary, holiday entitlement or start dates. If you're struggling for ideas see questions to ask at an interview.
It's also perfectly acceptable, if the interviewer hasn't mentioned it previously, to enquire about the next stage of the process and when you should expect to hear from them.
If you don't hear back within a couple of weeks, give them a call or send a short email to follow up. Reiterate your interest in the role and thank them again for their time. If you've been unsuccessful on this occasion use this as a chance to ask for feedback on your performance so you can use the lessons learned in future applications.