Preparing for telephone interviews

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Telephone interviews are often an early part of the recruitment process to screen candidates. They usually last 15 – 30 minutes and are conducted by a recruiter or an employer. The way you prepare for a telephone interview should be taken just as seriously as if you were preparing for a face-to-face interview. The focus will be on your communication, how you articulate your experience and skills, and your ability to build rapport with the interviewer.

Room and sound

The room you choose to have your telephone interview in is important. Ensure you eliminate distractions such as a room with glass where others can look in and interact with you. If you choose to have your interview at home or in a meeting room, put things in place in order to not be disturbed. This could include having a sign on the door, locking the room, letting people know you are busy. Avoid places with a lot of noise such as a busy high street, bus or train station and rooms that echo or have thin walls which allow you to hear others. Remember, the interviewer can hear everything that you can hear. 

Time

Choosing the time of the interview matters. Are you a morning person? Or someone who is more alert in the afternoon or evening? Many employers will allow you to choose a time slot for your interview online or via email. If you need to get from A to B to take your telephone call, give yourself enough time. Be in the most suitable space for your telephone interview at least 20 minutes before. You can use this time for final preparations, printing documents, ensuring your phone is charged and getting a glass of water.

Answering the phone 

How we answer the phone to family, friends, colleagues and clients varies. For many of us, it is second nature to adjust our speaking style and body language. At the start of the interview, you are creating a first impression. Think about the reaction of an interviewer speaking to you when you have just woken up, feel unwell or are out of breath does. What do you normally say when you answer the phone? How do you think you should answer the phone to an interviewer? You might want to say your name. You need to sound natural, professional and approachable.

Interviewers might call from a mobile, office line or withheld number. Make sure your phone can receive calls from caller ID withheld. Keep your phone free from other calls five minutes before your telephone interview is due to start. Dress in interview attire if you feel this could prepare you for the situation. Try smiling when you answer the phone, this will come through in your voice. Use positive body language such as standing or sitting upright. Move around the room a little if it helps and if you feel relaxed this will have an impact on your breathing. 

Interviewer 

What information have you been given about the interviewer? If you know their name, it could be useful to do some research. What is their role / connection to the organisation? What topics could you discuss to help build rapport and show your interest in the role? Spend time researching the employer and department you would be in. This adds to your motivations for the job opportunity. Visit the company or recruitment website or search on LinkedIn. Prepare questions in advance and if you think of any additional ones during the interview you can jot them down. 

Structure of interview 

Many interviewers will give detail about what to expect during the interview. This could include:

  • Interview length
  • The interviewer
  • The type of questions you will be assessed on e.g. competency-based or strength-based 
  • An opportunity for you to ask questions at the end 

Use this information to help you in your preparation. If you have any questions or concerns before the interview, you should be able to get in touch with the recruiter or organisation. 

Listening 

This is an essential skill during a telephone interview. You need to understand what the interviewer is asking and answer appropriately. If at any point you are unsure of a question or an aspect of the interview, seek clarification before answering. When the interviewer is talking, always allow them to finish their question or point before responding. If you continuously cut them off this can be off putting. It can be useful to jot down some key points as you prepare to respond. It is normal to wait a few seconds before answering each question.

Revisiting the job description and your application

Ahead of your telephone interview, look at details of the role. Identify what aspects you are interested in and why. You could pose some questions around this at the end. Look at the person specification and highlight the evidence you used to meet the criteria. This could be a combination of technical and key skills. If you applied for the role with a CV, covering letter, supporting statement or application questions – print these documents and familiarise yourself with your marketing tools ahead of the interview as you could be asked about certain aspects of them. Write keywords on post-it notes or paper to help you recall your examples during the interview. You want to sell yourself in a clear, concise and confident manner. For roles requiring professional qualifications, demonstrate how your knowledge is transferable and if you have excelled, use this as a selling point. Where experience is essential, highlight achievements and build on what you outlined in your application. If you read model answers off a document, the interviewer is likely to pick up on this. You will sound rehearsed rather than conversational. 

Practicing the STAR technique 

Consider using STAR to outline how you meet certain competencies. Draw on a range of examples and think about the tone of your voice when marketing yourself. You need to be enthusiastic about your examples. Be mindful of the length of the interview and practice telling your stories in a timely manner. This could be on the phone with a friend or family member, a careers professional or recording a voice memo on your smart phone. If teamwork is important to the role, think about your best examples. Where did you demonstrate this? What steps did you take to ensure you worked well with others? What did you achieve?

The STAR technique: Situation Task Action Result

Tasks

In preparation for your telephone interview, try some of the tasks below.

  • List all the essential and desirable criteria for the role and practice your examples using STAR with keywords as prompts
  • Arrange a practice telephone interview with someone you trust
  • Research the organisation and interviewer and come up with a list of key points and appropriate questions 
  • Practice your communication skills - body language, tone of voice, listening 

Remember...

This is just one stage of the recruitment process. If you put the effort in to preparing for this and demonstrate that you are a good fit and are passionate about the role, it could result in a face-to-face interview.  

All the best!

 

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