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Telephone Interviews

Lady Gaga’s song ‘Telephone’ tells us, if anything, exactly how not to behave during a telephone interview: “I have got no service/ In the club, you see, see/ Wha-Wha-What did you say? You're breaking up on me.” Tut, tut Gaga. Obviously, she’s never had a telephone interview before.

Used by all sorts of employers, telephone interviews are a cheap, efficient way of whittling down applicants. Telephone interviews mean you can be interviewed from the comfort of your own home and the recruiter can interview you from the comfort of… um… their office.

By and large, telephone interviews usually last between 20 and 35 minutes, and are often part of the early stages of the recruitment process. However, this doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. After all that effort you put into your application, you don’t want to be carelessly knocked out at the first stage. Think Total Wipeout; you need to leap across those big red balls well enough, so that you score highly and progress to the next round.

How to prepare for a telephone interview…

So how you can you knock their socks off during the telephone interview? First of all, it helps to be prepared. Primarily, this means doing your research. Scrutinise the company’s website, check out their competition and find out the company’s plans for the future. Look for news articles about them and make sure you really (and we mean really) know what’s going on in the industry. What is the company passionate about? Does their outlook match yours?

Write down a list of questions they might ask you during the telephone interview and get someone you know to ask them during a practice interview (preferably over the phone).That means thinking of the most tricky question they could ask you and figuring out how you could answer it. Look at your CV and pinpoint any weaknesses that they might mention. But remember, you don’t want to sound too rehearsed. Check out our interview questions article for more help and an idea of the kinds of questions you might be faced with.

Set the scene for the telephone interview…

As you won’t be travelling to their offices, it’s up to you to create your own interview space at home. Make sure you set the stage and have all your props to hand. That means choosing the best place to have the interview, such as a quiet room with a table or desk. Lounging about on your bed or sofa might not put you in the most professional frame of mind. Shut out any distractions, i.e. TV, radio, pets, children and housemates.

Then check your props: make sure your mobile has good reception and is fully charged. Make sure you have a pen and notebook ready to jot down any notes or important details. Have a glass of water on hand to stem any coughing fits, or to wet your mouth if you find it going dry.

Have your CV in front of you, alongside a list of questions you might want to ask them, a brief summary of achievements and maybe a little bit of research you have done on the company. You shouldn’t be reading off your notes, but it’s useful to have them there as prompts or points of reference if you get stuck.

Since they can’t see you, you don’t have to worry too much about what you’re wearing; although mooching about in UGG boots and pyjamas might not put you in the most professional frame of mind. Sitting up and smiling during the interview also won’t hurt. People can sense a smile across the phone. Honest.

What to do during your telephone interview…

As the recruiter can’t see you, everything will depend on your voice. This doesn’t just mean what you’re saying, but also how you’re saying it. Telephones invite the tendency to gabble away, so try and slow your speech down, even if it feels a bit unnatural. Speaking slowly and clearly is the way to go.

Some people seem to deflate and go a bit lifeless on the telephone. Try to avoid speaking in a monotone by modulating the tone of your voice and also injecting a bit of enthusiasm. You want to sound interested and engaged, not bored out of your wits.

You might want to have a bit of practice before your interview with a friend or family member. You could even record yourself on the telephone to see where you can make improvements. After all, a huge part of telephone interviews is inevitably testing your phone skills and verbal communication.

Recruiters might suffer similar foibles, so make sure you know where the volume control is on the phone and if you can’t hear them, tell them so straight away. Another tip: some people get very irritated when people punctuate their spiel by repeatedly saying ‘yes’ or ‘uh huh.’ So what you could do is repeat back what they’re saying to you, using different words, to show that you’ve been listening and that you understand.

What if they catch you unawares?

Most telephone interviews are prearranged, but some companies might call unexpectedly in response to your CV or application form. If that happens, try and take your phone to a quiet and private location. You can always say something like: “Sorry, would you mind waiting a second while I find somewhere a bit quieter.” If the call happens at a completely inconvenient time (no, during your favourite TV programme doesn’t count), then offer to give them a call back at a set time, but don’t just fob them off.

Another tip is to make sure you personalise your answer machine message so they know they’ve reached your phone, e.g. “Hi, you’ve reached Alex James’ phone, unfortunately I’m not available to take your call at the moment, but please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible”. Your answer machine message shouldn’t involve singing into the phone, “Wagwaaaaan” or dubious Darth Vader sound effects.

So there you have it…  

Telephone interviews can be tricky, but with a dollop of good old preparation and a few tricks up your sleeve, you should be able to rise to the challenge.