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Tips for telephone interviews

teleEmployers are increasingly using telephone interviews, both as a quick screening process to check candidates against a set of criteria, and in place of standard face-to-face meetings.

If you’re invited to take part in a full-length phone interview, you’ll need to prepare as thoroughly as you would normally. In addition, because you won’t be able to see the recruiter (unless it’s a video call) you’ll need to employ a different range of techniques to build rapport and get your message across.

Get a room
Once you’re given a date and time for the call, organise somewhere quiet to take it.

‘You won’t want to feel that others are listening in, so make sure you’re in a room where you won’t be disturbed, advises Clare Whitmell, who blogs on careers

Clare suggests getting there 10 minutes before the call starts, ‘this will give you time to settle in and go through your notes’, and warns to keep background noise to a minimum, ‘chewing, smoking and drinking will all be amplified down the phone.’

If you take the call at your desk, be sure to turn your computer off, says John Lees, career coach and author of The Interview Expert.

‘Otherwise you may be tempted to read emails or consult Google while you are speaking, which will cause you to lose concentration, which will come across in your voice. Any documents you need, including your CV, should be printed off and to hand.’  

Dress to impress
OK, so a phone interviewer isn’t going to see what you’re wearing – but does that mean you can wear your dressing gown?

‘Phone interviews seem more relaxed because you can do them from home – but that doesn’t mean you should go to any less effort,’ says Rob Williams, an occupational psychologist and author of “Brilliant Verbal Reasoning Tests” and “Brilliant Numeracy Tests”.

‘Wearing business attire will help you get in the right frame of mind, and ensure that your responses aren’t too laid-back.’

Keep it clear and concise
Without visual clues that a face-to-face conversation provides, it’s even more important to get your message across effectively.

John explains: ‘Your voice has to do all the work, including establishing a relationship. Use your voice actively – think about volume, pace, and pitch so that you sound interested and enthusiastic.  If you need a bit of extra confidence, take the phone call standing up. And remember to smile – it will make you sound more positive and friendly.’

Without eye contact to build rapport, you’ll need to a connection other ways.

‘Be sure you know the name of the person interviewing you and use that name from time to time,’ says John. ‘And accept any invitation for small talk at the beginning and the end of the interview as this is your only chance to build a relationship.

‘When you first answer the phone, announce your name with enthusiasm – you don’t want to start sounding flat, or as if you’ve been interrupted.’

Slow down
While time is usually limited in a phone interview, you need to resist the temptation to speed up.

Rob says: ‘Make an effort to slow down and speak clearly and concisely. If you pause occasionally, it will also allow the interviewer to interrupt you and ask questions without feeling uncomfortable.

‘If you need time to collect your thoughts before answering a question, make your interviewer aware that you’re thinking – don’t descend into an ominous silence that may give the wrong impression.’

Remember that your interviewer will be taking notes throughout, so is unlikely to speak continuously.

‘Don’t let this put you off. They are likely to have a set script including structured questions to go through with you. Again, don’t let this formal structure put you off your stride,’ says Rob.

If the person on the other end of the line goes quiet, they could be making notes – or waiting for you to expand on your answer. If you’re not sure, ask for clarification.

Rob suggests asking questions like, ‘Would you like me to give more examples’ or ‘Would you like me to expand further?’

Know what’s coming next
Ask what structure the process will take before the day, or at least at the start of the call, so you know what to expect. How long will it last? Will there be more than one person on the line? Are you going to be asked competency based questions? Will you be offered a choice of topics to brainstorm?

‘If you feel nervous, practise with someone on the phone beforehand,’ suggests Clare. ‘It will give you confidence and provide useful feedback on areas for improvement. The more confident you feel, the less likely you’ll show telltale signs of nervousness, such as a wobbly voice, or too-fast delivery.

‘Don’t forget to thank the interviewer at the end of the call for their time, and ask about the next stage in the application process – when you might hear back, for example.

‘Ask for their email address and you can write to say thank you and reiterate your interest in the role, as well as outline any key points you feel needed further clarification.’

Book links

The Interview Expert: How to get the job you want by John Lees:

Brilliant Verbal Reasoning Tests – Everything You Need to Know to Pass Verbal Reasoning Tests by Rob Williams:

Brilliant Numeracy Tests: Everything You Need to Know to Pass Numeracy Tests by Rob Williams:

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