While usually phone job interviews are scheduled (you should receive an email beforehand fixing an appointment), you may receive an unannounced call. If you are an active jobseeker, stay alert for incoming calls with numbers unfamiliar to you, assuming it will be related to one of your applications.
A phone interview is a popular tool for screening candidates before setting up a face-to-face or video interview—if there are a lot of applicants, a quick phone call helps in shortlisting people.
Preparing for the phone interview
Do your research
As a golden rule to job interviews in general: Learn about operations and culture of the company. Ask around to see whether you have friends or acquaintances who work for the business, so you can receive more insight.
Lacking a visual cue, your attention may wander during a phone interview. Take notes to guide you through the interview, including checklists, reminders and possible questions you would like to ask. You may need to take notes during the interview so have a pen and notepad lying around.
Have CV handy
Keep your CV, motivational letter and the job description at your fingertips, should relating questions arise. Remember: Notes are crutches and not a playbook—do not read up sentences from paper!
Set the scene
Create a calm and quiet environment where nobody can interrupt you—in such a setting you can reduce your stress levels and increase focus on the interview. Minimise background noises and avoid halls or rooms with an echo.
Your mobile must be fully charged, if you are not using a landline. Never use the loudspeaker as it will make the reception fuzzy and will increase background noise levels. If you decide to use a headset with your mobile, make sure that it is working properly. Call a friend to test your setup.
Test and practice
People may feel excited about telephone interviews, especially if they are less experienced. It is worth calling your family to test and practice. It will also give you an opportunity to check in with your loved ones and see how they are doing.
During the phone interview
Be on time
Be ready ten minutes before your phone interview is scheduled. Settle into your environment and keep your phone handy so you do not miss the call when it comes in. Anticipating the call will make you sound prepared and confident when you answer the phone.
Answer your phone
If you live with others, notify them that you are anticipating an important call, so others will not answer the phone for you. When picking up your phone keep it professional and say your full name (“This is John Doe speaking”) to save your interviewer and yourself from the usually awkward phone small talk in the beginning.
Listen and speak
First listen to the interviewer; be attentive. The interviewer will invite you into the conversation, asking questions—this is your time to speak.
- Stay tight to the topic and do not give too short or too long answers.
- Never interrupt your interviewer when they speak.
- Address them using their title or last name with Mr/Ms—you should only use their first name if they specifically ask for it.
If a question is too long, you are allowed to think before you answer; you are not expected to immediately respond to questions. However, make sure that you do not leave a lot of dead space.
Prepare for having no visual aid: Speak fluently and coherently during the interview. The reception may also be fuzzy, so it is imperative to speak clearly helping your interviewer understand everything that you say. Keep it natural though, if you speak laboriously slowly you may sound unnatural.
Dress just as if you were attending a face-to-face or video interview. Your interviewer may not see you (so you could wear swimming trunks with a Hawaiian shirt), but if you dress appropriately it helps you get into a professional mindset. You will act more formally and be able to focus more, suiting the needs of the interview.
Research shows that smiling can make you happier, affecting your brain. If you keep smiling while you speak on the phone, your tone of voice will sound more positive and engaging—enthusiasm is contagious. It will help you leave a positive impression on your interviewer. Some suggest keeping a mirror near that will remind you to keep smiling.
You should not smoke, chew gum or eat during the interview. The interviewer will hear you if you engage in such actions, and it is highly disrespectful. However, keep a glass of water nearby so you can sip into it should your mouth run dry—avoiding that tickling sensation in your throat can prevent you from coughing into the receiver.
Talking on the phone has become part of our lives, so much so that we often do something while speaking on the phone. Refrain from multitasking during your phone interview so you have sole and exclusive focus. If your attention is somewhere else, your interviewer will sense it and may get the idea that you do not take things seriously.
If your interviewer lets you ask questions, take the opportunity and go for one or two questions. It shows the employer that you are interested, and it offers you a chance to learn more about the company or the role. Consider these questions:
- How would you describe the ideal candidate for the position?
- What puts you apart from your competitors?
- What are the challenges in this position?
- How do you define success?
- Where is the company going? Where do you see it in five years?
Learn about the process
When the interview is coming to an end make sure to ask your interviewer what the next steps are and how long it would take to hear from them. This will show them that you are interested and will give you an understanding on how long you should wait before following up with them.
End on a positive note
At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for the call and their time. Tell them you are open for a face-to-face or video meeting to further discuss the opportunity. If you do not have the email address of the interviewer, ask them before you hang up so you can follow up with them later on.
After the phone interview
Send thank-you note
Right after the telephone interview, follow up with a short thank-you email (for a sample note click here), which leaves a positive impression in the interviewer and helps them remember you better.
You should never follow up before the discussed deadline. Companies will take time choosing the best candidate. If the agreed date has passed and you received no feedback from your interviewer, you can follow up with an email to see where the process is (for a sample click here).
Stay in touch
Do not take it personally if you have not received the job. Instead, stay in touch with your interviewer every now and then via email or LinkedIn. Nurturing your professional network is an important task in the modern business world.
Embrace the excitement that you may feel before a telephone job interview. If you are well-prepared, pay attention to the interviewer and make sure that you answer their questions honestly, you will have a better chance of being called in for an in-depth interview.
Taking phone interviews is just another skill that you will master as you advance in your career and practice. Stay mindful of your progress, and instead of ruminating on your mistakes—that you will make through your learning curve—focus on improvement points.