Telephone Interview Techniques

In the age of video calling, you may well wonder why the need to brush up on your telephone etiquette. However, a surprising number of employers still use the trusted telephone interview as part of their overall strategy to weed out unsuitable candidates.

Nine times out of ten the objective of a telephone interview is to impress the interviewer enough to offer you a face-to-face meeting. From the employer’s perspective they are useful in weeding out unsuitable applicants and thus minimising time wasted during the recruitment process.

Telephone interviews don’t always happen by appointment – sometimes they appear out of the blue as a result of a speculative CV or application, but whether you are expecting the call or not it’s best to be prepared to handle the challenges this type of interview presents as it’s likely that you will have to deal with a few of them throughout the job search process.

If the call comes at a time when you are at home and the dog is barking, the kids are screaming and all hell is breaking loose, it’s crucial that you keep calm, be professional and say with confidence: “Thanks for calling Ms Jones, would you please wait just one moment while I close the door?” At this point you can take a moment to compose yourself, get any notes you need in front of you, park yourself in front of the PC (and call up the company’s website), and if you need to transfer the call to another phone just say so, then take a few deep breaths, smile broadly and resume the conversation. The smile is important as the interviewer only has your voice to go by, so intonation counts for a great deal – keep it positive.

If for any reason you simply cannot take the call at that precise moment – perhaps you are about to leave to go to an interview or there is a family emergency taking place – declare this straight away to the interviewer: “I’m just on my way out the door to go to an appointment Ms Jones, can we schedule an appropriate time for me to call you back?”

It is important to allow the interviewer to guide the conversation and to ask the questions they wish but you too must have some questions prepared for use at any time – especially if you are not being afforded sufficient opportunity to sell yourself.

  • “What would you say the three main responsibilities of this post are?”
  • “What are the biggest challenges the department faces this year and what will be my role in tackling them?”
  • “Which projects will I be most involved with during the first six months?”

The answers the interviewer gives to these questions will provide you with the understanding of the employer’s needs required to sell yourself into the position. “Then my experience in transition management would be of great help to the department?” or “I recently completed a resourcing project on that subject, would it be relevant to discuss it now?” By demonstrating how your skills and experience can solve an employer’s problems you take a significant step towards landing the face-to-face interview. Effective recruitment is all about solving problems.

Experts agree that only 20 percent of your message is communicated through words; 45 percent is communicated by the quality of your voice tone and inflection; with the rest being transmitted through body language, or nonverbal communication. During a telephone interview there is no body language on view so it is important to show that you are paying attention and are genuinely interested in what the interviewer is saying: “Right, that’s interesting” “Yes, I see” and “OK, great” are short but effective interjections.

Always speak clearly and directly into the telephone. Don’t chew gum or smoke – the sounds generated are amplified by the telephone.

Where possible take notes during the interview – these will come in handy if you progress to a face-to-face meeting or if for some reason the interviewer is interrupted and later asks you to recap on what has been discussed.

Telephone interviews are usually fairly brief affairs and it is important to be concise in your answers, so your choice of words and phrasing is crucial in order to maximise the impact that your skills and experience have on the interviewer. Avoid yes or no answers – time may be short but these do nothing to enhance your chances.

When asked about specific skills or expertise in a particular scenario always highlight this with an example: “Yes I have tackled delinquent accounts before – in my current role I developed a new corporate strategy for dealing with this problem.” Then go on to illustrate your answer with a short description. As a general rule, keep your answers to less than two minutes, if the interviewer wants to know more they will ask.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand someone over the telephone – if you didn’t hear or didn’t understand a particular question, simply ask the interviewer to repeat it. If you feel you need a moment to think about your answer, which is perfectly usual, say “Let me think about that for a second” – this is far preferable to a pregnant pause.

The signal that the interview is nearing its conclusion is when you are asked whether you have any questions. If the subject of a meeting has not already been discussed now is the time to mention it: “This sounds like an excellent opportunity Ms. Jones, and a one in which I believe I could make a significant contribution. With that in mind, my principle question is when can me meet to progress things further?” Once an invitation to meet has been extended you should ascertain what will be on the agenda: “Can you tell me what areas you will be looking to discuss on the 14th?”

Before you put the phone down take care to ensure that you have the correct spelling of the interviewer’s name and the time and location of the face-to-face meeting. Thank the interviewer for their time and leave them on an ‘up’: “Many thanks for your time today Ms Jones and for, what I hope you will agree, has been an extremely interesting and productive conversation.”

In the period between the telephone interview and the meeting make a point of writing to the interviewer, thanking them and stating how much you are looking forward to meeting them on the scheduled date.

Now you can begin your preparation for the face-to-face interview.