How To Ace a Telephone Interview

Telephone interviews are commonly used as a preliminary screening for sales-related jobs, especially in telesales

(where verbal communication skills are vitally important) and also used as a way to minimise the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates. Today, however telephone interviews are increasingly used by employers and recruiters for all kinds of jobs as a way of managing (or reducing) the huge number of applications per job, and minimizing the expenditure of staff time in processing them.

Many people view the telephone interview as not being a ‘real’ interview and therefore, perhaps do not put the time and effort into preparing for the interview as they would do for a face-to-face interview. However, one thing to remember is that both employers and recruiters see the telephone interview as an important part of the recruitment process, and if you do not impress them sufficiently during the telephone interview, chances are that you will not be invited to continue to the face-to-face interview.

Here are some tips to help you prepare effectively for a forthcoming telephone interview, along with examples of the type of questions you might be asked.

A few days before the telephone interview:

  • Ensure that you agree on a day and time for taking the telephone interview call that is convenient for you;
  • Choose your interview space. Find a quiet, comfortable and private space for your telephone interview and if you’re at home let everyone know that you’re going to be receiving an important call and don’t want to be disturbed;
  • Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses;
  • Make a list of your Unique Selling Proposition or Points (USPs) and how you will be able to make a difference to the company if you were offered the job;
  • Do your research research the company’s:

mission statement;
core values;
training and development;
future plans
product range/services;

  •  Most interviews will contain competency based questions and you will be expected to support your answers with evidence from your experience to date. A useful strategy for providing that evidence and for answering competency-based questions concisely is to use the STAR technique:

Situation briefly describe the where/when/who;
Task outline the task or objective (what you hoped to achieve);
Action describe what you did focus on your role and your input;
Result what the outcome was and what skills you developed

Develop a range of examples of numerous competencies, using the above format;

  • Practice makes perfect; look at the Job description, Person Profile, the company website and any other information you have on the company to formulate some practice questions for yourself; (Take a look at the list below for examples of the kind of questions that often come up in a telephone interview);
  • Practice with friends and family; once you have rehearsed a few answers to the questions that you are likely to be asked, have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview with you over the phone and tape record it if possible. You will then be able to hear how you sound over the phone. Do you say ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ too much? Practice a bit more and try to reduce these;
  • Learn your answers by heart; prepare your answers but avoid sounding as if you have rehearsed them, and certainly do not read your answers straight from your notepad as this will sound stilted.

Popular questions for a telephone interview for Student/graduate level positions:

  • How did you choose your university degree?
  • Why do you want to work for our organisation?
  • What do we do?
  • Why are you interested in the job role which you applied for?
  • What do you think your job would involve doing?
  • What qualities are important to work in the role you are applying for?
  • What evidence can you give to show that you possess these qualities?
  • Tell me a time when you have demonstrated teamwork/communication
  • Tell me about a time when you have had to cope with pressure
  • Tell me about a challenge you have faced. How did you conduct the challenge? What were the advantages and disadvantages of your method? The steps you took? What were the results?
  • When have you set yourself a goal? What challenges did you face?
  • When have you used your initiative to achieve a goal?
  • Can you describe a time when you have used your leadership skills?
  • What do you think is important when communicating with people?
  • What is your greatest strength?

Popular questions for jobs at all levels:

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • What can you contribute to our company? What will you bring to the job role?
  • What challenges are you looking for in this position?
  • How do you evaluate success?
  • What skills do you have to offer to a team?
  • Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer? What strategy did you take and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you have exceeded a customer’s expectations
  • Describe a time when you had to motivate others?
  • What has been in the news recently that would affect our organisation? (Commercial awareness type questions)
  • How do you handle stress and pressure?
  • What motivates you?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
  • Are you overqualified for this job?
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Why shouldn’t we hire you?

Some telephone interviews include tests, and the interviewer may read out a series of statements and you will be asked to say if you agree or disagree. Sometimes this can be done by pressing the telephone keys. These are more likely to be personality-type questions than reasoning tests, e.g. you may be asked to rate the extent to which you felt the following activities reflect your personal style, from 1 (not at all) to 5 (a Lot).

Sometimes you may be asked a question that may have been designed to antagonise you. Questions such as this are designed to test your emotional intelligence, i.e. will you just react or provide a calm and insightful response?

Just before and during the telephone interview:

  • Keep a copy of your application, information about the company, and a notepad and pen next to the phone or the place where you will take the call if using your mobile. If using your mobile phone make sure that it’s fully charged and that you have a good reception;
  • Have a glass of water handy as you will be doing a lot of talking and your mouth may become dry;
  • Stand up and smile it has been said many times to me by careers professionals and candidates that if you stand up while taking an important telephone call (such as a telephone interview) you actually feel more alert, confident and professional than you would do if you were slouching in a chair. Also walking around (just a little) can also keep the call going smoothly. I often do this and it does seem to help me think clearly (perhaps because moving around relaxes my mind and body so that I’m able to think straight).

As for smiling, I’m absolutely convinced that this really does make a difference to any telephone conversation as it alters the tone of your voice and makes you sound confident and upbeat;

  • Don’t forget non-verbal signals; in a face-to-face interview you would show that you’re listening by using non-verbal signals, such as nodding your head, over the phone you have to show this by the occasional ‘ok’ ‘I see’ ‘I understand’ ‘yes’ or similar interjections;
  • Listen very carefully to the interviewer and try to answer with a lively tone of voice. Speak clearly and do not speak too fast;
  • Reflect back what the speaker is saying using different words; this shows you’re listening carefully and checks your understanding. It’s one of the most useful ways of giving positive feedback to someone, i.e. ‘I hear what you’re saying and take it seriously’;
  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer;
  • Give confident and concise answers; the interviewer will ask you to expand or continue if they want to know more;
  • Take your time; it’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts and if you are asked a question that you feel you can’t answer ask to return to it later and, if still unable to attempt it then, say so;
  • Do you have any questions? At the end of the interview the interviewer may ask you if you have any questions for him/her. If the interviewer does not give you the opportunity to ask questions, then ask him/her if they wouldn’t mind answering a couple of questions for you (after all interviews of any type should be regarded as a two way process for them to find out more about you and for you to find out more about them).
  • Ask at least 2 (different types of questions). For example, one might be about training and the other about the size of the team you’ll be working in. Some examples might be:

‘I’m really keen to manage my own project during the year. Is this a possibility?’
‘I’m keen on developing my customer service skills will there be training opportunities to do so?’
‘During my research I read that the company is developing a new product/ entering a new market/ working with a key client will I be involved in this at all?’

After the telephone interview:

  • Immediately after the interview, write down the questions you were asked and any ways in which you could have improved your responses;
  • Remember to say ‘thank you’ and follow with a thank you note which reiterates your interest in the job;
  • If you’re not successful, make sure that you get feedback. It is best practice for organisations to give you feedback on your interview performance. If they don’t do this automatically then call and ask for it.

If you have a forthcoming telephone interview I’d like to wish you the best of luck and let me know how you got on by leaving a comment below.

About The Author

craig hill

Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.

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