Tips for a terific telephone interview

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Tips for a terific telephone interview

So, congratulations, you have secured an interview, presumably for a company and job role you find attractive.  However, it is to be a telephone interview format.  So, should you be preparing and presenting in a different way?  Are the processes and protocols different or do the same rules apply? Read on!

Well, the ‘standard’ interview prep still applies, i.e be prepared, be confident, be enthusiastic and be specific. See my blog for way more details on preparing to smash your interview:

However, there are a whole new set of tips and tricks to help avoid the snakes and climb the ladders of a telephone interview.

Firstly consider, what the interview is for and what part of the interview it represents and act accordingly.  Often the telephone interview is, in reality, a ‘pre-screen’ which is often with an internal recruiter or HR professional, and will be to narrow down the ‘long-list’ to a ‘short-list’ of candidates to interview ‘face-to-face’. i.e. to protect the Hiring Managers time by avoiding booking a poorly matched candidate for a 1 hour interview.  In this situation it’s not about winning the job, as a hiring decision will be made much later, it’s more about not losing the job by being cut from the process. So keep it simple, don’t over-sell and let the interviewer do their job! The purpose of the ‘pre-screen’ maybe stated, for example a technical screen or a communications skills assessment, if not you can always ask and again prepare accordingly.

Ensure you are in a quiet place:  Pick a location where you will not be disturbed, free from distractions and in an environment, that allows you personally to best focus on the task in hand.  Obviously pre-empt and plan to avoid your personal potential disturbances, however a handful that come up regularly are:  Someone picking up ‘the other phone’ if you are line sharing mobile phone going, babies and children demanding attention, dogs barking, doorbells ringing, noisy computer alerts & miscellaneous alarms.

Technology:  Personally I favour and suggest a landline if you can plan to be at your preferred location in advance.  However, if you go with mobile phone, ensure you have decent battery and signal.  If you go with skype or other online call and I don’t think you should, test for network connection, power supply and sound quality in advance.

Answer appropriately.  My suggestion is don’t just say hello, and force the interviewer to check if they have the right person. It’s much more personable, professional and useful, to say for example good afternoon, Anthony speaking when you answer what is likely to be a scheduled call.

Dress for the interview:  This may sound weird, but psychology dictates that for most people the way they are dressed is going to impact how they communicate.  So the best chance of presenting in professional manner is to dress accordingly.

Body language: Be aware of your body language as physiology, affects psychology which in turn effects your communications.  If you are hunched up in a corner, your body language will be closed and you may come across as lacking in energy or confidence.  So conversely, I recommend to stand up (and stand tall), while taking the interview as this is your best chance at projecting positive energy and self-assurance.

Smile: 🙂 On a related note, if you are poker-faced throughout this may hamper rapport, and will likely show in your verbal communication as serious/boring.  Conversely, the best way to engage with the interviewer and project your personality across is to SMILE!  As a reminder a useful tool can be to look at a mirror during the interview. A classic sales mantra is to ‘smile-and-dial’; in an interview you are selling yourself so the same rules apply!

Clarity:  Take extra care to speak clearly as it’s easier to be misunderstood on the phone versus in person especially if technology/environment is less than ideal. This may mean you should speak more slowly especially if you are nervous, prone to speaking fast or have an accent that may not be familiar to the interviewer.

Brevity:  Make extra effort to be succinct.  The name of an interview game is always to ‘score as many points’ in the time available by being specific and succinct meaning all questions can be asked.  However, in a situation with no ‘verbal clues’, it’s easier to go off-track and end up boring your interviewer.

Listen:  On the flip-side of the previous 2 points it will also potentially be easier for you to mishear or misinterpret the interviewer in a telephone interview. Therefore, listen attentively and ensure that you fully understand the question before giving your concise answer.  Apply active listening skills where you acknowledge information as you receive it and ask clarifying questions if necessary.

Take advantage:  There are some things that you can do in a telephone interview vs face-to-face and it is good tactics to take advantage of these.  Have your CV and the job specification out for your reference.  Prepare and have notes available on the company/interviewer that you can maybe drop in, write down questions to ask, examples to use etc. Also consider making notes of key things mentioned which you could relate back to.

However when you’re taking advantage as above, please make sure you are not shuffling and rustling papers which will be off-putting and be careful with note taking as it can effect your focus and have the same effect as knocking a few point off your IQ!

As a final caution, there are some things that you may think you can get away with, however as an experienced telephone interviewer, I’m telling you that you can’t. Your good manners hopefully prevent you from doing these anyway, but these include smoking, eating, chewing gum and even going to the toilet! 🙂

Best of luck with your telephone interview, however if the role is a good match and you’re well prepared you won’t need luck!  Have you got any wins or learns regarding telephone interviews that you can share?  I’m always keen to hear people’s ‘real-life’ experiences.

All the best,

Anthony McCormack
Managing Director


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