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telephone interviews: what to expect

Congratulations! Your CV has successfully wooed your prospective employer and they want to talk!

telephone interview
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The first stage of many recruitment processes is a telephone interview. The telephone interview is used to do a basic screening of the candidate. Any discrepancies in the application or CV will be identified, and it’s also a good opportunity to learn more about the role you’ve applied for.

While similarities exist with the face-to-face interview, there are a number of key differences which are often overlooked. As a result, the telephone interview is often regarded as the candidate’s least favourite stage of the interview presence. But why? What makes it different?

It’s impossible to read the person on the other end. Without the ability to see how the interviewer reacts to your answers, you have no way of evaluating how good your answer was, or whether you left a lot to be desired.

Your tone is the single most important part of the call. Forget about what you’re going to say for the moment. If your answers are good but you sound disenchanted and lackadaisical, it’s not going any further. No one is looking, but wear a smile and come across like you’ve been excitedly waiting for this telephone call all your life.

The pace is much quicker. Being a telephone interview, the person on the other end won’t be too keen on hanging around. As a result, the majority of telephone interviews will last no more than half an hour, if that. You therefore need to be clever with the way you deliver your answers to questions. If you don’t prepare well, you will become rushed and lose focus. Do not talk quickly; be concise and be prepared to move on quickly.

But Auburn Rose, what will I be asked?

We’re glad you asked. As part of the basic screening process, you will be asked the basics; what you’re looking for, your current situation, your location and your willingness to relocate if necessary. You’re also likely to be given some more information about the role and be asked about what you know about the company.

You could be asked a few competency-based questions too. While there isn’t a defining list, here are a few of the categories at their disposal:

• Knowledge: Can you demonstrate how much you know? It’s not just about listing off keywords, you’re knowledge must be demonstrable. Can you explain what you know?

• Adaptability: Can you adjust to your environment while maintaining high standards of performance? Do you have a breadth as well as a depth of skills? Are you flexible?

• Analytical ability: How good are you at solving problems? Are you a logical, methodical thinker? How good are you with numbers?

• Communication: Are you a good talker? Do you lead from the back even if you aren’t at the front? Are you equally a good listener and writer?

• Independence: Do you work well as an individual? Are you an autonomous self-starter?

• Collaboration: Are you a good team player? Are you receptive to ideas and feedback from other people?

• Creativity: How innovative are you? Have you ever used a method that goes against convention during a project or at work?

• Decisiveness/Planning/Organising: Do you like making big decisions? What thought process do you go through when making them? Have you ever organised an event?

• Commitment: Do you give each project you do your all, even in the face of adversity?

• Leadership: Do you lead from the front? Are you an “ideas” person? Are you good at getting the best out of people? Do you respect the opinions of others and build relationships quickly and effectively?

But how do I act on the telephone? I’ve never had a formal telephone conversation before!

Fear not. There is a way to act in a telephone interview, and you should rehearse beforehand with an (un)willing family member or friend.

Don’t act surprised when the phone rings. “Hello?!” is totally the wrong opener. You were given a time, so you know a call is coming. When you pick up, speak clearly, politely and in a professional tone.

Confidence is everything. Speak confidently and powerfully. You want to sound like you’re interested (which you are), and in a way, you want to sound like you have physical presence and positive body language too.

NOTES. Wearing a headset could make this easier, but by all means, make notes. It will help you down the line and give you ideas for questions you can ask.

Don’t concern yourself with judging the reactions of the interviewer. Focus on what you want to say. Asking the interviewer if you’ve provided enough information is a must-do in telephone interviews. This way, you get to gauge how much information you have given without giving too much away too soon, and you get to assess if you’ve answered the interviewer’s question.

Informal ≠ casual. You’re in an interview! This isn’t a casual chat with a mate. As daft as it sounds, suiting up could help you feel more formal and interview-ready, despite it not being visible to the interviewer.

LISTEN. Do not get distracted. Do not interrupt. I don’t mean to sound strict about this, but it’s of utmost importance to listen to the interviewer. Come across as polite and interested as opposed to rude.

Thanks! Is there anything else I need to know?

Make sure you’re in a quiet place. TV or tunes off. Family ushered away or out of the house. Mo’ distractions is mo’ problems. It’s just you and the phone.

Revise your CV. They’ll want to talk through it, so make sure you have a bullet-pointed copy with you when you take the call.

Keep paper notes to a minimum. Two sides of A4 should be enough for a bullet-pointed CV and some brief company notes. You don’t want to become swamped in paper when you’re on the phone. You won’t have time to look through everything, so have what you need. Q-cards are useful here; they provide bitesize nuggets of information without clutter.

Prepare some questions, but not too many. Questions show interest and allow you to get extra information. Here’s some inspiration to get you started.

Think you’ve got what it takes to pass the telephone interview? Get in touch with us today!

Do you have a question?

We only want the best for you and are here for you every step of the way.