Telephone Interviews

See also: Employability Skills

Many people are now willing to relocate much further from home for the sake of a job, or to work from home rather than be office-based. There are also large numbers of applicants for every job. At the same time, many companies are trying to reduce their recruitment costs.

As a result, telephone interviews have become more popular. For many jobs, indeed, they are now the norm at least for first round interviews. But what is different about telephone interviews? And how can you prepare for them to make sure that you shine? This page explains more.


Interview or Telephone Interview?

You have only to Google ‘telephone interview tips’ to realise that telephone interviews are part and parcel of most job hunts these days.

Telephone interviews are often used as the first interview stage, to select those to be interviewed face-to-face.

Telephone Interviews are Still Interviews.


It may sound obvious, but a telephone interview is still an interview. It is not a cosy chat with a friend, but a serious chance for the company to see if you will fit in, and are capable of doing the job. Treat it as seriously as you would treat any other job interview.


But how does a telephone interview differ from one that is face-to-face?

Just like a face-to-face interview, you still need to prepare thoroughly. There is no substitute for doing your research about the company, and preparing a list of questions. Make sure you are clear about the company’s product or service, and how your potential role will fit in. Also make sure that you have good examples of how you have used all the required skills.

There is more about preparing for interviews in our page on Interview Skills.

The major differences between telephone interviews and face-to-face interviews are:

1. You get to choose your location

You can do a telephone interview from almost anywhere: café, street, car, train. But since you effectively have a choice of venue, it is as well to choose somewhere quiet, where you will be able to both hear what the interviewer is saying, and also concentrate.

In practice, this probably means that it is a good idea to be at home, or in your room, with the door closed. If you share accommodation with other people, it might be worth putting a note on the door to ask not to be interrupted.

You should also be well away from the landline, if you’re on the mobile, and switch off the mobile if the call is due on your landline.

The Element of Surprise


While many potential employers will make an appointment for a telephone interview, others prefer to surprise candidates. If you are phoned out of the blue and asked if it is convenient to have an interview right now, don’t feel that you need to say ‘yes’ if it really isn’t.

For example, you may be:

  • Out and about in a crowded place, and unable to hear properly;
  • Trying to put children to bed, or give them tea; or
  • About to go into a lecture or class.

If it is really inconvenient, say

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t have time just now, as I have another commitment. Can we fix another time instead, as I’d really like to talk to you?”

You will then need to fix the time then and there, as they are unlikely to call back otherwise, so make sure that you have your diary to hand. You can even say

“I should be free in about an hour/two hours/at 5pm, can I call you back then?” and make sure that you take down the number.

2. You don’t have to dress up, but you do have to sound professional

It is true that you will not be visible to your interviewer, unless it is a video interview. Some advisers recommend, however, that you wear smart clothes, and sit up straight, as if it was a face-to-face interview, as they suggest that this makes you feel, and therefore sound, more professional.

Answer the phone professionally.

Hello” is fine.

Hello, Joe Smith speaking” is better.

Yo dude!” is not going to give the right impression.

Just in case you’re on another call when the interview call comes through, make sure that your voicemail or answerphone message is professional too.

It is also worth remembering that you should not be eating or drinking during an interview. Slurping sounds are not attractive. You might want a glass of water to hand, though, in case your mouth goes a bit dry.

3. You are responsible for the technology

In other words, if your phone goes flat or you lose your mobile signal during the interview, then that is your problem, not your interviewer’s. If it happens, they probably won’t call you back.

Make sure your phone is charged, that you have good reception in your chosen venue, or that you know how to use Skype on your chosen device, well in advance.

4. You can have crib sheets and information out in front of you

Unless you are doing a video telephone interview (and it is worth checking this in advance), the interviewer will not be able to see you. So you can have your CV, written examples of when you have demonstrated your skills, and even reminders about smiling, spread out in front of you.

Try not to rustle your papers during the interview, though, as it will probably be audible.

Make sure you give yourself enough time before the interview to spread out everything you need and check that it will all be visible. Have a pen and some paper handy in case you want to make notes, and also consider using a hands-free system or headset to make that easier.

5. Neither you nor the interviewer has body language to help you

This means that you need to work harder to build rapport. Smile a lot, because odd though it sounds, it can be heard in your voice. It is also worth trying to emphasise your tone of voice: concentrate on sounding enthusiastic and interested, and always speak clearly and slightly more slowly than normal.

For more about this, see our pages on Building Rapport and Non-Verbal Communication: Face and Voice.

You may also want to ask whether you have provided enough information or answered the question fully, as a check. Useful phrases include “I can go into more detail, if you would like?” as well as “Have I given you enough information there?

6. You will need to listen hard, and concentrate more

It is often harder to concentrate when there is only a voice to listen to, and nothing to look at.

Don’t let yourself zone out, or start looking at Facebook or YouTube. If you know that you struggle to concentrate when you have nothing to see, have a notebook or paper, and make notes during the questions. This will not only keep you focused and listening, but will also help you check whether you have answered the question.

7. You may need to signal a pause in advance

Remember, your interviewer can’t see you, so if you go silent, they don’t know if you are still there. If they have asked a hard question, and you need to think about it, say something like “Let me just take a minute or two to get my thoughts in order”, and then they will know what you are doing.

It is also worth pausing before answering any question to make sure that the interviewer has finished speaking.

8. It is important to remain enthusiastic right up to the end

Towards the end of the interview, you may get tired. It is, however, important to continue to focus on your tone of voice, and sounding enthusiastic about the process. It’s a good idea to remember to ask when you might hear, and whether you can call if you haven’t heard, as this emphasises your interest in the job.

It is also worth emailing the interviewer to thank them afterwards, as it confirms your interest.


Above all…

Recruiters are clear that what they are looking for most in a telephone interview is a little enthusiasm, and a candidate who has done a bit of preparation.

After all, this is your chance to sell yourself to the company, and you need to sound like you want to do so.

It is an instant no-no to sound like you are not taking the interview seriously.

Make sure that you do your preparation in advance, as well as if this were a face-to-face interview, and that you sound like you want the job.


The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need


The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

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