A telephone interview often happens in the early stages of the job application process. After a person's CV is received for a particular job and looks suitable, a member of the recruitment team will get in touch to arrange a time and date to phone you.
Often this is part of a screening process in larger firms, where they have many applicants and an appropriately robust HR department that can help with this initial sift. Or, you might be contacted by a recruitment agency acting on behalf of the employer, tasked with locating appropriate candidates.
Either way, this shortlisting process has to be passed if you are to proceed to the next stage of the interview process.
Do not underestimate the importance of the telephone interview
You should not, underestimate the importance of the telephone interview. A telephone interview is a crucial step in getting your dream job, and the people who are interviewing will decide if you get to go ahead to the next stage. They are often well experienced and highly qualified, and they are undertaking the job because their opinion matters – in short, they demand respect; they are not 'gatekeepers'.
Treat this with the same importance you would if you had landed an in-person interview. Do the appropriate preparation, and be just as thoughtful and polite as meeting your future department head.
That said, telephone interviews come with their own particular characteristics. Some candidates will find them more difficult than meeting an interviewer in person, which is understandable. You do not have the luxury of assessing your questioner's face as you give your answers. It will come as a surprise how much you need these cues – many of us will unconsciously adjust the course of an answer if a flicker of concern or confusion is detected on an interviewer's face.
Here, you don't have that luxury. Instead, there may be some uncomfortable quiet on the other end of the line as the person makes notes, or they wait to ensure you have finished answering.
With this in mind, it is time to go over the essentials of participating in a telephone job interview.
Start with preparation
You must make sure that you pay attention to some basics when you have secured a telephone interview. Ensure that you have correctly earmarked the time and date of the interview in your calendar. Make sure that you have a number to call them back if they provide it.
Continue by making sure your technology is in order
Some will argue that a landline is best when carrying out a phone interview. This is to avoid loss of signal or interference, as well as your battery running out. Chances are, however, they will look to contact you on whatever phone number you gave on the application – which is probably your mobile.
If that is the case, check that you will be taking the call in a quiet setting – but also one which has good reception. Try out a few phone calls to friends and family from that location if you don't usually make calls from there. You will be surprised how many points of your house have weaker reception than others.
If you are using a mobile phone, a word of advice is to keep a charger handy and make sure your battery is full on the day.
Of course, if for any reason you have been asked to contact them, make sure you have the time correct and the number. Crucially, ensure you have checked area codes – doubly so if your dream job is abroad.
Be ready to exclude pets from the room on the day, and make arrangements to ensure any children are occupied and looked after.
Get ready for questions
Preparation is the same as for an in-person job interview. If there is a slight distinction, it is that phone interviews might make it clear in their appointment letter what they will be looking for. There might be key areas they want to explore as a screening interview. That is why it is essential to check all paperwork where possible.
From there, use any information they have provided, as well as information in the job description and company website, to start looking at how you will suit them. It is very likely at this stage that the interviewer will focus upon any essential and desirable skills/experience highlighted in the job description – so make sure you have plenty of appropriate examples at the ready.
For further information, read our additional guidance on how to anticipate interview questions.
Create a mind map, rehearse questions over and over, and, if possible, get someone to ask you them to see if you can readily draw on the information. The next step will help you with this, but it is essential the most important information about yourself comes readily to mind.
Create streamlined notes
Because nobody can see you, you will benefit from having some notes handy. But these should not be the scrappy notes you made when mind-mapping questions in the last step. Instead, they should be a well-spaced, easy to read document of any information you might want nearby.
A word of caution, however: if you take too long to flick through notes, the interviewer will be able to tell you have written answers to hand. They will be polite – this practice is to be expected – but it can make the interview feel less natural.
… and during the call
Relax. If it is winter, make sure you are not cold. Have water to hand, and ensure that you are sat comfortably and not hunched over. Also, smile – it is true that you can 'hear' a smile over the phone.
And good luck – telephone interviews are tricky, but with the above tips, you should be well on your way to the next all-important in-person interview.