25 February 2020

Telephone interviews - Six tips to impress over the phone

Make sure you perform at your best in a telephone interview with our six tips for success


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Career development


Make sure you perform at your best in a telephone interview with our six tips for success

An increasing proportion of organisations are including telephone interviews in their recruitment process as part of their efforts to find the right candidates as quickly as possible. While the questions you’ll face during a phone interview will likely be pretty similar to those put to you during a face-to-face interview, with a phone interview you’ll lose out on the benefits of body language and non-verbal cues to help get your message across – meaning you might have to work a bit harder to stand out from other applicants.

Here are Ciphr’s top six telephone interview tips.


1. Approach the call with the same diligence you would an in-person interview

Just because your interview is taking place by phone, rather than in person, doesn’t mean you can scale back on your preparation: it’s vital to approach any interview with the same degree of preparedness. Research the organisation’s core purpose and services, and study the job advert to understand the key attributes they’re looking for in an applicant, and how your skills and experiences relate to these points. Plan your responses to questions you think the interviewer is likely to ask, and draw up a few thoughtful questions you’d like to put to them, too.

For the call, have a copy of your CV and the completed application form to hand (preferably printed out rather than digital copies – you don’t want to run the risk of a tech failure or being distracted by social media) – and a pen and paper so you can jot down notes.

If you’re taking the call at home, it can be tempting dress down in athleisure or even remain in your pyjamas. But you might find that opting for a smarter look gives you a helpful confidence boost and help with acing a phone interview.


2. Get your kit together

It sounds obvious, but make sure your mobile phone has a decent level of signal and battery life. If possible, invest in a good-quality headset for mobile and Skype calls; not only will the call quality be better, but you’ll have your hands free to make notes. Avoid taking the call through a speaker phone – the quality will be low and you may struggle to get your points across adequately leading to you failing the telephone screening interview.


3. Be ready when the call comes through

Being unavailable at an agreed interview time speak volumes about your punctuality and time-management skills. Make sure you’re set up at least 10 minutes before the call is due in case it’s early. You should be in your chosen quiet location, phone fully charged, with your notes and a glass of water or cup of tea to hand.

If something unforeseen comes up and you aren’t able to make the call, be sure to contact the interviewer – by phone or email – before the time of your appointment. Apologise and reschedule the call for a time that your certain you can make (barring any additional emergencies). If you’ve decided you no longer want to proceed with your application, don’t wait until the interview appointment to cancel or ignore the call – be proactive, contact the interviewer, and explain politely that you’re withdrawing your application.


4. Eliminate distractions

Have you ever been on a conference call and you’ve just sorted of… drifted off… or been so busy checking emails or social media that you’ve lost the thread of the conversation? You have to be on you’re A-game when it comes to telephone interviews, so do whatever it takes to eliminate distractions: switch off your laptop, radio or TV; put your mobile device in another room; and, if you’re at home, make sure family members, friends and pets know that you won’t be available during the call.


5. Listen carefully – and respond to questions thoughtfully

While you will have information that you want to communicate to the interviewer, it’s important that you listen carefully to the questions you’re being asked and answer those questions – not the questions you’d like to answer, or would have preferred to answer. Take note of the phrasing of the questions themselves: is the interviewer using specific language that you should match in your answer?

Without the visual cues you’d take notice of during a face-to-face interview, it can be easy to interrupt or talk over someone on the phone – so take your time when speaking, and don’t be afraid to leave quiet space to think and be sure that the interviewer has finished what they have to say. If anything is unclear, ask for clarification or examples that will help you understand the question more thoroughly. Most crucial, stay focused and maintain your concentration levels, both when you are speaking and also when the other person is talking. Although you might be feeling anxious, try to take your time and speak carefully; poor phone connections can make it easy for important information to be lost.


6. Follow-up as you would any other interview

Although a telephone interview is likely to be just one step in a hiring process, rather than the final step, take the same approach to follow-up as you would for any in-person interview. You might wish to email the interviewer, or contact them through LinkedIn, to thank them for their time within the first 24 hours of the appointment.

During the call, the interviewers should have told you when they expect to tell you if you have been successful in securing the role or making it though to the next interview stage. If not, don’t be afraid to enquire about this by email – it shows that you’re engaged with and invested in the process.

This article was first published in September 2016. It was updated in February 2020 for freshness, clarity and accuracy.