How to make a phone interview go your way
How to develop a good voice for telephone interviews – and one that will help you in the job too
This is your first-round job interview by phone. You have five minutes to convince the caller to put you through to second stage and not to weed you out of the process. Your commitment and experience are being challenged; and as day faces the night so you shall face question after question testing your competencies, skills and motivation.
Is now really the time to try anything other than answering those questions in a way the interviewer wants? You bet – you can be a high quality job candidate by having an impressive telephone manner, one which employers feel will come across well in the job. After all, more day-to-day business is done over phone than face to face.
Recruiting by phone weeds out graduates and higher apprentices who aren’t (in the eyes of the company) up to scratch; it’s also a chance for you to set aside concerns about whether your appearance matters and focus instead on using your voice to deliver information. That’s a key skill in itself!
Which recruiters use telephone interviews?
Companies known to use telephone interviews include:
Shell: telephone interviews have been reported lasting up to a mighty (and very unusual) 70 minutes for very technical posts. Interview topics have included company reputation, ethics and global economics.
BT: expect to give good answers if the questions are about team work, standards and customer service.
GlaxoSmithKline: GSK has been known to mix standard competencies-based questions on your ability to meet challenges and innovate, among others, with highly technical questions for which you answer true or false.
Tesco: your knowledge of the current state of play in the retail market is paramount. Research business trends, strengths and challenges, and talk about what you would like to take out and put in if you the job were yours.
Corus: make sure you can answer the telephone interview question, “What can you do for us if you work here?” Versions of it seem to pop up in most of the company’s phone interviews.
Sky: recruiters spend 20 minutes on the phone interviewing you about three big areas: why you applied, what you want from a career and what your skills and strengths are.
HSBC: after the online assessment, you may get a values-based telephone interview of around 45 minutes. This assesses you against three important criteria the bank is looking for: being Open (ie honest, fair and direct), Connected (able to build and sustain relationships with others), and Dependable.
Vodafone: telephone interview style said to be relaxed and focusing upon what you know about the company and times when you’ve been creative and outside your comfort zone.
RBS: key areas of enquiry may include your knowledge of the bank and its divisions, your future plans, leadership and times that you’ve stood up for your own values.
KPMG: 45-minute competencies and situational-based telephone interview. Past topics have included would you react if your methods of work were challenged and dealing with angry clients.
Grant Thornton: by all accounts, the task is pretty straightforward. Make sure you know what you can offer the firm and why you want to work for it and not others.
Barclays: there are whopping three telephone interviews for the Future Leaders Development Programme – one (45-minute) interview is at first stage. The remainder are at assessment centres. Skills, motivation and understanding of the role will be tested.
Transport for London: think about the functions of this organisation (serving the public, getting them from A to B), and you’ll have some idea of the competencies tested in interview. Think about that and the fact that you’ll be working in one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet.
Santander: half-an-hour telephone interview based around skills and competencies, eg “Tell us about your leadership skills”.
These steps will help you feel more confident and persuasive during first-round job interviews by phone.
1) Open the telephone interview from a position of strength. Pick up the phone and say “whatever your name is… speaking”. This self-acknowledgment sounds (and is) confident. It means you want and expect to be heard. It won’t seem arrogant. After all, you‘re only helping the interviewer do their own job, which is to get the best out of you. Be friendly but formal.
2) Again, from the onset, establish rapport by showing that you’re listening to the caller. This is not a hard thing to do: just occasionally echo the odd word the caller has spoken. For example, if you’re told at the beginning that the phone interview will take 20 minutes then say “OK, 20 minutes”. It just shows that you’re paying attention.
3) Speak up and slow down. Mumbling or talking too quickly or with a squeaky voice is a sign of nervousness during phone interviews. Don’t worry about volume; it’s unlikely that you’ll adopt a big, booming, domineering tone. Make sure that your statements sound like statements and not apologetic enquiries. Think Winston Churchill: when that war time leader told Nazis “We will never surrender” his tone stayed firm and even towards the end of the declaration. He didn’t sound as if he was asking: “What would you like on your bagel – some Philadelphia?”
4) Sound orderly. Don’t overdo this, but maybe once when you’re responding to a question say something like “There are three parts to my answer”. You’ll sound clear, organised and like someone who is very capable of setting an agenda. Those are no bad things.
5) Be prepared. It will help you calm your nerves if you pick up the phone feeling in control of the facts. Normal rules concerning the job interviews apply: research the employer, read the job description and think about how you match the selection criteria.
6) Have a note pad to hand. No-one can see if you’ve brought along your CV and written some thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer, as well notes on questions you think are likely to come up. There’s nothing in the graduate recruiter’s handbook to say you must not do any of the above… however, practice the interview in advance. It won’t sound good if you are obviously reading from a script.
7) Ask for feedback on your telephone technique. Family, friends or careers advisers are there to help. You might want to record your practice interview too so you can hear how you come across.
8) Mind your dress sense and your posture. Some telephone interviewees feel more professional if they dress formally. Sitting straight or standing up while phoning can have the same affect. Others say that smiling during the interview helps to create a warm tone of voice.
9) Stimulate the interviewer by appealing to the visual side of the brain. It can make a telephone interview more interesting. For example, you might say: “If you can picture this, when I led the sports team….”