Ready for your telephone interview?

After a very quiet period in retail recruitment, we’re now seeing a flurry of activity. However most recruiters and their clients are still reluctant to meet every candidate face-to-face, meeting only the person they’re hoping to make an offer to at the end of the process.

Equally, most of us are ‘Zoomed out’, and I think therefore we’re seeing a real surge in telephone based interviewing.

My advice is to give a phone interview a bit of thought and preparation. Particularly if you bear in mind that in a face-to-face conversation, 75% of effective communication is non-verbal. So here are some tips that will help you prepare for a successful call:

Try to find out who will be interviewing you. Will there be multiple people on the call? If possible get their names and titles. Become familiar with these beforehand and you will have one less thing to worry about during the call. Try and get some background on the interviewer. Any insight you can gain about them will allow you to tailor your responses to make the best possible impression.

Make a list of your accomplishments, goals and strengths. On another list write out your weaknesses (or better still, your development needs) and what you are doing to overcome them. On a third sheet write down why you are interested in the company. Think carefully about all of these items as they often come up in interviews.

Never forget that a telephone interview is still an interview. Take time to practice interview questions with friends or family. Ask them to provide honest feedback so you can improve your responses. Mock interview questions can easily be found on the internet. If you get stuck on a question, sample answers to these questions are often provided as well.

During the mock interview, have your friend ask you questions both over the phone and in person. Make sure that they listen not only for content, but also tone, rate and clarity of your speech. If possible, record yourself speaking. Are you speaking slowly and clearly? Can you easily be heard? Is your voice portraying you as a confident and enthusiastic candidate? If not continue to practice until you are comfortable.

Find a quiet space to occupy during your interview. Ideally, there should be a comfortable place to sit as well as a table to lay out your papers. Try and find a low-traffic spot where members of the household are unlikely to disturb you.

Have a copy of your resume and cover letter close at hand. Take out those lists you made while organising your thoughts. In addition keep any notes related to the company that you feel may be helpful during the call. Spread these items out across your table so they are easy to access. Only keep what is truly necessary. Too much paper can be a distraction.

Have paper and pens handy for writing down notes, questions and most importantly, your interviewer’s names.

As the appointed hour draws near, make sure that the television and the radio are turned off. Exit your email and turn off your computer screen. If possible, disable your call-waiting. Let your family know about the timing of the interview so they do not accidentally disturb you.

The main rules are:

  • Think about how you normally answer the phone at home. When you answer the phone, do so by announcing your name, in an enthusiastic style: ‘John Pickles, Good Morning!’ If this is not your natural style, change it!
  • Sound interesting/interested, energetic and enthusiastic
  • Be succinct (don’t waffle)
  • Ask open-ended questions (beginning with who, what, when, why, where, how: these all ask for information, and keep the ball in the other person’s court). Be prepared that they will do exactly the same!
  • Don’t use jargon
  • Don’t swear or use colloquialisms (local phrases: ‘I covered the whole of London on Shanks’ pony’)
  • Be polite: Don’t use their first name unless invited to. Use their title if you know they are for example, a doctor.
  • Use the other person’s name regularly throughout the conversation (but not all the time). Also, use the company name a few times.
  • During the telephone interview, talk calmly, and with warmth. Standing can make you sound more confident and helps project a positive and professional image and smiling creates a friendly and enthusiastic impression. Do not forget to use gestures and facial expressions as you would normally do. They are translated and transmitted down the phone line. Smiling, and taking deep breaths help improve blood flow and improve your articulation.
  • To help you in establishing rapport on the phone, try to match your speaking rate and pitch to that of the interviewer.
  • Be a good listener. Your listening skills will be put to the test here, as your answers will reflect if you have been listening well or not. If you do not hear or understand what was said, do not hesitate to ask that it be repeated. Do not confabulate or make up questions.
  • Answer questions straight to the point, using short sentences. Do not say more than is expected of you. Use facts and figures, and show achievements. Let your interviewer see why you are priceless… do not overdo it of course.

Contact me if you’re not certain or would like more advice.

Good luck!

Maarten Jonckers