How a telephone interview is conducted

Staff on the phone

Interviews are usually face to face, but many larger employers will use telephone interviews for the first stage of selection or sometimes as the only interview (eg for vacation jobs). You should prepare for a telephone interview in the same way you would for a face to face interview. The fact that it is by telephone does not make it more informal or less important.

Video transcript 

Timing and arrangement of the interview

  • Select a suitable time - if the employer is going to ring you at a pre-arranged time, make sure this is a time when you will be in a quiet location and not disturbed. Taking the call on the train, in the supermarket or in a café is not conducive to a professional conversation!
  • Unannounced telephone interviews - some employers may telephone you unannounced and ask you to do an interview there and then; prepare yourself for an interview as soon as your application is submitted so that you are ready. It’s perfectly reasonable to tell them if it is not convenient for you to speak at that time and to suggest another time.
  • Preparation - if talking on your mobile phone make sure it is fully charged. Have a pen and paper to hand to make notes plus a glass of water (in case of a dry throat). You might also want to have a copy of your application and the job details but avoid preparing detailed notes as your answers should sound natural not scripted.

Structure and content of the interview

  • Structure - telephone interviews can sometimes feel more structured and scripted than face to face interviews. The interviewer (who may be an external consultant appointed by the employer) will tend to follow a structured set of questions so that every applicant is asked the same questions. This can make it seem less friendly and flexible but helps to make it as fair and objective as possible.
  • Types of questions - telephone interviews tend to focus on competency questions and career motivation questions.
  • The next stage - where the interviewer is an external consultant, they might not give you the chance to ask questions about the job or the company. However you will have a chance to ask these if invited for second interview or assessment centre.

Effective telephone communication

  • Speak clearly - keep a steady pace, appropriate volume and vary your tone so you don't sound so serious; smiling has a positive effect on the tone of your voice.
  • Keep calm - being nervous can make you speak more quickly so try to relax and be calm before taking the call.
  • Listen carefully and then respond - pauses are normal, but if you have to think about a question for a while, it’s best to say that you just need to think about it for a moment so the interviewer doesn't think the line has gone dead when you are silent.
  • Tips and tricks - practice a telephone interview with a friend and ask them for feedback. Standing to take the call and dressing professionally also help. Look through our section on how to answer interview questions.
  • Don't... forget it is a formal discussion. Don't chew gum, smoke or interrupt.