The Phone Interview

Interviews are always challenging. The pressure of having to put your best foot forward when the stakes are potentially so high can be stressful and nerve-racking. But as daunting as a ‘typical’ face-to-face interview can be, many people find that their less practiced alternative, the phone interview, can be even worse in this regard.

The face-to-face interview at least has the benefit of body language inference, as well as a mutual give-and-take situation, prompted primarily by visual clues. Even email interviews have the upside of giving you time to formulate and reformulate thoughts and ideas before you present them to the interviewer. But the preliminary phone interview takes away both these visual clues and preparation time, making it difficult to ‘put your best foot forward’.

Obviously, the only way to deal with this challenge is to practice and prepare. Here are some essential tips for phone interview preparation:

1.      Practice an appropriate register

·         Conduct practice interviews with family and friends, focusing on volume, pronunciation, speed, tone of voice, and length of response.

2.      Preparing your responses to common questions

·         This will go some way to take the surprise factor out of the interview, and let you feel more at ease

3.      Preparing some questions of your own for the interviewer

·         It’s a two-way street, just like a face-to-face interview; expressing an interest in what the company can do for you is a sign of a conscientious and intelligent interviewee

Although all these steps are helpful, no. 2 is perhaps the most so. In preparing responses to questions, you will ensure that you give appropriately timed answers – this is essential in a phone interview due to the lack of body language inference.

Typically, questions will boil down into three categories: about your background; about your skills/personality, and about why you have applied for a role at that particular company. Here are some examples of how you might go about preparing responses:

Q: How did you navigate a challenge that came up in your previous employment?

-In answering this question, you need to locate a challenge you faced, explain specifically how you dealt with it (demonstrating a skill), and what you learnt from the experience.

Q: What is your preferred working environment?

-This relies on you having specific knowledge of the company culture and working environment. Obviously, you want to be honest, but answering that a huge office suits you perfectly when the company is a small start-up isn’t going to work. You also need to make sure that you can reflect on the working environments in your previous roles, and how they played a part in what you liked/didn’t like about those roles.

Q: What can you contribute to this company?

-Again, you need to research the company’s goals, and then briefly explain how your skills could further them. You also need to provide some hard evidence for your ability to add value, so citing an example of having done so in a previous role with data is key.

So, although phone interviews can be stressful, and constitute an intimidating first stage before the face-to-face interview, there are ways to lessen their difficulty. Good preparation can only get you so far, however, as no employer is looking for someone to rattle off pre-formulated answers, but as a way of reducing nerves and getting to grips with how to handle the situation, it’s essential. 


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