How to give a brilliant phone interview

How to give a brilliant phone interview

Brilliant – you’ve scored a telephone interview! But now what? Alex Hopkins, head of student recruitment at global tech firm CGI gives plotr some pointers


Brilliant – you’ve scored a telephone interview! But now what? The good news about phone interviews is you don’t have to worry about what you look like on the day (unless it’s a video call) – but you do need to think about what to say.

So, how can you make sure you give your best performance when the moment comes? Alex Hopkins, head of student recruitment at global tech firm CGI, has carried out hundreds of phone interviews with candidates, to help decide whether to proceed with a face-to-face meeting. What advice did she have for plotr’s readers?

1) Be ready for the call

You probably know that first impressions count in a face-to-face interview, right? Well, the same applies for a phone interview – even though you can’t be seen! Answering the phone “Yeah?” is unlikely to impress anyone – so make sure you sound polite and businesslike from the second you pick up. "Make sure you’re ready for the call and near the phone when the employer rings,” says Alex. In other words, you don’t want to start the call in a panic, having scrambled to locate your phone under a pile of laundry. Answer by saying: “Hello, it’s [your name] speaking.” What if you can’t be right by the phone, for some reason? “Make sure the person likely to pick up knows that you’re expecting an important call so they can answer politely and hand you over with minimal fuss." So, if your mum is at home and likely to pick up, brief her in advance.

2) Banish distractions

Got Facebook open on your computer? Just realized your nail polish needs re-doing? Stay focused, people! “The interviewer will give you their undivided attention and they’ll expect the same from you – so make sure you avoid all distractions,” says Alex. How can you do this? Keep away from social media, the TV – and try not to be anywhere too noisy like a very busy road or station platform. If you absolutely have to do the interview somewhere that’s noisy, apologise at the start, try to minimize the background sound (by going down a side street for example) and speak up. At the end of your first answer, check they could hear it okay.

3) Make a list

It can be helpful to prepare a few notes - knowing you have some prompt ideas written down can give you confidence and reduce the fear of going blank. What should you write? “Jot down your strengths and keep it within reach throughout the call,” says Alex. “But be careful, never just read off the paper.” You don’t want to risk sounding like a robot. Spontaneous answers are often better – just use the notes if you get stuck or dry up. (But don’t worry too much – just having the notes will reduce the chances of this happening!)

4) Re-read your original application

Haven’t seen your application or CV since you hit ‘Send’ a month ago? It’s normal for several weeks to pass between applying and having an interview, so go back and refresh your memory. According to Alex, you should always re-read your job application as though you were the employer and try to second-guess any uncertainties or doubts they may have – for example, why did you retake that exam? “Prepare for these questions and think about how you can reassure your interviewer,” says Alex. “Equally, be ready to expand on your positive experiences and achievements – they’ll want to hear more about all the good stuff that’s on your CV too.”

5) Speak clearly and slowly

Telephone interviews can be short (around 20 minutes) – and when you know there isn’t much time, it’s tempting to talk-super-quick-to-make-sure-you-cram-in-everything-you-need-to-PHEW! But according to Alex, this is a real no-no – and there is usually plenty of time for both sides to talk and listen as much as they need to. If you know you have a tendency to try to say too much, try saying less. “Speak calmly and succinctly,” she says. “Make sure all your points are made clearly before moving on – and give the interviewer a chance to ask questions. If they want to know more about something you only mention briefly, they’ll ask you to expand your answer.”

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