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How to ace a telephone interview

Posted on 6/02/2020 by Shenique Safo


So you have applied for several jobs; a phone call from your prospective employer is imminent. But are you prepared for a telephone interview? With organisations now commonly using telephone interviews as part of the recruitment process, we give you our top tips on acing the interview.

Phone interviews can either be scheduled or unscheduled and you need to be prepared for both. Whilst it is perfectly acceptable to ask to reschedule a call, especially if you are not in the right environment, you do not want to give your moment to shine to the next person on their list. Be BOLD and venture into uncharted territories, really grasping the opportunity to showcase your relevant experience, commitment and why you believe you are the right person for the job. 

Whilst you are looking for your next opportunity and are actively applying for jobs, you should get into the habit of answering your phone professionally. A brief statement is all it takes “Hi, Shenique speaking”.

How do you prepare for a scheduled call?

You will always have the upper hand with a scheduled call as this allows you time to prepare and create a cheat sheet. Make sure that your phone is fully charged, you are in a quiet comfortable environment which has good mobile reception and where you will be undisturbed for the duration of the conversation.

One of the most important tools that you can access for free is the organisation’s website, it will provide all the information you need to show that you have done your research.

Three key facts to look for are:

  • Why the organisation was founded
  • Achievements to date
  • Future plans for the organisation

This information will provide structure to the answers you give and allow for you to tailor your responses on how you individually plan to contribute to the organisations goals in your role. Using the S.T.A.R (situation, task, action and result) technique will further embed structure to your answers. With each response you give, endeavour to ask a short question towards the end to encourage a two-way conversation. This way you will leave a good impression with the hiring manager and show you are keen to know more about the organisation and the role. If you are applying for a role within a university or higher education institution, I would highly recommend stating the relevant software used to complete tasks daily.

If you find it difficult to come across energetically over the phone, find a secluded room away from all distractions and clear a path where you can slowly pace up and down. As you respond to the interviewer’s questions, smile throughout. It may sound cheesy, but it works!

Preparing for an unscheduled call?

Unscheduled calls are usually from recruiters working on behalf of the client or an internal recruiter who will be screening applicants on behalf of hiring managers. Whilst these calls are often less formal, they are key to quickly assess how suitable you are for the role. If you have been applying to multiple roles, it is essential that you note the roles you have applied for. This will allow you to quickly establish what role the caller is contacting you about.

Our human anatomy naturally begins to protect us in uncomfortable situations, which materialises in a variety of ways such as sweating, speaking quickly or verbal slurs. When an interviewer asks a question that you are not prepared for, instead of reacting quickly (erm, huh, answering an entirely different question) ask them to repeat the question and take a deep breath. If you are struggling to find a suitable answer be honest and respond with something positive, such as; “I have not had exposure to that, but I am a quick learner and would be more than happy to undertake the necessary training.”

Memorise your USP’s (unique selling points) or have them written down to reference during the conversation. A guaranteed question to be asked in the conversation is the infamous “tell me about yourself?”. This is not supposed to be a trick question but often comes across as one. The interviewer is politely asking for you to give a brief overview of your career history and is not an opportunity for you to discuss your secret obsession for miniature cakes! Whilst it is always great to showcase your personality in an interview, this can be miscued in a phone interview, so stick to the facts and highlight why you are looking for a new role in their organisation. Save the less formal approach for the face to face interview!

You can read further interview advice on our website, including:

Seven questions candidates should ask in an interview (and four they shouldn’t!)
10 interview no-no’s that could stop you getting hired

Our Education & Training team are here to support you during the interview process, for further advice, contact the team on 020 7198 6090 or email