Date posted: 13/08/2018

How to prepare for a phone interview: Is your next opportunity calling?

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The good news about a phone interview is that it's a little like a take-home exam. You need to be prepared - but you can have all of your notes in front of you! Here's how to nail your next phone interview and progress to the next step.

Why a phone interview anyway?

Despite living in an age of increasingly technology-based work environments, phone interviews are still a common way for recruiters to find out which of their chosen candidates will be progressing to the next stage of the recruitment process. In fact, larger companies often use phone interviews as part of their preliminary screening process, to save time and resources on ensuring only the most suitable candidates are brought in for an in-person interview1.

What can I expect when they call me?

In some ways, a phone interview is not all that different to an in-person one. Be prepared for some standard interview questions, such as "why did you decide to apply?" or "tell me about a time when you invested a lot of time to get an outcome." Other interviews could involve you doing some homework, perhaps reading something in advance such as a case study, and then asking you questions about it.

To ensure you don't sound like a robot, refer to your notes if you get stuck but try not to read out pre-prepared responses word for word. You want to respond as genuinely as you can, as they will want to get to know the 'real you'.

Often the person that calls you won't be the person interviewing you in person (should you progress to that next stage). It is more likely to be a recruiter or HR manager, but that doesn't change how impressive and professional you need to be to stand out.

Preparation is key

It's important that you offer up clear and concise responses during the interview, so be sure to take adequate time ahead of your interview to think about what details you want to share about yourself and how you would answer some common interview questions to give you the very best chance of this thoroughly and follow any instructions carefully.

It's also helpful to set around 10-20 minutes right before the interview to read over any notes you have prepared and get yourself into the right headspace.

Make sure that you have your resume in front of you as it's very common for nerves to kick in, making you forget even the most basic of things like your first job.

If you have access to the job posting, make sure you have a copy on hand to refer to, or write down the skills that the position calls for. You'll want to highlight some of the words and phrases mentioned in the listing in your responses, to demonstrate that you've carefully read and understood the requirements and responsibilities of the job.

Top tips on the interview process

Read these simple and effective tips to overcome nerves and help nail your job interview.

Read MoreAbout Top tips on the interview process

Do your research

Context will be helpful, so set aside some time prior to the call to brush up on the specifics of the position and company you have applied for.

Find out what their mission is, look into their values and check out some of their current staff on LinkedIn. This will give you an idea of the company culture, and help you determine whether it's the right place for you. It will show that you've done your homework and demonstrate that you care about the role and company you're applying for.

You could even go one step further and take a leaf out of Paul Bailo's The Essential Phone Interview Handbook. Bailo recommends referring to a picture of the person you will be speaking to during the interview, explaining that "it's much easier to talk with someone when you know what he/she looks like"2.

Phone logistics

Check your calendar app for any potential clashes so that you're not distracted by appointment reminder notifications during the call, or worrying about needing to be somewhere else right before or right after your scheduled interview.

Nothing ruins a good phone rapport like one party yelling "I'm sorry, what did you say?" down the line every few minutes. Organise to take the call in a spot with reliable reception, as well as taking care of a few other phone interview essentials - a full battery charge, putting your phone on silent mode and turning off any alarms that may sound during the call.

While the interviewer can't see you and you could probably get away with wearing yesterday's hoodie and taking the phone call in bed - it's best not to. There's no need to have your fanciest outfit dry-cleaned, but do try to wear something that makes you feel professional and confident. Taking the phone call at your desk or while standing will also help you get into an engaged and energetic headspace.

Countdown to the call

Most importantly, eliminate all physical distractions and background noise on the day. Make sure any noisy pets aren't within earshot, and that Netflix isn't playing in the background. This isn't always possible, so at the very least make sure you've shut your door and given your housemates a heads up.

You don't want to have a coughing fit in the middle of a golden answer!

Keys to success

Thinking about the ways to answer some of the more standard interview questions can help you gather your thoughts before the interview starts.

It's likely recruiters will be looking to get an idea of your potential behavior in certain situations and understand your motivations. Reiterate your qualifications and experience in relation to the role you have applied for - this could be impressive things you've done at work, university or even in your personal life - and explain why you decided to apply in the first place. You could mention a time when you didn't get along with someone but were working to achieve positive results, or a time when you invested a lot of time to get an outcome - to give them an idea of how you respond to certain circumstances.

If asked if you have any questions, use this time to find out more about the role, the company and the people you might be working with and perhaps where the role could take you. Again, it proves that you care enough to ask.

A few final tips

During the interview remember to pause, gather your thoughts and take a breath before answering each question. If you need a little time to work out your answer, it's a good idea to let the interviewer know that you need a moment to think about it3.

And one last thing - turn that frown upside down. No, they can’t see you, but they can hear you, and you need to sound interested and cheerful, which is much easier to get across on the phone with a smile on your face!