How to Ace Your Telephone Interview

telephone interview

What is a Telephone Interview?

A telephone interview is a short conversation that takes place between a recruiter and a job candidate over the phone. For an increasing number of digital jobs, the telephone interview is the first stage in the interview process. It provides the opportunity for the recruiter to quickly assess your suitability and decide whether or not to take you further through the application process.

Telephone interviews are usually very brief and straightforward, and your main objective should be to come across as pleasant and personable, and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role. If the job you’ve applied for requires some personality or people skills, the recruiter will be very interested in how you come across over the phone during the conversation.

Whatever the case may be, it is important to be well-prepared for a telephone interview. The recruiter will be judging you solely on your voice and the way you come across on the phone. If you are not used to speaking in a professional manner over the phone and don’t come across very well, the recruiter is unlikely to take your application further even though you may be highly capable, with the skills, experience and background they are looking for in a candidate.

Here are important tips that will help you ace your telephone interview:

Dress the part.

This is a real interview, and you need to be in the right mindset. A lot of studies have shown that how we dress affects how we work.

If you’re casually dressed in your sweats (or your PJ’s) when you take the call, it would be very easy to sound too casual and unprofessional because you will feel more relaxed and talk to the person in the same way you talk to people when you’re dressed casually. This will definitely affect the way you come across over the phone. Since this is a real interview, dress as you would for a face-to-face interview. This is a formal conversation, and you need to match the tone of the interviewer – who will in all likelihood be formally dressed.


Dressing in a suit and tie will give you an air of professionalism that will subconsciously come across in your voice. Whenever you dress formally whether you’re male or female, you naturally begin to sound a lot more professional, and you start to think and act the part. Wearing a suit will also increase your confidence and  confidence, and help you feel more prepared mentally. So, be sure to take the call in a suit.

Be prepared.

If you haven’t scheduled a time with the recruiter or hiring manager, it means they can call you at any time. The first five to ten minutes of a phone interview can make or break you, so you need to be prepared and focused. If a prospective employer catches you by surprise, schedule a time to talk rather than going ahead and having a bad interview. Ask if you can call them back and suggest a time – after consulting your work diary, of course.

Do your research.

It is important to thoroughly research the company even before you submit your application, and also before your telephone interview. This will give you the knowledge you need to have a great interview. It also demonstrates that you’ve got a genuine interest in the role and will fit well within the organization.

You need to know what the prospective employer wants in their ideal candidate and then demonstrate how you meet those qualifications. In other words, you need to align your skills and attributes with the needs of the employer, and sell what they are buying to them. It is important to understand exactly what they are looking for so that you can tailor your background, skills and abilities to that role.

Analyzing the Job Description

The job description holds vital information about what the company is looking for. Understanding the job requirements will help you work out where your strengths align with the company’s needs, and whether you’ll need to address any skills or experience gaps in your application. If the job description is vague or not detailed enough, contact the HR department or the recruiter with a brief, polite email to ask for more information.

To assess whether a job is strong match for your skills and background, review the job description, person specification and your resume, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What problem is the company facing?
  • What are common problems in your industry that you solve?
  • What are the most important qualifications for the position?
  • What specific attributes and qualities are they looking for in the ideal candidate?
  • How can you come across as the ideal candidate?
  • What relevant skills and expertise can you bring from previous roles?
  • What transferable skills are they looking for?
  • Do you have the required, preferred or desirable skills listed in the job description?
  • What knowledge, skills and abilities make you more suitable for the role than anybody else? How can you bring that across over the phone?
  • What strengths do you have that are relevant for the role?
  • What might make you a weak candidate for the role? How can you address that?
  • If you are a fresh graduate, what relevant experience and lessons have you learned on your “on the job training” or “internship”?

The great thing about telephone interviews is that you can have everything you need to know about the company right in front of you during the interview so you don’t have to worry about being caught off-guard. Make sure you have prepared intelligent questions to ask during your interview.

Cut out all distractions.

It is important that you are 100% focused on the call. If you are distracted, it will come across in your voice, and that could ruin a good interview. So make sure you are in the right environment with absolutely no distractions when you take the call. The best place to take the call is at your desk.

Listen before speaking.

Don’t interrupt the recruiter. Listen and take notes so that you are able to respond to each of the points raised. Think before responding to each question. This will show that you’re a good listener. Look for similar things you have done in the past, point them out and explain what you did and what the results were. Don’t wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. Engage with the recruiter so you get a nice rapport going on.

Check your tone.

During a telephone interview, your tone of voice and the words you use will ultimately determine how well you perform at your interview. Note that your entire personality and attitude will be projected to the recruiter through the tone of your voice. This is why developing excellent telephone skills is one of the most valuable business assets you can acquire.

professional on the phone

Keep the following points in mind during your interview:

  • When speaking to the recruiter, use a direct, energetic and strong tone. It is okay to speak louder when making a point. You want to sound convincing, authoritative and emphatic. A monotone and flat voice does not sound pleasant to the ear and communicates to the recruiter that you’re bored and have no interest in what they are talking about.
  • It can be difficult to convey enthusiasm and energy on the phone, so one way to do this is by smiling and walking around as you speak. This will make a big difference in your voice and improve your tone. According to psychologists, the mind can be fooled by what the body is doing. So standing in a confident pose for two minutes will actually boost your confidence. Even though the recruiter cannot see you, if you are smiling as you are talking, they will be able to hear your smile in your voice because the more teeth you show, the better your tone will get. It is particularly important to smile when talking about relevant achievements in previous roles or when expressing your enthusiasm for the job.
  • Learn to take long, slow, deep breaths before you start speaking. This will help the tone of your voice by creating a calmer tone of voice.
  • Do not exaggerate your tone. Convincing voices sound energetic, but not hyper-energetic. You need to strike the right balance. If you sound hyper-energetic, the recruiter may conclude that this is not the real you, and you’re only putting on a show for them.
  • Avoid sounding quiet, tedious or boring during a phone interview – or any other interview for that matter. A low-pitched, slow and quiet drawl may lead the recruiter to conclude that you’re depressed or anti-social, which will in all likelihood kill off your chances of a job in the digital world.
  • Don’t speak over the recruiter. Allow him or her to finish speaking before you reply to avoid coming across as disruptive or argumentative. No matter what they are saying, resist the temptation to jump in until they have finished making their point.
  • Speak clearly and directly into the handset so that your voice comes across well, and the recruiter can understand what you are saying.

Mind your language.

The words you use during a telephone screening interview are extremely important. Avoid using slang, strong language, or words that breed familiarity such as “know what I’m talking about”, “ain’t it”, etc. Cut out the “umms” and “ahhs”. Your aim should be to make a strong impression, which means coming across as a serious professional.

Ask questions.

Asking the right questions is important to demonstrate your diligence and enthusiasm for the role, and to clarify that this is the right role and the right company for you. Don’t ask a barrage of questions. Two or three questions about the role that wasn’t covered in the job description or person specification is sufficient. For example, you can ask about training opportunities, scope for career advancement or the next step in the interviewing process.

After the Interview

After the interview, effective follow-up is a must so that you don’t lose out to a more proactive competitor. Take a set of positive actions and steps that show your enthusiasm and desire for the position.

Here is a list of steps you could take:

Send a Thank-You Email

It is important to send a thank-you email within 24 hours of the interview. And to really stand out, you may want to say more than simply thanking the interviewer for his time. You can really demonstrate your industry-knowledge and enthusiasm for the role by referencing an article that is related to a topic that may have been discussed during the interview.

For example, if you are interviewing for a search experience optimization position, one of the main topics that is highly likely to have come up is your link building strategies. You could reference a little-known but highly effective strategy.

Even before the interview, you should have already pin-pointed the article you’ll be sending to the interviewer which means you need to make sure you orchestrate the discussion about the article’s topic. You would make even more of an impact if you actually authored the article.

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