Telephone Interviews – A Preparation Checklist!

Increasingly aware of the importance of effective recruitment policies and procedures, yet every day thwarted by increasing workloads and time constraints, companies appear keener than ever before to embrace whatever means available to them to speed up the hiring process while maintaining the highest standards of selection quality.  An example of this is employers’ increasing tendency to whittle down an initial long list of applicants with a preliminary telephone interview designed to produce a more manageable number that will then be brought to the face-to-face stage.

Not without risks and potential pitfalls (some people really are ‘face-to-face’ guys,) this is a cost effective and understandable policy that is particularly applicable when candidates maybe have a long way to travel to interview, when a large part of the job will be on the phone, or when soft skills form a more prominent part of the brief.  It’s also worth pointing out that companies whose initial long list is indeed long, are usually the most open-minded of organizations in having put the least amount of limiting criteria in the way of their HR people and external recruitment partners.


While most preparation advice is equally applicable across both telephone and in-person interviews, some of the following pointers are nevertheless worthwhile considering if you are looking to progress from the phone-screening to the face-to-face stage:

  • Timing

There are two types of telephone interview: Scheduled (a specific time and date) and unscheduled (“Sometime on Friday…”) While you’ve little or no control over the latter, most good employers will not expect you to hang around all day as you might do anticipating a satellite TV installer.  But it’s worth remembering, particularly as other candidates might potentially withdraw, that Thursday at 1pm could indeed become Thursday at 12:50pm!!  So be ready in advance.

  • Research

Just as with a face to face interview, do your homework!  Research the company and, if possible, the background of your interviewer.  Prequalify with your recruiter what you’re likely to be asked based upon feedback already received from the company about what they liked about your CV and/or what reservations are likely to be raised.

  • Appearance!

An odd one, perhaps, but it’s important that you feel as confident and business-like as possible.  If being suited and booted conveys a more dynamic telephone presence therefore, then it’s worth ditching the dressing gown or garden jeans for a business suit and tie.  Every little helps…

  • Technology

Trust electronics as little as possible!  Have your questions, and your CV for that matter, to hand and ON PAPER, not on a screen.  You never know when it might freeze or WiFi is lost.  Nor do you want your interviewer to have to endure a background chorus of distracting keyboard tapping.  Equally, make sure that the technology you cannot dispense with is in proper working order and won’t let you down.  Land lines are better than mobiles as they won’t run out of battery or network reception.  That said, maybe the main phone in the hall is more open to potential distractions than a land line handset in a quiet upstairs bedroom or study.


  • Timing

If it has been arranged that you will call the interviewer then be sure to call at EXACTLY the designated time.  Five minutes earlier is not quite as bad as five minutes late, but it’s not far behind.

  • Pacing

With no eye contact or body language to guide you, it can be difficult to assess how well or badly you’re engaging with a telephone interviewer.  Silences, for example, are potentially more awkward than in person.  But don’t forget that a good interviewer will know that you may need a little time to consider the question and compose a suitable response, so be brave with your silences, they exist to ensure that what is said next will be worth the wait!  Don’t rush to fill the pauses with unnecessary clarification or small talk that will only dilute the potency of your answers.  Your interviewer, in turn, may also need time.  If he or she is really taking a long time then a simple “does that answer your question?” will do fine.  Concentrating on your overall tempo should also help you avoid the mother of all No-No’s that is INTERRUPTING.

  • Style

There is a common misconception that the level of formality in a telephone interview is somehow less than that of a face to face meeting.  In reality however, over-familiarity with your interviewer, or a generally more ‘pally’ approach, will backfire more often than not.

  • Posture

A vital component of a good face-to-face interview, it’s understandable to assume that good body language and posture matter less when the interviewer can’t actually see you.  If studies on how posture can directly affect the intonation and thereby perceived assertiveness of your voice are to be believed however, this assumption would be dead wrong.  So sit up straight, or stand.  And smile!  You’ll look ridiculous but you’ll sound world-beating.

  • What else?

Drink enough to keep your throat clear but not so much that you’ll need the go to the toilet (the call could go on for a while,) DO NOT smoke (It IS audible) and, above all, close for a meeting in person.


As with a face-to-face interview, your telephone interviewer is likely to have not have fully decided whether or not to progress your application by the end of the call, particularly if they still have other candidates to speak to.  So, you’re in a strong position in the day or two following your telephone interview to still be able to positively affect the outcome of the decision making process.  An effective interview follow-up is a far more proactive approach than just “sitting tight” in the aftermath.  Speak to your recruiter regarding initial feedback and use this as the basis of a well worded, courteous and professional follow up email to the interviewer, thanking them for their time, reiterating your interest in the opportunity and welcoming further questions or clarification, by phone or email, and at any time.

Good luck!

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