The Telephone Interview: Top 5 Essential Tips

Sat in your dressing gown, chowing down on morning muesli, before reclining in your wingback chair and taking one of the most important calls of your life. The dreaded telephone interview. If you've ever had one you will already know, but if you've not then you will learn that there is a chasm of contrast between talking over the phone rather than face-to-face in an interview situation.

But fear not, as this article is here to define the 5 essential tips and tricks to develop your phonetic prowess and impress the fire-breathing dragons on the other side of the wire. A voice like Morgan Freeman's is an advantage, but not required.


1. Dress For The Occasion

Contrary to my opening image, the last thing you want to do is take this call sprawled on your sofa, twiddling belly button fluff whilst donning your six-year old pajamas (pajamas that you can't bring yourself to discard because you have "worn them comfy")...We all have them. Psychologically, having a shower, dressing yourself smartly and generally taking pride in your appearance can have a huge effect on your communication with people. Or as Tyler Tervooren puts it:

Look sharp, be sharp, the clothes you wear change what people hear you say.

Imagine your voice is a mannequin. Don't worry, I am going somewhere with this. With no clothes on, your 'mannequin voice' lacks that unique personality, charisma and verve. Personality and charisma win interviews (along with relevant experience, qualifications and the occasional bribe). But dress that mannequin in something professional/clean-cut and your voice will magically change.

Perception and self-image play a huge part with your vocal tone believe it or not. People will interact with you based on how you dress a lot of the time. So it's not crazy to assume the way you dress controls the way you speak too, even if they can't see you.

Not wanting to conclude the point with such a bizarre analogy, please enjoy the biggest cliche out there. Smile. Research has consistently shown that a smile can be heard. Be enthusiastic, animate your voice, avoid a monotone drone of what you can/can't do. You'll be surprised what attire and a smile can do for your confidence.

2. Two Ears For a Reason

The mouth is outnumbered 2 to 1 by the ears. It's always been that way, I think. Listening to people is the most important thing you will ever do in life. That's a big claim I know, but think about it. Everything we learn, teach, practice, create, achieve all stem from listening to someone along the way. Make sure that when you are asked a question, answer that question exactly. A lot of people are often guilty (myself included) for dancing and digressing away from difficult questions. Be honest and to the point. If there is some additional information you feel will support or help your cause then say it. If not, then keep stum and listen some more.

Besides, humans love to talk, it's just a fact of nature. So to interact well with a fellow human, you need to share speaking time. Pause, digest information and then unleash that machine gun of vocabulary. Of course over telephone you can't pre-empt when the other person is about to speak (through watching their hand gestures, eyes, and mouth movements and so on), so it's important not to interrupt, be patient and show politeness. 

Phone calls can also consist of weighted pauses, pauses which imply a 'follow-up'. These can be a little awkward sometimes but just keep calm and stay confident. Fillers such as 'urrm' can be difficult to avoid, but try to consciously stop yourself from overusing them. If every other word is 'urrm' you are in serious danger of sounding like a David Beckham in a post-match interview. 

3. Organisation

It would be easy to be complacent whilst strolling the corridors of your own castle and to think a copy of your CV isn't required. After all, you emailed it to them. Oh but it is. If they start asking you questions about your qualifications (which they will do, because that's generally what interviews are), you need to know the answers and be accurate with your reply. 

It would be a good idea to go over your own CV with a highlighter and pick out the key, most impressive points that you may want to elaborate on a bit more. Make sure you have a pen to hand and notepad too, as you never know what they might want you to take note of. Have a glass of water accessible, because you don't want to get a dry throat and have the wonderfully embarrassing saga of having a coughing fit for 5 minutes of the call (experience level: first hand). 

Vaguely connected to organisation is ensuring that you are in the right environment. For example, if you know they are going to call you at 10am, don't plan to take your six year-old to Bungle Bear's Activity Centre. Your surroundings need to be quiet, non-distracting and appropriate. Your own home in a quiet room or even a small cafe would be fine. The pub on a friday night or a music festival, not ideal. 

4. Be Yourself


The truth is, you will make yourself more nervous by trying to be someone else.

Again, this sounds somewhat cliche but is one of the simplest rules people tend to forget. Unless you're being interviewed to star alongside Leonardo in his next blockbuster, there is no need to act differently. Everyone tends to speak that little bit posher on the phone, but don't overdo it, as it is easily detectable and could convey insecurity in yourself.
If you have a great sense of humour show it a little, have a joke if the situation calls for one. Again, within reason.

The truth is, you will make yourself more nervous by trying to be someone else. What's more, you are effectively selling them a totally different person. The key here is to make a great impression so that they want to take you to the next stage (or if you're really good, give you the job!). 


5. Any More Questions?

After being interrogated - your past, present and future strewn into the spotlight - I think you are entitled to ask a question or two as a potential candidate. A question I like to use will get the potential employer opening up and answering things for you. 'What skills and experience would make an ideal candidate?'. Although something they may have already answered in the job advertisement, having them reiterate it in person to you is very important.

It's an open-ended question which will evoke more than just a 'yes' or 'no' answer. That means they are going to lay their cards on the table. If there is anything they say that you didn't pop down or already discuss with them, now is your chance to do so.

Is there anything I have said or not said during this interview that would prevent you from offering me this position?

Open-ended questions are great for extracting that extra bit of information that you need. They can also be used to manipulate how you want them to answer - almost turning them into a closed question halfway through. Like this: 'Is there anything I have said or not said during this interview that would prevent you from offering me this position?'. If they say 'no' then you have clearly impressed and you should be asking them when you start.

If they say 'well actually...' and then divulge on whatever it is that's proving a hurdle, at least you have the opportunity to counter the point there and then. People can focus too much on answering the questions so well, but forget that the interview is also a chance for you to ask questions too. Feel free to ask the interviewer how they got to their position (people like to talk about themselves remember?) and also ask about the opportunities to progress your career within the company (showing a commitment from yourself for the future).

Hopefully after reading this you are feeling a little more relaxed and prepared, and that dreaded telephone interview now seems a little less daunting. Nerves are totally normal in any interview situation, so being able to manage and control them really is half the battle. These five points are sure to help with that.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is to stay relaxed and be yourself. Unless you're actually a really horrible person, then just pretend to be Richard Branson or something. 

Written by Jonathan Clarke

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