How to perform well in a telephone or Skype interview
- What are they?
- Who uses telephone interviews?
- How long do they last?
- Advantages of telephone interviews
- Disadvantages of telephone interviews
- What questions will I be asked?
- Will I be given any tests?
- Skype interviews
- Video interviews and robotic interviews
- Tips from Kent students who have had telephone interviews
They are real interviews held over the phone rather than face-to-face. You will usually be interviewed by a member of the graduate recruitment or HR team.
A telephone interview will usually be given to candidates who have passed the online application and/or psychometric test stage of the graduate recruitment process and is used to sift out applicants to be invited to a face-to-face interview or assessment centre.
You are more likely to have a telephone interview with one of the large corporate recruiters than with a small or medium sized company. Telephone interviews are used by all kinds of employers – banks, accountancy and law firms, consultancies, retailers, manufacturing companies etc
Companies that use telephone interviews include Tesco, HSBC, Corus, BT, Lloyds of London, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline, Vodaphone, BSkyB and many others.
They are especially common for sales-related jobs, such as recruitment consultancy and particularly (surprise!) telesales, where verbal communication skills are paramount.
You may also expect a telephone interview if you are applying for jobs abroad – in which case calls may come in at all hours of the day or night!
Based on a small sample of 14 Kent students who have had telephone interviews recently, they varied in length from 20 minutes to 1 hour, with the average length being half an hour: see the pie chart on the right for details.
For the employer:
- They are time and cost-effective - most last about 20-25 minutes.
- They test your verbal communication skills and telephone technique.
A survey by Shortlister.com found that the most popular location for telephone interviews was the candidate's bedroom (29%) or living room (25%), but 9% of job seekers have been interviewed whilst in the bath and one candidate whilst riding a horse! 60% of under 34 years old had had a phone interview, compared to 32% aged 45 to 50.
- You can refer (quickly!) to your application form, take notes – even hold on to your teddy bear for moral support.
- You don't need to dress up or smarten up.
- You don't need to spend time traveling to interview or wonder if the employer will pay your expenses.
- You can't see the interviewer to gauge their response.
- Tension – you never know when an employer might call to interview you.
- They can seem to go very quickly, without giving you much time to think about your answers - so be well prepared!
- According to a survey of 2,500 office employees
"Very distant and cold style of interview: no chitchat. They only want to know if you can fill their criteria. High rate of questions. Not at all easy but a good experience. "
Kent graduate commenting on their telephone interview.
The advertisement may ask you to 'phone the company.
This gives you total control over the time and place of the interview – although means that you will have to pay for the call. At the time arranged, make sure you are in a quiet location and that you will not be disturbed during the call.
. . or they may phone you in response to your CV/application form
You will normally be advised when the telephone call will be made so always be prepared for this:
One company had telephone screening interviews with 10 graduates and not one had done any research into the company, leading to every single one being rejected! See our commercial awareness page
- Keep your mobile with you, charged, topped up and switched on at the appropriate time! Make sure that the reception is OK.
- If you have given a landline number, and share a house with other students/graduates or live in the family home, try and prepare other people in the house for these calls and prevent replies such as: “’Lo. Uh? Who? Oh, right – OI! DAVE! IT’S FOR YOU!”
- Try and take the phone to as quiet and private a location as possible.
- If the call does come unexpectedly and you are not prepared say "Thank you for calling, do you mind waiting for a minute while I close the door/turn off the radio/take the phone to a quieter room?". This will give you a little time to compose yourself.
- If it really is a bad time, offer to call back, fix a time and stick to it.
- Check your answerphone message: is it one that you would want a prospective employer to hear? Does it give a professional impression? If not, change it – just in case you do miss a call for any reason.
- Keep a copy of your application and information on the company handy, plus a pen and notepad to take notes. Have your laptop turned on if your application is on this.
- Before the call, make a list of your USP's (unique selling points): the things that make you better in some ways than most of the other people who will be applying.
- Don't just read out your notes as this will sound stilted.
- It’s useful to have a glass of water to hand during a phone interview (but move the phone away from your mouth when you swallow …). You will be doing a lot of talking and you don’t want your mouth to dry up at a crucial moment!
- Smile when you dial! (and, more importantly, when you speak): it really does make a difference to your tone of voice.
- Although the interviewer can’t see you, you may find it easier to come over in a “professional” manner if you are sitting at a desk or table rather than lounging in bed.
- In a face to face interview, you show that you are listening via non-verbal signals such as nodding your head. Over the phone you have to show this by the occasional "OK", "uh-huh", "I see", "I understand", "yes" or similar interjections.
- Listen very carefully to the interviewer and try to answer with a lively tone of voice. Speak clearly and not too fast.
- Reflect back what the speaker is saying in other words. This shows you're listening carefully and checks you are understanding. It is often the most useful way of giving positive feedback to someone: "I hear what you're saying and take it seriously". You can't keep saying "uh-huh" or "yes" for too long without it sounding false.
- Immediately after the interview, write down the questions you were asked and any ways in which you could have improved your responses.
These will be identical to those asked in a face to face interview!
Here are some questions that Kent students have been asked at telephone interviews.
"The telephone is such an important invention that one day every town will have one"
Alexander Graham Bell
Perhaps – tests can quite easily be administered over the phone. The interviewer may read out a series of statements and you will be asked to say if you agree or disagree. Sometimes this can be done by pressing the telephone keys.The tests involved are more likely to be personality-type questions than reasoning tests. For example, you may be asked to rate the extent to which you felt the following activities reflect your personal style, from 1 (not at all) to 5 (a lot):
- Meeting new people
- Setting yourself targets to achieve
- Working on your own
- Repairing mechanical equipment
Conducting interviews via Skype offers employers all the advantages of a telephone interview in terms of cost-effectiveness with the bonus of being able to see the candidate. While they are still not as widely used as telephone interviews, they are particularly helpful for international recruitment when interviewing the candidate in another country – e.g. for TEFL teachers. Universities often use them when interviewing candidates for postgraduate study and research.
As the candidate, you are likely to find that face-to-face contact with the interviewer helps to make the interview a slightly less unnatural experience. The disadvantage is that you will have to dress as smartly as you would for a real-life interview (at least from the waist up!) and it won’t be quite as easy to refer to your notes or application form during the interview.
- When preparing for the interview, choose your location carefully.
- Use a private room (not a study area) and put a “Do Not Disturb – Interview in Progress” sign on the door.
- Sitting at a desk or table, rather than in an armchair or on the bed, will help you feel more professional as you will be sitting up straight.
- Make sure that the interviewer is not going to be distracted by anything in the background – tatty posters, lamps, unmade bed, piles of unwashed laundry, etc.
According to a survey by OfficeTeam more than six out of 10 HR managers in the United States now use video to interview job applicants.
Many British firms are now doing the same.
- If you live on the ground floor it may be a good idea to pull down the blinds to avoid any of your so-called friends pulling faces through the window, but make sure that the lighting is bright enough for the interviewer to see you clearly.
- Ask a friend to Skype you before the interview to check that everything is working, that the background is clear and that any notes or crib sheets are out of view of the camera.
- Turn off any other programs running on your computer – you don’t want to be distracted by an email suddenly popping up while you are speaking.
- Dress smartly as you would for a normal interview as this will make you feel more confident. You can however wear your pyjama bottoms if these are out of view of the camera!
- Look at the camera so it looks like you are talking directly to the employer and smile! Make sure the webcam aligns on your face and shoulders. Sit up straight with a good posture rather than slouching.
- Speak clearly into the microphone. Avoid speaking at the same time as other people as this can make it difficult to hear what is being said on Skype, so you must to allow people to finish speaking to avoid missing information.
A survey by Right Management found that 18% of candidates have had a video interview in the past year more than twice the number a year ago. 82% of hiring managers have used Skype, and 6% used pre-recorded platforms.
Nineteen percent used video interviews and more than two-thirds expect video interviews to be used more in the next three years. (See Video Interviews below).
- Consider turning off your own picture in the top right corner as this can be distracting.
- Make sure that you have a phone number and/or email for your interviewer, so that you can contact them in the case of any technical problems.
For further advice, see:
- Skype www.skype.com/intl/en-gb/home
- Skype interview advice www.grb.uk.com/interview-advice-skype.0.html
- Skype interviews www.jobs.ac.uk/career-tools-and-advice/interview-tips/1252/job-interviews-by-skype
- BBC Article: skype interviews: Is it more tricky to be grilled by video? www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21334710
The use of recorded video interviews is increasing. These started with technology companies, but have now spread to mainstream employers. These differ from Skype interviews in that all candidates are usually asked the same questions which can be tailored to the specific job the employer is recruiting for. Recruiters have the opportunity to replay, review, and rate the interviews online, so they can compare candidates without having to remember who said what.
In a recent survey of employers in the US
9.4% currently accepted video CVs
7.1% planned to accept video CVs in the future
28.2% wished to research the implications of video CVs before accepting them
55.3% did not accept video CVs and probably would not in the future.
A structure used by one company is as follows
- Arrangements for an interview are scheduled at a company office or via the applicant's laptop or tablet.
- A tutorial will provide instructions on the webcam and the interview.
- The applicant will have 30 seconds to read the question and two minutes to respond.
How to get prepare. Many of the tips for Skype interviews above also apply
- Ask for help (available online or by phone) if you don't know how the webcam works or if you have questions.
- Follow the directions carefully
- Dress just like you would for a face to face interview.
- Practice - record yourself to see how you appear on camera.
- Be aware of your surroundings and the lighting.
- Look at the camera, not down at the desk or table.
- A video interview is a "real" interview, just like when you interview in an office. Given that the interview can be scored and reviewed, it can be even more important than a typical first round phone interview
Some companies are now using virtual interviewers using life-like avatars to ask the questions normally asked by an interviewer via online video interview software. It helps companies to save money and improves the candidate’s interview experience. The average cost per hire in the UK is about £5,000, and this software may save 43% of the screening cost by reducing the time involved in the process.
The avatar keeps interviewees engaged via visual, audio and text prompts and is visible during the whole process so that the interviewee has something to focus on. Avatars are consistent, asking each question in the same way to each interviewee. See New software replaces recruiters with avatars (HR Grapevine)
- For details of telephone interviews with a range of companies see our Interview Reports
- See also the "Methods of Approach" section of our Creative Jobhunting page
- We now have an online video on telephone interview skills (campus only: lasts 13 minutes)