How to perform well in a telephone or Skype interview

 

What are they?

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.

Who uses telephone interviews?

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. Pie chart of length of telephone interviews

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!

How long do they last?

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.

Advantages of telephone interviews

For the employer:

For you:

Disadvantages of telephone interviews (for you)

"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.

. . 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

Tipstelephone interviews

    • 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.

    What questions will I be asked?

    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.

    • How you choose your university degree?
    • Why do you want to work for our organisation?
    • Why do you want to work in the job you have applied for?
    • What qualities are important to work in the role you are applying for?
    • What evidence can you give to show you possess these qualities?
    • What do we do?
    • Are you willing to be mobile on the job?
    • Tell me a time you have demonstrated teamwork/communication.
    • Tell me about a time when you have had to cope with pressure
    • Tell me about a challenge you have faced. How did you conduct the challenge? What were the advantages and disadvantages of your method? The steps you took? The results?
    • Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer?
    • When have you used your initiative to achieve a goal?
    • Can you mention a time when you have used your leadership skills?
    • When have you set yourself a goal? What challenges did you face?
    • Describe a time when you have exceeded a customer's expectations
    • Describe when you had to motivate others?
    • What do you think is important when communicating with people?
    • What skills do you have to offer to a team?
    • What is your greatest strength?
    • Why shouldn't we hire you?
    • Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
    • What do you think your job would involve doing?
    • Commercial awareness – what has been in news recently that would affect our organisation?
    • Do you have any questions for us?

     

    For help with these see our answers to 150 interview questions

    Will I be given any tests?

    "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

    Skype interviews

    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.

    A Skype interview will be more like a real-life interview than a telephone interview, but the following points are worth keeping in mind:
    • 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.

      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:

    Video interviews

    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

    Robotic interviews!

    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)

    Tips from Kent students who have had telephone interviews

    • Shut yourself away in a quiet place. Have a glass of water by the phone.

    • Be positive and articulate. Initial presentation is vital: you phoning them means first impressions really count. It's actually good fun though, provided you're prepared. (graduate sales interview)

    • Supply good examples. Talk slowly! (Smith and Williamson Accountants)

    • Relax, speak confidently (Accenture)

    • Interviewer was very nice and didn't mind if you took a few minutes to think. Their call centre is very noisy so you have to speak quite loud for them to hear you properly (HP)

    • The structure of the interview was explained well and the interviewer seemed friendly. (Logica)

    • If you do your research and follow the advice on the careers website you should have no problems with the telephone interview. I was notified of passing the interview after five days. When first contacted to arrange time for interview, the HR person made a point of stating that no knowledge would be needed of SAS for the telephone interview. I ignored this and read their website, their Wikipedia page and any other information that Google produced. Unsurprisingly, the first question asked was about my knowledge of SAS! After about five minutes the interviewer moved on to other questions, so always do your research on the company. The rest of the interview questions were the standard; tell me a time when… style of question, although one I was not expecting was “tell me about a time when you had to persuade someone to change their mind and how did you achieve this? (SAS)

    • Read your application and give strong examples. They seemed friendly: treat it as a chat and relax as they are quite people-focused and pride themselves on their open approach. (Grant Thornton Accountants)

    • Calm down and be prepared. Think of examples when you demonstrated the competencies that they are looking for. (Mercer Investment Consulting)

    • Prior to the telephone interview there were online numerical and verbal tests. Take your time. Keep your answers to a reasonable length. Each competency question was covering a key area. Make sure you read through your application answers beforehand. (3M )

    • When on the phone, make sure you have a copy of your application form in front of you - and notes! (Cable & Wireless)

    • Prior to the telephone interview there was verbal tests. Make sure you read through your application answers beforehand. Interview is entirely on soft skills.  No need to worry about time limit , you'll even be asked if you wish to add to an earlier statement. (Orange)

    • Prepare for interviews by researching the company (including recent press releases) and re-reading your original application. Personality test took about 10 minutes. Questions were describing a situation and asking which course of action you would take (multiple choice answers) (Barratt Homes)

    • Just be yourself, try to relax and don’t panic when they fire the questions at you. The questions seem to be based on your application and your knowledge of BT. They are checking if you fit in with their business. Asked a lot of questions, and they kept asking similar questions again to check you were telling the truth.  They appeared to be checking what you had written on your application form and CV, and were trying to ensure it was true.  This was certainly a verbal reasoning test and a test to see if you could think on the spot.  It was hard not to repeat yourself. (BT)

    • It was a telephone based interview consists of a role play and competency questions. Just prepare answers for all the common questions and you should ace the interview. The telephone interview can be tricky and the interviewer will be difficult during the role, so just stay calm and think practically. (Centrica)

     

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