Top 10 Tips on How to Succeed at Telephone Interviews

Been invited to a telephone interview? Here’s our top tops on how to ace it.

So you’ve applied for your dream job and been invited back for the second stage: the telephone interview. Congratulations – getting to the first stage is often the hardest part. But whether you’re a natural on phone calls or they fill you with fear, the telephone interview should not be overlooked.

We asked career coach and ex-recruiter Michelle Baker for her top insider tips on how to succeed in the telephone interview, and maximise your chances of getting through to the next interview stage…

What is a telephone interview?

Telephone interviews are a way to filter out candidates who recruiters feel are unsuitable based upon the job description, personality fit and experience required. It can be carried out by HR and recruitment teams, or it might be with your potential new line-manager.

It can be as short as 15 minutes, or take up to an hour, and it’s essentially a way for your potential new employer to ensure that your CV sticks to the facts, before they bring you in for a face to face interview.

How to ace a telephone interview

Image: Adobe Stock

How do you prepare for a telephone interview?

First and foremost, have a snappy elevator pitch in the bank, that sums up who you are and your experience in a concise way.

Start with your current position, and lay out your key responsibilities there. Then, summarise the key educational and professional steps you’ve taken to get there.

Top Tip: Remember to keep it brief – three to four sentences will do. You’ve got the whole interview to go into further detail on your key achievements and skills.

Make sure you know your CV and cover letter inside out. This is what you’ll be questioned on, after all, so make sure you’re prepared for questions about your employment and education experience. The best part of a telephone interview is that you can keep your CV in front of you, so you can refer to it if you get tongue tied.

Top Tip: In the call, they’re going to be fact checking your CV and cover letter, so make sure you go over these and think of anecdotal evidence of your previous experience that you can share on the phone.

It’s also important to show your enthusiasm for the job on a telephone interview. Drawing from her experience, Michelle says:

“The one factor that influenced me above all others was that they expressed a sense of occasion; that this was important, they really wanted the job, they were enthusiastic and even if they didn’t have all the qualifications or experience, they sold themselves to me. In doing so they gave me confidence that they would do a great job of representing not only themselves, but also myself and my company.”

How do you conduct a phone interview?

While the interviewer can’t see you, it’s still a good idea to dress smart. This will help you feel more professional, and you’ll carry out the phone interview more confidently. Plus, if your phone signal cuts out and you have to resort to video interview, at least you’ll look the part!

Next up, when you answer the phone make sure you sound professional – not like you’re greeting your mates!

“Be sure to smile too, as this naturally ensures you sound enthusiastic. You could even try standing up, as this will make you feel more assertive” says Michelle.

When it comes to answering competency-based telephone interview questions, try to use the STAR technique, where you lay out the situation you were facing, the task you had to do, the action you took and what the result was.

  • Situation: Start by outlining the situation you were in.
  • Task: Talk about the task at hand. What was required of you?
  • Action: What did you do? What action/s did you take and why?
  • Result: Summarise the results of your actions.

This will help you to show your experience for the position, and to formulate your answers in a clear, concise and confident manner.

How to ace a telephone interview

Image: Adobe Stock

Typical Telephone Interview Questions

Each telephone interview is different, but according to Michelle:

“Questions are used in a way to confirm the details on the CV were correct, gaps in the CV can be accounted for, that the experience matches the language used by the individual, the confidence matches the level of experience, and the candidate can demonstrate their work in a variety of ways.”

Job interview questions will be varied, but you’re likely to be asked questions in line with the below, so it’s a good idea to prepare for them using the STAR technique.

  • Tell me about yourself and your experience
  • Why do you want to work in this industry?
  • Why do you want this role?
  • Why do you want to work at this company in particular?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • Can you share any experience of when you managed a team?
  • Tell me about a challenge you have faced and how you solved it
  • Where do you see your career heading in the next five years?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What do you do in your personal time?

Of course, some interviewers have been known to put some curveball questions out there, but these are more of a test of the way you cope in the face of pressure.

Common telephone interview mistakes

A common mistake people make when on a telephone interview is that they start to waffle. It’s easy to do, when you can’t see the recruiter’s face it’s tricky to gauge what they’re thinking! But don’t worry about silences on the call, it’s not your job to fill them, feel comfortable to stop talking when you have made your point.

People can make the common mistake of thinking that the interview is less formal when it takes place on the phone, but it’s important that you treat it in the exact same way that you would a face-to-face interview. Dress smart, keep it professional, and make sure you’re fully prepared.

What should you ask your interviewer?

Asking questions during a telephone interview is a good idea, and shows your aptitude to the job in question. This is not the time to ask about holiday entitlement, or company bonuses; you should use this as an opportunity to find out about what the day to day entails, how big your potential team will be, and what opportunities for career progression are.

As long as you prepare, act confident and show your enthusiasm for the role, you’ll do brilliantly. Remember to write down your feedback after the phone interview too, such as questions you weren’t prepared for, or questions you wish you’d asked, so that you can prepare better for next time.

Top tips for keeping calm during a phone interview

-          Plan ahead

-          Find a quiet place with no distractions

-          Count to ten before the call

-          Control your breathing

-          Have your CV to hand

-          Stay positive

-         Have water at the ready

If you’ve been invited through to the next stage, read our top tips to nailing your first face to face interview.

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  • Michael Rainbird

    Thanks for your advice Mervyn, Very helpful and just by reading this has already simplified the stress of a telephone call. 

    Kind Regards

  • Willie Barron

    I recently had a telephone interview and can confirm the general content and tone of the conversation were along the lines described in Michelle’s guide, which I found very useful if a little late for my requirements.I will certainly take on board her advice and use it if and when another opportunity presents itself.

  • Katy

    Really great advice.  I have just been made redundant so this advise is really good to come by :)

  • Anonymous

    Thank you very much 

    many thanks and kind regards

  • G Dawson2000

    My Telephone interview  was not nice, person on the other end did not ask anything about what was on my cv , what I had done in the passed, and she was typing all the time she was speaking to me, very off putting. It was a large company  and if that’s how it is going I won’t bother .
    Many Thanks

  • Anitaw99

    These are really good guidelines for telephone interviewing, especialy if you ave never been through one before.  I concur with the previous comment that reading these has taken away some of the stress involved in the process.



  • Fatboy

    Simplified tips on handling telephone interviews. Just what the doctor ordered, fantastic.

  • Alan Manchok Li

    thanks you
    in the morning ,i have a very important phone call to grab a £40 k job
    fingers crossed ah ……….

  • Walterhoughton

    thankyou very much for your imput, its a bible for jobseekers! :)

  • Michelle Baker

    Dear All, I’m absolutely delighted these tips have been helpful to you in your career journey.  I appreciate completely though how difficult it can be nowadays to find a new job but you can only do your best, be professional and prepare yourself as much as possible. Please let Mervyn or myself know what top tips you would like to see next and I’ll do my best to accommodate them.  Good luck to all and please let me know if I can be of any assistance.  Warm regards, Michelle.

    • Ianstaples

      Hi Michelle. I will take onboard your advice and hopefully i will be back in employment soon, Thanks for your advice. Regards Ian.  

    • Girish

      How to clear face to face interviews?