Telephone Interview Tips

Telephone interviews are obviously an important part of the recruitment process for Caribbean companies recruiting candidates from overseas. Due to the nature of your particular job search, you will almost certainly come up against this type of interview. Many times it just is not feasible for say a British or a Canadian Citizen to travel down to Grand Cayman for an interview...... so this section is dedicated to helping you sail through these often nerve-wrecking situations......

Firstly, a couple of points as a starter.....
(1) Telephone interviews save time and obviously are relatively inexpensive.

Employers or recruitment agencies may have received hundreds of responses to a vacancy advertisement. The pile of resumes received can be significantly reduced by just conducting a short telephone interview and then short-listing the suitable applicants.

Employers, therefore, use the telephone interview as an initial screening interview. It is a short, cost-effective way of finding out the answers to the following questions about the applicant:

Is the applicant serious about the job and the organisation ?

Has he/she made any effort to research the company/position or has just sent in his/her resume?

How good are his/her communication skills?

Why does he/she want to quit from his/her existing job?

(2) Telephone interviews could be scheduled or unscheduled.

There is no fixed system for when a telephone interview is held, unlike a face-to-face interview where the time, date and venue are scheduled well in advance. Some employers could inform you before-hand when they are likely to call. Others may just decide to pick up the phone and call you in the evening when they expect that you would be back from work. You also cannot be sure who is making the first call, whether the HR person or the recruiting agency.

In this scenario, it makes sense to be prepared because you never know when you will receive the telephone call. In case you receive the call, without prior notice, at a bad time, when you are in the middle of some domestic chore, you could take down the person's name and telephone number and say you would call back after 5 minutes. Or, you could request the caller to hold on for a few seconds till you get your act together in terms of getting a paper/pencil and your documents ready. Otherwise, you may not be psychologically prepared and could be caught on the wrong foot from the word go.

If you are lucky, you may be informed of a date and time when the telephone interview will be held. This will may things easier for you in terms of being mentally prepared, having the relevant papers by your side, speaking suitably for the occasion etc.

Through this section, we provide guidelines on how you can prepare for a telephone interview - to improve your performance and increase your chances of being short-listed.

What is your objective in a telephone interview?

As the telephone interview is usually the initial screening that works as an elimination round, your objective is to get short-listed! Getting short-listed implies that you move on to the next round. With the distance between you and the employer, this next phase of the recruitment process may be a more in-depth telephone interview, potentially with a different interviewer or panel. However, for many employers, the telephone interview will be just the initial test - you may then be very well on a plane to the Caribbean for a face-to-face interview.

You need to, therefore, prepare for this telephone interview and not treat it as lightly as a casual call. However, do not let the significance unnerve you. It is important that you remain cool and confident throughout the duration of the telephone interview, as this will do wonders to your performance!

The interviewer wants to evaluate your communication skills. The primary concern of the interviewer, during a telephone interview, is to judge you by your communication skills. How well do you communicate on the telephone, where you cannot see your interviewer? Do you seem uncomfortable since you cannot see the interviewer's reactions? Do you sound confident, qualified, interested and enthusiastic despite the absence of non-verbal cues from the person at the other end? Or are you left stuttering and groping for words, distraught by occasional awkward silences during the telephone call?

How can you improve the way you communicate on the telephone?

Can you change the way you speak overnight just for an interview?

Think through your answers to improve the way you communicate on the telephone. Improving the way you communicate on the telephone is not just how you speak and your accent. What is crucial is what you say i.e. the content of your answers. You can definitely make a difference to your answers by a certain degree of smart preparation.

Your preparation should involve thinking through certain questions that you could be asked with regard to your resume, and how you could possibly answer them. This does not mean that you should memorise canned and standard answers, but just that you draw up a list of anticipated questions, and think through how you would answer them. You could jot down points for each answer or just write a few key words to clarify your thought flow.

This will eventually help you in the actual telephone interview by reducing the time taken to answer questions, will ensure that the answers are brief and to the point, will reduce unnecessary gaps and long silences at your end. In addition, it will also indicate to the interviewer that you are a thinking person with clear career plans and are seriously interested in the position at the employer organisation.

If you get caught off guard because you had not thought through a list of anticipated questions, your answers would tend to be long, lacking focus and you would come across as a confused individual, which is definitely not what you want the interviewer to perceive.

Some of the questions that you can anticipate are:

Summary of your career/previous work experience

Short and long term career goals

Why do you want to quit your current job?

Why have you applied to this organisation?

Why do you want to work for this organisation?

How are your skills, qualifications, and experience suitable for this job?

What do you know about the job that you have applied for?

Tell us something about yourself

Find a solution to a problem situation at work

For any questions relating to how you would handle a problem or crisis situation at work, remember to use an analytical and structured format for your answer i.e. problem definition-solution-implications.

A more thorough list of interview questions can be found here.


Is there anything that can be done to make the process, if not more pleasant, at least more productive? Something that you can do to achieve a higher percentage of success during the process? Remember that this process is the same as a normal interview, except in hyperspeed -- and without the element of "in person" communication. Here are some ideas to review prior to the interview which will help you sharpen your telephone interview skills:

(1) Remember that the person on the other end of the phone may be just as uncomfortable as you are. Concentrate less on your feelings of inadequacy and more on how to make the other person feel at ease. Most people do not like the telephone interview process -- remember that it works both ways.

(2) Smile over the phone. Believe it or not, smiling while you are talking will actually help you sound more "friendly" and open. Many telephone marketing offices have a mirror on each desk so that their people can always keep this in mind!

(3) During the telephone interview, you are judged by the same criteria used in an in-person interview, i.e.: self-confidence. Self-confidence is judged differently by phone than in-person (where eye contact, for example, can be an excellent barometer). Instead, you'll be judged by a much more subtle set of factors -- the sound of your voice, your level of friendliness and enthusiasm, etc.

(4) Avoid verbosity and lengthy unnecessarily detailed explanations in your answers. Keep your answers short and to the pointand stick to what you have been asked. Do not get into a long preamble before you get to the actual answer. This will show clarity of thought and can be achieved by your preparation. For example, to answer the question-"Tell us about yourself"- you may have a lot of information to give but you will need to prioritise. You could either describe yourself in a few adjectives to cover your strengths and weaknesses, or you could give a brief outline of your current employment and your career objectives etc. What you say should be prepared before hand so that it ensures that your answer is short and to the point.

(5) Prepare answers to as many questions that you can think of because there is no fixed duration for the telephone call. Your telephone interview could vary from a duration of 5-10 minutes to half an hour or longer. The longer the interview takes does not necessarily mean a good interview, similarly a short interview does not necessarily mean a bad interview over the phone. It depends on what your answers were and how you delivered them. Just remember to keep your answers crisp, concise and focussed.

(6) Speak clearly and slowly. Be articulate. You have to rely on the interviewer's listening skills to evaluate what you say, so do not take any chances in messing up at your end. You have to be sure that the interviewer has heard and understood what you say, so initially you may need to be careful about the pace at which you speak. However, do not concentrate on it so much that you forget what you were talking about!

(7) Your voice should sound pleasant, friendly and enthusiastic. Since the interviewer cannot see you, your tone of voice is important in making an impression on him. Try to sound enthusiastic. Smile even though you cannot be seen, because you will be surprised how smiling can improve the way you sound on the telephone! It will automatically give your voice a friendly tone!

(8) Although you are always judged on your ability to listen well, nowhere in the recruiting process do listening skills become more important than in the telephone interview. You'll find that your nerves will sometimes make this very difficult. I suggest that you close off all thoughts about whatever is going on around you and concentrate on the words and voice of the interviewer. Ensure that there are no distractions such as the blaring noise of the TV set or anything else at home, while the interview is going on.

(9) Be positive in what you say. You should approach your answers in a positive way i.e. do not criticise your former employer or give a negative picture of why you want to leave your current job. You are obviously looking for a change because you are unhappy with your existing job, but you can still be diplomatic about the reasons why! Give the real reasons, but put it across in a positive way e.g. why you feel the need to move on in your career etc. And if you are looking for a change because you cannot get along with your present boss, there is no guarantee that you will get a better boss in your new job! Be sure why you are changing jobs- delving deeper into your career plans will give you more convincing reasons for why you want to quit your existing job.

(10) Ask sensible questions. Many people find that the most uncomfortable scenario in a telephone interview is the occasional "dead air" of silence during the conversation. Do you have a list of questions prepared about the company and the opportunity that you can refer to when caught in one of those dead spots? Although good communication seems to be up to both of you, typically that dead air will be your responsibility to fill. Ask questions to show interest in the job you have applied for. To avoid just a one-sided conversation on the telephone, where you just speak when spoken to, if there is an opportunity, you could ask the interviewer certain questions about the organisation or the job that you are being interviewed for. For example, you could clarify the responsibilities that your job will entail, the number of people working in the group/department or team that you will be joining. You could also ask what your immediate priority would be if recruited, in terms of a problem that the organisation is currently facing in that area, or any project that you may need to initiate as soon as you join. This will just go to show that you are a serious candidate for the position, and that you are really interested in the job.

(11) Don't ever talk about issues related to potential compensation, company benefits, problems at your current employer, etc., when in the throes of an initial phone interview. This is solid advice for any first-interview situation. e.g. do not launch into a diatribe about bad management at your company, or asks the infamous line "What's the job pay?" avoid initiating any salary talk unless the interviewer brings it up. Salary negotiations are better discussed at a later date. Right now it is more important that you convince the interviewers to short-list you for the next stage in the selection process, rather than worry about the salary you will be getting!

(12) Keep important papers accessible near the telephone. Since you may receive your telephone call without warning, it would help if you kept important papers within easy reach of the telephone. As you cannot be seen, you could quickly glance at the papers for any assistance that you may need in answering questions that you had not anticipated. Keep papers such as your resume, the cover letter and any other information that you may have researched on the employer such as company size, market share, turnover, job responsibilities etc., easily accessible near the telephone. You can use the fact that you cannot be seen to your advantage in terms of referring to your prepared points or resume to assist you in your answers. Try not to stumble over words while answering questions. It is best to be cool and think on your feet to answer surprise questions. Your preparation should have taken care of other questions and answers so that you did not need to refer to anything anyway!

(13) Keep a paper and pen or pencil handy to jot down any points or names that you may need to, during the course of the telephone interview.

(14) In most interviews on the telephone, there may be only one interviewer at the other end. However, in some cases, the interview may be a conference call where a number of interviewers fire questions one after the other. Sounds unnerving, but don't lose heart! Just follow the basics- Speak to each person in the same pleasant way, as you are not aware of the hierarchy at this stage! Answer the person who asks the question and follow this for each further question. Ensure you catch and remember the names of the interviewers if they introduce themselves, and write them down so you can address the individuals personally in follow-up correspondence.

(15) Research and preparation. Know the company first. Just like no good lawyer would enter a courtroom without the best preparation possible, do not go into this potential opportunity without knowing your stuff. Surely several hours research is worth the effort, when the end result could be a Job in the Sun ?? Do your homework and you will have gone a long way to improving the situation. As with your resume and other information, have it visible for looking at during the call. If you know the content well enough, it wont make you stumble, - but will probably serve as good trigger points for further questions and discussion.

Conducting a successful telephone interview is something that matters throughout your career. At all levels of the organization, the telephone interview provides a valuable service to the recruitment process. By its very nature, it is a tool used to help define the job and the potential that the field of applicants has to fit within those parameters. Human resources and hiring managers alike all find that despite how much they may dislike the process, it is an invaluable tool.

Follow these guidelines and then look forward to a good telephone interview!

Is that your phone ringing?

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