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Conquering the Phone Interview

Beyond Blogs Emma Wadsley Web

I phone candidates all the time; to update their work status, to arrange interviews, and to conduct initial interviews on the phone after receiving their application for work.

Whilst this initial phone call after sending your CV to a job may not seem to like such a big deal, it’s important to keep in mind that this phone call can be the difference between securing a formal interview or ending up in the “no” pile. As such, I believe the phone call you receive after sending through your CV to a job is often overlooked in its importance. It’s the first point of contact you’re going to have with the employer or recruiter, and first impressions count. And with the COVID-19 pandemic leading employers to do all the interviewing remotely, whether over the phone or through video, having the skills to approach virtual interviews with the same level of seriousness and professionalism you would use when speaking face-to-face is essential.

That said, phone interviews aren’t the easiest hurdle to overcome, and many people I’ve spoken to find them more difficult to overcome than a face-to-face interview. The power of body language is completely nullified, you can’t read the interviewer’s facial expressions for an indication of how well you’re doing, and what’s more, the phone call can often come completely by surprise. To help you get past this initial step and on to job search success, here are a few of my top tips!  

1.      Sort out your voicemail

The phone call might not always come at a great time, so chances are your prospective employer (or me!) will be directed through to your voicemail. That means that if you’re applying for jobs, you need to make sure your voicemail message is in order. Call yourself in advance so you can listen back to it, and check for the basics. Do you mention your name in your message? Are you clearly audible? Is it something you’d want your potential employer to hear? If the answer to those questions is no, then it’s time to give it an overhaul. Sit yourself in a quiet room and record a simple message. One last thing – if your voicemail message is one of those fake conversations that leaves the caller wondering whether they are actually speaking to you or not, then please, for the love of all things holy, change it.

2.      If you can’t take the call, you can’t take the call

Rather than going to voicemail, there will be occasions where you pick up the phone but it won’t be the best time for you to talk. Maybe you’re at work, where it can be a struggle to surreptitiously slip out of the office to take a call about a potential new opportunity. Maybe you’re on your way home, in a noisy environment like a bus or a busy street. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to say that you can’t talk right now and arrange a more suitable time. The vast majority of employers will be understanding of this (provided you keep your word on the newly agreed time) and will accommodate you. Taking the call when you’re not ready can actually put you at greater risk of not getting the job. If you’re flustered or stressed out, you’ll make mistakes that can hurt your chances, so more often than not you’re doing yourself a disservice by not swallowing your pride and rearranging.

3.      Know the role

When you’re ready to take the call, you should be 100% prepared for it, just as you would be for a face-to-face interview. Know the role inside out, know your CV, know why your skills, personality and experience are a perfect match, and know a little bit more than average about the company itself to top it all off. If you don’t, you’re already a step behind, and in a phone interview where you can’t read the situation as well as face-to-face, this can end up being twice as bad. If you don’t feel ready to take the call, then there’s no shame in arranging another time and using those extra hours to prepare. Keep in mind that the employer doesn’t want to reject you, they want to find the right person for the job. By taking a little bit of extra time, you’ll put yourself in a better position to be that person, and the interviewer on the other end will likely never know any better.

Preparing Yourself

Once you’re on the line, you need to be able to put into words why you think you are a candidate that they need to meet, and consider for the next stage of recruitment. That means you need to give good, confident answers, and it certainly helps if you know a few of the questions in advance!

As a recruiter, the types of things I ask on the phone are:

  • What’s your availability? (Make sure you know your notice period!)
  • What locations are you willing to work in?
  • What salary/hourly rate ranges are you looking within?
  • What interests you about this role?
  • Do you have any criminal convictions? (Some clients request this information.)
  • What is your visa status - NZ Citizen/Perm Resident/Work Visa/Student visa? Know these well and be transparent about any restrictions on your visa (for example, if you can only work 20 hours per week, if you can only work for an employer for 3 months etc.)
  • Do you have any credit issues? (Some clients request this information)
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • What roles have you been applying for/had interviews for?

These aren’t just questions we ask because we are nosy – we are genuinely trying to understand your background, your goals, and whether your requirements and background matches our client’s expectations. Often, we receive applications for jobs from candidates that may have skills suitable for other roles that we are working on, so we try to ascertain whether they might be suitable for other opportunities whilst we phone interview them. We might think that you would be perfect for one of our clients who isn’t currently advertising for staff, but has given us a heads up that if we see someone amazing, then they would be interested.

I genuinely believe that once a candidate applies for a role, then they should be prepared for a phone call. It’s your first opportunity to impress the recruiter or hiring manager, and is a crucial step in getting yourself an interview, and potentially, a job. We all know that you don’t get a second chance for a first impression, so when that phone rings – be ready!

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