Careers Service Telephone interviews

Mastering Telephone Interviews: Understanding Their Purpose and Overcoming Challenges

Initial screening is increasingly done via a telephone interview, particularly for jobs where communication over the telephone is important. The fundamental rules of successful telephone interviews are no different from those for other interviews, but you have to remember that your ears and voice have to do more work to compensate for the absence of visual signals. On the plus side, you can have notes of points to include and questions to ask on a table in front of you, but don't keep shuffling the papers!

Advice from the graduate recruitment team Standard Life:

What are telephone interviews?

Telephone interviews are simply interviews conducted over the telephone. They can however take different formats, such as competency based interviews where you will be asked to give verbal responses or competency based interviews where you will be asked to input numbers via your telephone keypad.

Why do organisations use them?

  • They are more cost effective as candidates do not have to visit the company premises which reduces the costs involved with compensating candidates for travel
  • They can help an organisation screen out a large number of unsuitable candidates in a more efficient manner
  • They can reduce the length of the recruitment process


  • You can have notes in front of you to answer questions
  • They are more convenient as you don't have to take time off work or study to travel to the employers premises


  • You only have words and voice tone to sell yourself to a potential employer
  • It may feel strange to be interviewed via the telephone

How to prepare

Plan ahead

Make sure you have in front of you any documentation that will help you to answer the questions, for example your CV, examples of work you have completed successfully, positive written feedback you have received.

Prepare for a telephone interview in the same way you would for a normal interview, i.e. research the organisation and the position thoroughly.

Prepare some general questions you would like to ask.

Practice beforehand

Arrange with a friend to practice some answers on the phone and obtain feedback from them on how you sounded. Or record some answers on your mobile phone, listen to them yourself or with someone else that can offer constructive comments. Take note of how your voice sounds on the phone; is it enthusiastic and interesting or monotone and dull? Try standing up to make yourself sound more energetic or smiling as you talk to make yourself sound friendly and cheery.

Get into the right frame of mind Before the interview it may help to get you into the right frame of mind by putting on business dress. You are more likely to sound business like and professional if that is how you are feeling. Ensure that you are in a quiet place where there are no distractions such as the TV, radio or other people.

During the interview


Listen to what the interviewer is saying and ensure you understand the question you are answering. If you do not, clarify the question with the interviewer.

Make an impression with your voice

Be natural as you talk to the interviewer, variances in your voice will be more obvious over the telephone, so try to talk as you normally would.

Answer questions courteously. A note of irritation or frustration in your voice is much more noticeable on the phone and can't be offset by positive body language. Try to sound relaxed and confident.


  • "uhms", "ahs" and lots of false starts to sentences
  • lengthy pauses where nothing seems to be happening - if you need time to think, say so
  • speaking so softly that the listener has to strain to hear you
  • speaking so quickly that the listener does not grasp what you are saying, particularly if your accent is not familiar to the interviewer
  • speaking in a monotone which sounds boring to the listener
  • indulging in long monologues without breaks to check whether the interviewer wants to move on

Take notes If appropriate, jot down some notes or questions that you would like to ask the interviewer at the end.


  • signal understanding or agreement with occasional interjections of "yes" or "mm", as nods and facial expressions are invisible
  • a smile on your face cannot be seen, but a smile in your voice can be heard. So it helps to smile at the other end of the phone
  • from time to time add phrases to check if what you are saying is adequate, relevant and not too long as you cannot see the interviewer's nods of encouragement or other controlling body language

Top tips

  • Have your diary by you in case a follow up interview is arranged on the phone
  • Don't drink, eat or smoke during a telephone interview. You wouldn't do these things in a 'normal' interview situation. Therefore, make sure you have eaten sufficiently beforehand and have visited the loo so that you are comfortable
  • Remember to smile during your interview and be yourself.


Do not take it personally if the interviewer does not give much feedback on your answers. Many telephone interviews are highly structured and are designed to be fair to candidates by asking them all exactly the same questions, so that it may not feel like a normal telephone conversation. Accept that the interviewer has a job to do and may be making notes or marking a scoring chart as you speak.