This is a guest blog post from Inspiring Interns
Many graduate recruiters are now choosing to do a first round of interviews over the telephone. Why? Well, particularly for businesses that might have received 100s of applications for a small number of graduate roles or internships, phone interviews are the quickest and most effective way to shortlist candidates.
By and large, this means that phone interviews are partly about ticking some boxes and partly showing that you can communicate effectively and have a spark.
The key is to make sure that you’re prepared; if the call is unscheduled and they catch you off guard, let the phone go to answerphone and prepare yourself before calling back. If you do happen to get caught out, explain that you’re unable to talk freely and tell them when you can call them back. That way you can make sure you’re physically and mentally ready to go into the phone interview and present the best case for yourself. Don’t just wing it!
Now, about those preparations…
The most important thing for acing your phone interview is the strength of your preparation. As we’ve said, the interviews tend to be a bit lighter and so, aside from some more logistical questions, normally the interview will focus on the same key areas:
- Your CV
- Your thoughts on the company and sector
- Some competency questions
- One or two off-the-wall questions
Ordinarily, the interview will start with some discussion about your CV. They may ask you to explain what parts of your CV make you right for the role, or more specific questions explaining gaps, what you learnt in your course or asking you to provide some experience to back up your stated qualities.
In essence it’s all about knowing your CV back to front and considering what they might ask you about it; do you have examples ready for why you’re a team player, or how you’ve been an innovative thinker in the past?
Give your CV to someone and get them to ask you random questions about it. Practice always makes perfect!
The company & sector
Another big focus of the interview will be to test how much you know about the company and area they work in. Before any interview make sure that, if asked, you could explain the company and role to anyone. The reason companies do this is they want to test your understanding, but also your commitment by seeing how much research you’ve done.
Start off with their website, particularly ‘about us’ sections and their blog. Try and find some news stories about the company too as this may give a slightly more impartial insight into how they operate. Try to get hold of a sector magazine, or take a look at leading websites and blogs so that you’ll have an understanding of what’s going on in the industry at the moment. Have a glossary of keywords ready to check too, it could save your interview!
Competency questions are all about finding out about how you might deal with certain situations at work and whether your personal attributes are in line with what the company expect when looking to hire a graduate. Glassdoor recently released the country’s top 50 interview questions, and many of them are competency based. Think about how you’d answer questions like, ‘What’s your biggest weakness’, ’How have you dealt with a challenging situation’, or ‘Tell me about your biggest failure’.
Try to be honest, and consider what the company are looking for in their employees. If you’ve done your research properly, you should know!
Occasionally interviewers will use the phone interview as a chance to flex their creative muscles and ask you a strange question. What type of biscuit would you be and why? What would you do if you found a penguin in a freezer? How many golf balls could you fit in a bus?
Generally, these questions are intended to put you on the back foot and see how you respond. Questions like the first two are essentially trying to find out about your personality and how you respond to a challenge, but in a roundabout way so that they get a more genuine answer. The final question is more about your ability to work under pressure and work out mathematical problems.
Now that you’re all set, it’s time to go. Make sure that you’re in a comfortable environment where you’ll be free from interruptions. Try to get a working headphone set– you want to be able to hear them clearly and be able to have your hands free to write notes. Double check on a call with someone first that this works!
It’s not just what you say…
It’s how you say it too! When you’re sat at home in a comfortable situation it can be easy to forget the effect of your body language on how you sound. You want to sound calm, but enthusiastic and the key to sounding energetic is to sit up straight, or even stand up, and make sure you’re smiling. It’s really difficult to sound bored when you’re smiling, try it!
Another good tip is to make sure that you take your time before each question. This not only allows you some thinking time, but will make you appear as though you’re giving each question careful consideration. It will also help to relax your tone of voice as you feel more prepared.
Listen & react
The most important skill you need to utilise in phone interviews is your ability to listen, and respond. Make sure you pay really close attention to everything that’s being said, and try to work out what the interviewer is really getting at with their questions. Practice picking up on cues from friends and family, and make sure you’ve got a catalogue of answers to react to what’s asked of you.
This is where having a cheat sheet of terms and answers to standard questions comes in handy. If you panic, then you’ll have something to refer to that might just jog your memory. Of course, make sure you’re not fitting square pegs into round holes; sometimes you might just have to think on your feet!
Questions & Follow Up
You’ll usually be asked if you have any questions at the end of the interview. Like any interview situation, you want to have something ready; saying that you have no questions can make you come across as disinterested.
Avoid things like pay and more personal topics at this point and instead focus on the company. Ask them how the company is planning on growing over the next 5 years, or maybe enquire about the work environment. You’ll get relevant, interesting answers and will come across as attentive.
Finally make sure you give them a few hours and drop them a quick email note explaining that it was great to talk over the phone and that you’re looking forward to hearing back. Don’t be afraid to follow-up your follow-up a week or so later in case you’ve just slipped through the net. It may be that extra follow up that jogs their memory and highlights you as the right candidate for the role!
You can practice your telephone interviews with the Careers Service. Book an appointment on CareersHub.
Matt Arnerich works as a content writer over at graduate recruitment agency Inspiring Interns. If you’re looking for graduate jobs in London, or graduate jobs in Manchester, apply today! For more graduate careers advice, check out our blog.