How important is a telephone interview?

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So you have a telephone interview. How important is it?

I think the first place to start is to demystify what a telephone interview is and where it fits in the recruitment process.

When a company receives your résumé, there is a preliminary selection process that determines which applicants potentially have the experience and qualifications required to fill the position. Assuming your résumé was selected, it is usually at this point that you will have a telephone interview with a representative from the company. You can consider it as a qualifying interview, a way for the company to get a sense for the person beyond the résumé. If the telephone interview is successful, the candidate will likely called in for an in-person meeting, commonly known as a first interview.

With that said, understanding your situation can help guide your actions.

Scenario #1: You applied for a position posted by a recruitment agency

If you applied for a position posted by a recruitment agency, more often than not you are applying for a position with one of their clients, which is the employer. It’s the recruitment agency’s job to assess applicants and cast a wide net to attract more prospective candidates, rather than less.

In this type of phone interview, they want to get an overall idea of who you are, and they will most likely want to meet with you in person. Generally speaking, this will be a quick, 5-10 minute conversation with very few technical questions. If there are technical questions, they will be relatively basic.

In this case, there is not much you can do to prepare. Most agencies will not tell you the name of the company because of confidentiality agreements they have with their clients, although some will.

While this typically an easier telephone interview, I would still recommend that you maintain a degree of professionalism to ensure that you make it to the next step.

Scenario #2: You applied for a position posted by a company

If you applied for a position directly at a company, I would say this ups the ante on the previous type of phone interview. Recruitment agencies want to meet more candidates rather than less, but the opposite is true for companies. Agencies generally specialize in a particular field, so if they meet a candidate that is not right for one client, they can easily refer them to another. With companies however, this is not the case. Therefore, your goal should be to do well during the telephone interview to ensure that you are selected for a first interview.

Here are a few tips:

  • Know high-level information about the company: the sector in which they operate, the size, the location etc.
  • Know which position you applied for
  • Be prepared to answer why you applied for the position and what interests you about the company
  • Be prepared to answer a few questions pertaining to the job
  • Have a few questions ready to further clarify what the position is, and to confirm that interests you

Professionalism is important during this call. If you are driving, are in a noisy area or are about to walk into a meeting, schedule a more convenient time when you will be able to focus and give it your undivided attention.

Scenario #3: You work in a field where you are on the phone

If you work in a field where you are mostly on the phone, such as in a call-centre or in technical support, the stakes are even higher. The telephone interview could be your only shot to prove yourself. While you will certainly meet with the company prior to being hired, all the skills you need to demonstrate to do your job effectively are being assessed during the telephone interview. If they feel you come across flustered, a first interview is unlikely, because jobs on the phone inherently require you to communicate well.

In addition to preparing yourself as in Scenario #2, I would strongly recommend that you prepare an example of a difficult situation you had to handle over phone. This question will most probably be asked and knowing ahead of time what you want to talk about will help you to answer the question effectively.

Scenario #4: You have not applied for any positions

This is a call from a headhunter.

Most companies do not solicit potential employees by phone as it could affect their their reputation, especially in tight-knit industries. While they will sometimes contact you via LinkedIn, they will usually hire a headhunter to approach a potential candidate in a more direct fashion.

In this case, I would recommend that you take the call and listen to what the opportunity is. Even if you are not looking to leave your current position, you never know if you will one day. By leaving a good impression with the headhunter, they will want to contact you again, or better yet, you can contact them if you are ever looking to make a move.

If after having listened, you are interested in the opportunity, the next steps will move quickly at the beginning. Be prepared to send them your résumé by the following day and to have an in-person interview with the headhunter within the next week or so. From there, the process will slow down significantly as headhunting qualified and interested candidates requires a lot of legwork. Ask as many questions as you need to throughout the process because you do not want to jeopardize your current position.

While the telephone interview is the first of many steps in the hiring process, it is one that is often overlooked. Hopefully with the information provided here, it will help you to be prepared so that you can be at your very best.