Telephone interviews

Telephone interviews are used to screen whether you are a serious applicant. It is rare to be offered a job at this stage; a face to face interview or assessment centre usually follows. Typically lasting between 15 – 30 minutes, you need to show your enthusiasm and commitment in a short period of time.

Telephone interviews typically take two forms:

1. Standard interview covering questions about the organisation, the role and your skills. 
2. A very structured interview with a set list of statements, which can feel more like a verbal psychometric test with limited discussion.


  • You get no visual clues from your interviewer(s).
  • The interview is less conversational; you don’t get any feedback to gauge performance and it can feel a bit scripted.


  • They are generally quicker.
  • You can have prepared notes in front of you as prompts.
  • You can make notes to help you focus on the questions.

Preparing for the interview

  • Research the sector/organisation and understand the role you are applying for.
  • Look at your interview invite and job description for clues on interview format and the competencies/skills required.
  • Review your application. It’s highly likely you will be asked about these answers again. Be prepared to expand on examples or provide alternatives
  • Think how to answer motivation questions: ‘why this organisation?’ and ‘why this role?’
  • Prepare for competency questions – identify key strengths and skills that make you suitable. Have several examples for each competency.
  • Practise your answers out loud and get feedback from a friend or careers consultant.
  • Make a note of any questions you want to ask the employer.

For further information on how to prepare for interviews and example questions see our interview advice.

WikijobThe Student Room and Glass Door include tips and questions posted by previous interviewees to help you prepare answers to likely questions.

Your environment

  • Answer your phone in a professional manner and have a professional voicemail message should you be unable to take the call. 
  • Make sure you can receive the call in a quiet location without interruptions or background noise. Switch off other phones. 
  • Sit at a table and make space for a copy of your application and interview prompts.
  • Some candidates stick notes to the wall on likely question areas so they can be easily seen.
  • Have paper and a pen ready to make notes during the interview. This can help you focus on the question and be a useful summary should you get through to the next round.
  • You may want to use a headset. This allows you to take notes easily.
  • Focus only on the interview and don’t get distracted by emails etc.
  • Keep a glass of water to hand should your mouth go dry.
  • Consider dressing as you would for a face to face interview. Some people find dressing smartly increases the feeling of formality and professionalism.
  • Think about whether you want to sit or stand during the interview. If sitting make sure you sit upright. Either way should help you feel and sound more energetic, confident and alert.
  • Employers sometimes call candidates without any notice. If it is really not appropriate to be interviewed there and then, explain why and try and reschedule for later that day.


  • Take a deep breath before answering the phone and try to relax. Smile, it will come across.
  • Answer the phone professionally and address your interviewer appropriately.  Title and surname is standard unless they say otherwise.
  • Make a note of the interviewer’s name to thank them at the end.
  • Be aware of how you sound on the phone – tone and pace can be as important as what you say. Talk clearly, distinctly and at a reasonable pace. Practising out loud should help.
  • Don’t write out answers to questions in full and be tempted to read these out. Your voice will come across as flat and you will appear disinterested. Use key words as prompts.
  • Use examples where you enjoyed the experience or achievement to convey your enthusiasm.
  • Keep smiling (when appropriate) to show you are enjoying the process.
  • Don’t be unsettled if you’re not getting any verbal feedback, this is common.
  • If the interviewer pauses, don’t just keep talking to fill the gap. They may be taking notes.

Answering questions

  • Remember to give enough evidence but keep your answers succinct. Telephone interviewers often have a set number of questions to get through in a tight time-frame.
  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand or couldn’t hear a question.
  • Pause after a question has been asked to help you structure your answer.
  • Clearly structured answers are particularly important in telephone interviews. Familiarise yourself with the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) and think ‘in threes’. Drafting notes under these headings can be really helpful.
  • If you think your answer is going off the point or realise you have a better example, it may be better to tell the interviewer and start again.
  • As in a face to face interview, if faced with an unexpected question say something like ‘just let me think about that for a moment’ to help you collect your thoughts.
  • Do ask questions at the end but bear in mind the interviewer may not have the answers or be directly involved in the department. You can ask these if you progress to the next stage.
  • End on a positive note and thank your interviewer.
  • Reflect on the interview and make a note of any questions you were asked. This should help you if you are successful in getting through to the next round.

Interview practice

  • If you have an interview coming up, book a practice interview with a Careers Consultant.
  • See if a friend will ask you likely questions, perhaps even on the phone. Getting constructive feedback on how you perform can be really helpful.
  • Register with Interview Stream and use a webcam to record and review yourself answering questions.