How to conduct a phone interview

The UK jobs market is tough and saturated with candidates, prompting more recruiters to use phone interviews as the first step in the interview process. Without being able to see body language, how can recruiters get the best out of phone interviews?


Saving time and money

The sheer volume of candidates in the job market over the last few years has resulted in an increase in interviews being conducted over the phone. But it isn’t just a case of recruiters and employers looking to crash through as many candidates as possible; it’s also partly down to jobseekers looking to save both time and money as they pursue their perfect role.

“One of our clients will give candidates a choice of face-to-face or phone interviews,” says Sandeep Bhandal at Recruitment Consultancy Work Group. “The initial take up for phone interviews was just 25%, but this has risen to 77%. So there has been a shift from a candidate behavioral viewpoint, with people becoming more comfortable with phone interviews.”

Bhandal adds that this is probably driven by the increasingly high applicant to hire ratio, which in some circumstances can top 225 to one. He also believes a change in recruitment methodology, which embraces new technology, has driven an increase in phone use.

“Technology has really helped with the screening process, and situational judgment tests, which present candidates with the kind of decisions they will need to make in the role, can be used effectively in conjunction with phone and face-to-face interviews,” explains Bhandal.

Plus phone interviews have progressed. It is possible now to have video or web-based interviews where visuals can be used. You can also deliver an interview with automated prompts, which allows employers to carry out scientific volume-based assessments. This can mean that the recruiting company doesn’t need to get involved until a later stage, saving time and effort.


Do phone interviews work?

But is this increasing reliance on the phone taking the soul out of recruitment? And by doing so is there a danger of key nuances being missed that could contribute to the assessment of cultural fit? Victoria Maddock, director at Expectations Recruitment Service, thinks so.

“Telephone interviewing does not enable the recruiter to fully assess eye contact, body language, gestures and the genuine interest of a candidate,” she says. These factors show a candidate’s personality and character, all of which are important to ensure the ‘correct fit’ of the person into a team and company, as employers select personality, not just specific skills.

Although Laurie West, talent acquisition manager at Xchange Team, agrees that it’s easier to build a rapport with candidates face to face, and wouldn’t want to put someone in front of an employer without having met them first, he does see key advantages with phone interviews.

“What I like about the phone is that it allows you to get to the point very quickly and gives the candidate time to think,” he says. “What’s more, you’re not colouring your judgement by their physical appearance or body language, you are purely focused on their communication skills, the language they use and how well they listen to and answer the questions that are asked.”


Interview planning

To get the most from a phone interview, preparation is key. “Planning needs to be as thorough as that for face-to-face interviews,” says recruitment consultant Judith Armatage.

Documentation including CV, job description/person specifications and any test results need to be digested thoroughly before the interview begins, along with notes having been made on specific things to ask. It’s also important that both the interviewer and candidate are in an environment where there will be no distractions. A quiet area or room is best. Make sure there isn’t any background noise to disrupt the interview.

“Recruiters also need to hone their phone approach to get the most from candidates. Typically we would recommend the interview to last no longer than an hour,” says Bhandal. “On average we would normally spend 10 minutes per competency that we would look to evaluate. For jobs such as apprenticeships, where candidates are young and have had little experience of the interview process, we would carry out a softer, shorter interview than for more experienced individuals.”

Just as important are the words and sounds a recruiter makes within a telephone interview, which should acknowledge praise and support, according to Maddock. “This approach will produce a more positive interview and bring out the best in a candidate,” she says. “Open-ended questions are very important, because they prompt the candidates to give examples, and it helps them to feel more comfortable as they are talking about themselves, their abilities and their experiences.”

So with no body language to guide them, what should recruiters listen out for on the phone to indicate a high caliber candidate? “Tone of voice, intonation, diction, enthusiasm, attitude, interest and professionalism,” answers Maddock.

Recruiters are also keen to stress that to get the most from phone interviews, candidates must take them as seriously as they would a face-to-face encounter.

“I would always recommend candidates to dress in professional attire for a phone interview and never stay in their bath robes, even though no one can see them,” says Matt Weston, director at Robert Half UK.

This will project a more professional demeanor and make candidates more alert and focused on the task at hand. Many candidates also find success in standing for the interview, allowing them to project natural movement and inflection in their voice. This is a good tip for the interviewer as well, or anyone having to regularly communicate over the phone.

In many circumstances, phone interviews are used during the initial stage of the interview process, so keeping candidates fully up to speed on their progress and providing feedback is important, just as they are in a face-to-face setting.

More candidates on the hunt for work and further developments in communication technology means that face-to-face interviews may be on the decline. This makes it vital for both recruiters and candidates to work on their phone and virtual interview techniques to achieve greater success.

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