How to prepare for a phone or Skype interview
Interviews over the phone and via Skype are a staple first-round option when there's a high number of applicants for a job. Here's how to stand out from the crowd!
A phone interview is generally the first hurdle if there are lots of applicants or if the company advertising the position is big.
But employers sometimes choose Skype as the first means of contact, as it gives candidates the opportunity to make more of an impression without the time and effort involved in travelling to the office.
If you're lucky enough to get one booked in, congrats! Here are a few tips to make sure you give yourself the best possible chance of getting through to the next round.
Most of the phone interview tips apply to Skype too, but we've added some extra tips at the end for Skype interviews to make sure you get the most of your screen time. Good luck! 🙂
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8 tips for nailing your phone interview
The worst thing you can do before an interview is let your mind run off in tangents imagining every disastrous scenario possible.
Stay calm, take deep breaths and try to occupy your thoughts with things other than just the interview (as difficult as this might be).
Make sure you do all your prep in advance so that come the day of the interview, you aren't making yourself sick with worry and can relax.
A major bonus with phone interviews is that unlike a Skype or face-to-face interview, you have no obligation to dress up in your Sunday best to make a good first impression.
If you need to wear your fleecy sheep pyjamas in order to make it through the call, then so be it – but do bear in mind that dressing the part in something smart can actually help you get into the interview mode.
Similarly, if you would prefer to pace up and down the room whilst on the phone, that's also ok – but sitting down as you would in a regular interview might work more effectively.
Sitting down means there's less chance of making stomping sounds, and it'll also make it easier to scan your notes as you talk. What's more, you can focus on making sure your voice is loud and clear.
Research and prepare
While it’s good to keep your mind off the interview on the day, some preparation in advance is obviously necessary.
Not only should you be preparing some answers to typical interview questions (you can find a list of the most common ones here, as well as tips on how best to answer them), but you should also do some background research on the company.
Make sure you have a good idea of who the company are and what they offer by thoroughly reading through their website and social media accounts, and Google News search to see how they're perceived in the press.
This will give you an informed outside perspective on the company, and put you in a confident position in case they ask what you know about the company (it might be worth preparing a couple of compliments to dish out, too!).
Keep notes to a minimum
Preparing notes is still crucial for a phone (and Skype!) interview, but just as you would for a regular in-person interview, try not to rely on them too heavily.
It's easy to think that one of the perks a phone interview is that you can have piles of notes around that your interviewer won't see, but reading from them will only make you sound less confident (and will prevent you from indulging in that all-important eye contact if your interview is taking place via Skype).
We'd recommend having a copy of your CV to hand so you can glance at it when trying to think of examples of relevant work experience/qualifications/extra-curricular activities to talk about and perhaps one or two post-it notes, but that's about it.
Practice on friends and family
You know what they say: practice makes perfect! But in all seriousness, being interviewed by someone you can't look in the eye can actually be a lot more difficult than you think.
It's easy to get flustered or lose your train of thought with a phone interview, and the best way to tackle this is to practice as much as you can.
Ask a patient friend or family member if you can practice answering a few basic questions, and ask them for feedback on how you respond.
Alternatively, if you're wanting to be super critical of yourself, you could always record yourself practising answers using your phone and listen back to see where you could improve.
Don't be put off by hating the sound of your own voice though – it will always sound a lot worse to you than it will to others. Promise!
Remember to listen
This might sound obvious, but when you're there in the moment it can be easy to get so caught up in saying your bit that you forget to actually listen to what the interviewer is saying.
Take your time, listen carefully to what you're being asked before you respond and whatever you do, never interrupt!
It's best to slow down when answering the questions as well, as it's more obvious that you're speaking quickly when it's over the phone rather than in person.
Prepare your surroundings
Double and triple check the time and date that the interview is due to take place, and arrange a place where you can take the call without being disturbed or distracted.
It’s probably best to inform housemates/family members that you’ll be expecting the call, so they know not to come knocking on your bedroom door to see if you want a cup of tea right in the middle of things!
Let them know what time the interview is taking place, and just ask kindly for an hour or so of silence.
If you're at home and the interviewer is calling you on your landline (if you even have one!), make sure you answer it yourself.
To be doubly sure that your chosen spot has a decent phone reception with no background noise, it may even be worth doing a trial call with a friend first. They can then let you know if you need to make any changes before the real thing.
Treat it like a normal interview
Although the pressure of a face-to-face interview isn't there, this doesn’t mean you should view it as any less important.
You might be grateful for the fact your interviewer can't see you without your make-up on, but this does also mean there's more weight placed on how you carry yourself verbally and how you answer the questions, as that's all the interviewer has to judge you on.
Keep a smile on your face throughout the interview (this helps to make you sound keen and chipper) and try to avoid “umming” and “ahhing” too much when unsure of how to answer a question. Simply ask for a few seconds if you need to think about what you want to say.
And last but definitely not least, get a good night's sleep the night before!
Tips for a Skype interview
Dress to impress
You might think this part isn’t so important since you’ll just be sitting behind a computer screen, but an interview is still an interview even if you are sitting in your own living room and even if the position is part-time.
The psychology of dressing to impress will also make you feel more confident and will come across well to your interviewer, as it’ll be clear you’re taking the opportunity seriously.
Whatever you do, don’t just dress well from the waist up in the hope your pyjamas will stay out of the picture. We can pretty much guarantee you’ll end up giving the game away when you get up for a glass of water or something similar. Not worth the risk!
Scope out a suitable location
If you’re going to be doing the interview in a public place, make sure you choose your location well in advance and test it out.
You're quite limited when it comes to suitable public spaces for Skype interviews, as you can’t have too much background noise (headphones will block noise out for you, but not your interviewer) and you'll have to minimise the chances of being disrupted (this isn't always within your control, but do as much as you can).
Setting up shop at home is definitely the best idea. Make sure your space is clean and tidy in advance! Choose somewhere that’s facing a plain wall with no distractions, good lighting and make sure there are no pants drying in the background!
Try out a few different setups around the house and get a second opinion about which is best, as well as different lighting options. Don't go too dark, but be careful with artificial lighting if you don't have natural daylight, as this can lead to shadows!
Look at the camera rather than the screen
This is actually way more difficult than it sounds and takes a fair bit of practice.
Your natural instinct is, of course, to look into the faces of your interviewers as they appear on the screen. But since your webcam is just above the screen, it’ll look to them as though you’re looking downwards.
Also, don’t be tempted to look at your own image on the screen either! Your interviewer will be able to tell if you’re staring at yourself during the interview, and this can either come across as extremely insecure or narcissistic – neither of which are good!
As with the phone interview, the best way to get comfortable with the Skype set-up is to practise on family or friends… or basically anyone who is willing to humour you.
Try answering some mock questions to see if you’re managing to retain eye contact with whoever’s on the other side of the screen. A trial run will also lessen your chances of a technical disaster!
Be prepared for glitches
Yes, we did say the best way to avoid mishaps was to practice in advance, but tech is never 100% glitch-proof.
There's still a very real possibility that you might encounter some awkward moments where you lose sound completely or the video freezes and you look like you're trying to eat your own nose, but they shouldn't last too long.
Your interviewer will without a doubt be expecting a few bumps in the road so stay calm, but do address the problem if it persists for more than a few seconds. If it happens repeatedly suggest hanging up and starting the call again.
Make your Skype profile look professional
When was the last time you had a proper look at your Skype profile?
If you normally just use your account for chatting to friends, chances are your profile pic won't be aimed at looking profesh, and it's likely your status or 'mood message' will be riddled with emojis and nonsense chat.
Make sure you have a good look at your profile page to make sure everything looks interview-friendly, and if it's unsalvageable (e.g. Skype handle 'littleangel2008'), consider opening a new account for your job hunt.
It probably wouldn't hurt to give yourself a Google either to make sure your online persona looks professional across all platforms, including social media. You don't want the first image under your name to be a dodgy photo of 15-year-old you rocking an emo cut.
Close down all other programmes on your devices
The last thing you want is for notifications to be going off left, right and centre as friends get in touch to ask how the Skype interview went over various messaging platforms (oh, the irony!).
You’ll need to have your volume on full pelt for your interview, so just make sure you’re signed out of any messaging apps and have closed all other browser windows.
Otherwise, any notifications that come through will throw both you and the interviewer off course, and leave you feeling a bit flustered.
The same goes for your phone – switch it off or put in on silent. We know you have a buzzing social life but your interviewer won't appreciate your phone vibrating every three minutes!
Have the above in order and you can be pretty confident that things will go swimmingly. Best of luck!
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