Telephone interview questions and answers

Think there’s no need to prepare for a telephone interview? Think again…

Although seen by some as merely an extension or precursor to a regular interview, telephone interviews can be an entirely different kind of beast. For a start, with no face-to-face interaction they can occasionally lack the conversational style of a regular one-on-one interview. Instead, be prepared for some quick-fire question and answering to come into play.

We’ve already covered some of our top telephone interview dos and don’ts, but to help keep your manic mumbling to a minimum, here are some of the most common telephone interview questions and answers:

Phone interview questions

There are many things an interviewer might want to learn during a telephone interview.

The questions you’re asked could be related to your current role, such as ‘Why are you leaving your current position?’, about your CV, such as ‘Take me through your CV’, or based on your ability to do the role you’ve applied for, such as ‘What interests you about this job?’

Although you’ll never be sure on the exact questions you’re going to be asked, preparing yourself for the most popular ones is a great way to cover all bases.

1. Why are you leaving your current position?

Usually asked at the start of an interview, this is an opportunity to find out straight away how good you are at thinking on your feet.

The easiest way to think on your feet in this situation is simply to think ahead. It may sound obvious, but if you know the question is likely to come up, a little time rehearsing a potential answer will help you remain calm and collected.

It’s also advisable to avoid being overly critical of your current employer, or going into too much detail about the reason you’re looking to move on. It may seem satisfying at the time to vent about your frustrations, but you’ll only send alarm bells ringing to your perspective employer.

Right answer: Something short, positive and relatively non-specific e.g. ‘I didn’t find the work challenging enough, and that’s what I really like about this position’. Always be prepared to give examples.

Wrong answer: ‘I’m not really allowed to talk about it, for legal reasons…’

2. What do you know about the company?

Many employers ask this question at some point in the process to find out what your preparation skills are like. In other words, it’s research time…

Take some time to look at what the company do, what the role entails, and any other information you can get to help paint a picture of the business. The company website is the best place to start, but feel free to look at as many sources as possible. Showing a range of different research will really start demonstrating to the employer how much you want the job.

Having all the notes you need to hand will also really help even the most cotton-mouthed candidates relax into the interview.

Right answer: A short overview of the company, any memorable dates (such as when they were founded), and a basic mission statement is a great start.

Wrong answer: ‘Not that much, if I’m honest. I just really need the job.’

3. What were your main responsibilities in your last job?

The purpose of many telephone interviews is to find out if candidates can really back up what they say on their CV, especially when put on the spot.

Make sure you have a copy of your CV to hand, and practice a concise explanation about each of the main duties completed during your most recent position. When this question comes up, simply expand upon each point confidently and, ideally, in a way which may relate to the role you’re interviewing for.

One word of warning: try and think around each individual responsibility and not just rely on reading what you have written already. The employer has a copy of your CV in front of them. They are not calling for the audiobook.

Right answer: List a few of your main duties in a way that deviates from what you’ve already said on your CV. Position your answer to include what experience you have that makes you right for this position.

Wrong answer: ‘Well there was making the tea… and… um….’

4. What are your greatest achievements?

Similar in intention to the previous question, a recruiter may ask this as a way of vetting which candidates are telling the truth on their CV.

So if it’s written down for a recruiter to see, make sure you can actually quantify each individual accomplishment listed, and answer a few questions around them. And by questions, we mean more than reading the exact same sentence they’ve already read.

Remember, it may sound impressive to tell people all about your achievements as Assistant Regional Manager, but if you can’t expand on them when asked, you’ll not be able to keep the pretence up for long…

Right answer: Any achievements which may relate to an attribute required for the role (check job description). For example, if they ask for someone who works well in a team, you could talk about a group project you took charge of which lead to excellent results.

Wrong answer: ‘I can’t think of any at the moment’, ‘They should all be on my CV’, ‘I got to level 100 on Candy Crush’.

5. What salary are you looking for?

Speaking about salary can be awkward for some applicants, and during a telephone interview is no exception.

Honesty is the best policy here. Give a broad salary range which you feel is realistic to the role, its responsibilities and your previous experience. Any further negotiations can be brought up later in the interview stage.

Finally, always ensure that you don’t aim too low with what you’re asking. Otherwise you might just come out with less than what you’re worth. To find out your true market rate, take a look at our average salary checker.

Right answer: A realistic, but non-specific salary bracket e.g. ‘I‘m looking for a starting salary somewhere between £20,000 and £25,000’.

Wrong answer: ‘I won’t lie to you, I don’t come cheap…’

6. Do you have any questions?

As with all interviews, this one is pretty much a no brainer. The advantages of being asked this in a telephone interview, however, is that you can think of them beforehand (standard) and actually write them down to have in front of you without the recruiter even knowing (covert).

That way you can avoid the dreaded awkward silence at the end of the interview, something especially painful on the phone.

Right answer: An unequivocal ‘Yes’. For some ideas on potential questions, have a look at our list of Interview questions: what you should be asking.

Wrong answer: ‘Um… No?’, ‘Pass’.

Other potential questions could include:

7. What interests you about this job?

Right answer: Demonstrate what you know about the position, and the company in general, and back it up with what makes you the perfect candidate for the role. It’s all about matching a skill you possess, with skills required in the job description. And some subtle ego-stroking. That too…

8. There seems to be a gap in your education/employment history. What were you doing during this time?

Right answer: Be as honest as possible here. If it your break was due to personal reasons, then say that. Those who try to lie, often get found it rather quickly. However, if explained the right way your break needn’t harm your chance of success. For more information, read our guide on how to explain a gap in your CV.

9. Take me through your CV:

Right answer: Give a short description of your education or employment history. Most telephone interviews are fairly brief, so don’t go into too much detail. Some candidates may even choose to ask a question, such as ‘What would you like to know?’, in this situation rather than regurgitate the content on their CV. If you’re confident to follow this method, the approach is perfectly acceptable.

10. What are your goals for the future?

Right answer: Akin to the always popular ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ time’ question, the most effective answers here will not only demonstrate that you’ve thought about your future, but also that this is not just a stop-gap position in your estimations. Be passionate about the industry, demonstrate your ambition and play to your strengths.

Do not be tempted to opt for the cocky ‘doing your job’ answer. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

Final thoughts

If you’ve not done one before or aren’t too confident when put on the spot, telephone interviews can be fairly nerve-wracking. However, they are often used fairly early on in the recruitment process to narrow down the candidate pool, and when approached with the right amount of confidence (and by confidence, we mean preparation) they needn’t be anything to worry about.

There may be awkward silences, which in an interview situation can be traversed with some subtle humour or questions back for the employer. In this situation, always try to stay calm and collected, and answer each question with conviction – no matter how you think the interview is going.

Finally, always make sure you have a glass of water to hand, just in case. Even the most well-prepared of candidates can be undone if they can’t get their words out right.

The worst thing you can do at an interview?

OK, so out of all the classic interview nightmares, which are the ones that really worry jobseekers the most?

We spoke to a group of university students to find out – and see if recruiters actually agree…



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