Mistakes to Avoid in a Phone Interview

Graduate jobs, Advice

April 22, 2021

For international students graduating in the post-pandemic world, phone interviews are staples of the job hunt. This is both because of the potential geographical distance between you and your employer, as well as the increasing prevalence of phone and video interviews as workplaces change to account for remote or hybrid working.


This can seem daunting. Without the ability to establish a rapport through interpersonal connections and body language, a phone interview makes what you say and how you say it all the more important. Phone interviews rely purely on your voice to sound enthusiastic and confident, and there are potential pitfalls such as a faulty connection.


Nevertheless, it is possible to prepare for phone interviews and be mindful of the mistakes to avoid. As well as phone interviews, many of these tips can also be applied to video call interviews. Additionally, advice that applies to any interview should be followed as well: being informed about your position and potential employer, and ready to ask as well as answer questions. 


Not calling/joining on time

Punctuality is as important over the phone as in person. Make sure to dial in 2 minutes before the scheduled time, and be prepared at least 15 minutes in advance. You should also be mindful of the potential adjustment of time zones. Particularly as an international student, phone interviews are likely to happen across greater distances and participants may be based across different time zones, so always double-check the time in your area. 


Not checking internet connectivity

In the 15 minutes of preparation, the first step is to check your internet connectivity. Does your phone sometimes connect to a worse wi-fi? Is the signal poor in certain areas of the room? This may not be possible to entirely fix, but it’s important to be aware of this and check before calling as a significant part of preparation. The rule of thumb should be to use the most reliable corner of the room and adjust our phone settings to avoid overriding calls, beeps of notifications, etc.


Not checking the set-up

Closely related to checking the connection and phone service is the background set-up. If possible, try to find a quiet room to reduce any background noise. The same applies to video calls for the visual background. This isn’t possible for everyone and shouldn’t count against you, but is important to take account of when planning and preparing for the interview as much as possible.


Sounding less enthusiastic and confident

It is always challenging to sound enthusiastic, personable, and confident in interviews when the interviewer is unable to see you directly. How do you convey that you’re keen and passionate about the work without coming across as high-pitched or aggressive?


This makes the tone of your voice all the more important - upward inflection and smiling will help, as well as speaking clearly and concisely. Feel free to smile and gesture as you might do in a face-to-face interview, as this may help you to avoid an accidentally monotonous tone of voice. Additionally, you might find that wearing formal clothes as you may do in a face-to-face interview will help your confidence and get you in the right frame of mind.


Not listening to the interviewer

One significant difference between a phone interview and other interview formats is the inability to see how the interviewer is responding to your point. This can make it difficult to know whether they are engaged. Therefore, in order to build a rapport with them, avoid the urge to interrupt the interviewer whilst they are speaking. This means paying careful attention to the interviewer’s tone when the questions are asked. This may indicate what aspect of the question they would like you to emphasise, and provide you clarity about what they’re actually looking for.


Overthinking small mistakes

Despite preparation, some of the issues discussed above such as a poor connection or accidental interruption can occasionally happen and may be out of your control. In such situations, calmly apologise and move on, and try to rectify the situation if possible (such as having a poor connection). This doesn’t need to make or break the interview, and how you deal with it is equally important. These incidents are likely to happen within a working environment as well, and quickly dealing with this will show the interviewer that you are adaptable and calm in crisis situations.


Not taking advantage of the unique format of a phone interview

It is possible for you to have your notes or CV in front of you when responding in a phone interview. You shouldn’t be reading any pre-prepared answers, but having a list of questions printed out that you’d like to ask the interviewer means that you don’t have to memorise them beforehand. This can help to alleviate the stress of the interview and that you can prioritise your focus on further research and preparation to score an advantage in your responses.


Phone and video interviews are increasingly common in the pandemic and post-pandemic workplace, and knowing which mistakes to avoid and what to do instead is crucial.

Written by Leeza Isaeva
Leeza Isaeva is a history student at the University of Cambridge.

Photo by jaikishan patel on Unsplash

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