Standing out from a distance – how to nail a phone interview

Graduate Work Tips – Phone Interviews Done Right

The graduate work environment and the world of job applications is an ever-changing landscape. Whereas 10 or 20 years ago face-to-face interviews were the norm, in today’s increasingly digitised and connected world it is increasingly common to companies to use webcam or telephone-based interviews, saving them time and inconvenience. This change in medium inevitably brings about changes in the way we communicate. A phone interview and to an extent a webcam or Skype interview is a much more difficult medium than a face-to-face scenario.

In a phone interview situation, you are relying on two main factors: what you say and how you are saying it. Both need an equal amount of thought and preparation if you want to get top marks. Too little planning and you will give rambling, incoherent answers. Too little thought into your tone and manner, and you can give the best answers in the world, but it won’t save you from sounding like a monotonous robot, again a turn-off.

1. Tone of voice.

  • Speak in a clear, confident and enthusiastic voice. Really try to transmit in your speech (to a reasonable level) that you are excited about this particular opportunity. Another way to improve your tone of voice is to stand up while you’re speaking. It does seem a bit daft, but if you can pretend the person is in the same room as you. Smile and gesture as you would normally: all of this gets transmitted through your voice, which will sound a mile better than it would if you’re lying in bed balancing your phone on your face (we’ve all done it, don’t lie).

2. The length and style of your answers.

  • Think you know your CV? Can you go through each role in a minute, tops? Can you explain clearly and concisely why you joined places, why you left, what you liked about some places, what you didn’t? Can you summarise your time at university, what you did your dissertation on, what clubs you were in, what extra achievements you had? Can you go through what you are looking for in your next challenge, salary, size of company, culture, product, sector, environment? Just because you lived it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily any good at remembering it. Confidence can come due to proper preparation of answers, not learning a script, but matching your experience to the job requirements and practising basic answers to competency questions helps as well. Do an hour of prep beforehand, and not only will your answers be better, your tone of voice and manner will also improve. Go through your own experiences, or at least what you are going to be asked on. Practice your answers, not to a rigid script, but to the point where you can elaborate comfortably and you’re on your way to bagging that graduate work.


  • Laugh all you want at this being obvious, but I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve asked a candidate a basic question and they’ve taken that as leave to give a 5-minute speech about how amazing they are and how much they want the job. How can you give a graduate work to do that is potential challenging if they can’t nail the basics? Seriously though, few things torpedo your chances of a job offer more than a candidate avoiding a question or not giving a straight answer. It looks at best shady, and at worst like you’re not actually listening. Give a concise, honest answer to what you are asked.

4. Build Rapport.

  • You can have the best experience and education in the world, but if you come across as prickly or disinterested, it will turn people off you. You have to appear enthusiastic and show that you A) want to work in that specific industry and B) want THIS SPECIFIC JOB. If you can, research the person you will be talking to beforehand, and ALWAYS have questions ready about the job and the company. Interviewers almost always find this impressive, provided the questions are well-thought out and demonstrate that you have actually put some time into them. Show that you have put thought into the process, how you could be a part of it, and what your experience has taught you. Ask what the scope for progression is, or what the possibility is of taking on additional projects. Show hunger and drive. Graduate roles are in my opinion probably around 25% based your CV, and 75% personality, core values and attributes. A grad from an ‘average’ university who blows the interview away on the phone, answers their questions without hesitation, and who leaves an impression of eagerness and willingness to work, will always beat a grad from a top 10 university who hasn’t prepared their answers and is giving an impression that they don’t want to be there.


The number of graduates is increasing every year, and we are bombarded with stats telling us how slim the odds are of an individual applicant to get a job. However, despite this, an increase in grads does not necessarily correlate to an increase in good applicants. Make yourself stand out by doing the easy things well and leaving a positive impression, and things can start going right very quickly.


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