How to nail a phone interview in 8 hours

Who does that these days?

There are two categories of companies that do phone interviews. Category I uses that as part of the standard recruiting process for graduate recruiting and the phone conversation is usually the first conversation you have with the company. Let’s call this “Standard Phone Interviews”. Category II uses that as a way of being flexible and it’s not always the first conversation. For example, you speak with the HR first, then talk to the person from the team. Let’s call this “Non-Standard Phone Interviews”.

“Standard Phone Interviews”

Who does this? Banks like HSBC are known to hire a person that with heavy Indian accent who is trying to confuse you.

“Non-Standard Phone Interviews”

Who else use phone interviews? Pretty much anyone. But mostly for experienced hiring. Strategy firms like the MBB (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) do that and BB (Bulge Brackets), e.g. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan do that.

Why do they use this form of interview?

There are more applicants than there are jobs with the ABC (Accounting, Banking, Consulting). Companies are finding ways to avoid time waster. They want to make sure you have the basics before they spend time with you in person. 

Let’s look a little deeper by looking at the types of questions they ask you.

What do they ask you? Understanding the objectives and the key success factors

“Standard Phone Interviews”

Usually the types of questions are categorized as Behavioral Interviews. In this type of interviews, especially with the banks, they will follow a list of questions and ask you one by one. You can almost hear the person typing on the other side of the phone as you talk. The key success factors for this type of interview are: 1) Clarity, 2) Structures, and 3) Example.

At the minimum, you need to use structures, e.g. SAR (Situation, Action, Result), whenever possible. In the process, weave in one example for either S / A / R. It goes like this:

Q: Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?

A: Hmm, that’s an interesting question. (Of course, it’s not interesting because you have already prepared for it.) Can I have a minute to prepare my thoughts? (No matter how good you are, you want to always structure your thoughts, so you don’t sound like rambling. This time-buying technique is highly recommended in case interviews.  But if you don’t like that, you can simply repeat the question as you prepare your thoughts.) Cool. So, there was a time when (situation that you faced a conflict while working on a team. Describe the challenges. ) So, I decided to (take actions X, Y, Z). Within a week or two, the situation improved. We were able to (result A, B, C).

Okay. So, that’s KSF #2 Structure and #3 Examples. KSF #1 is clarity. Chances are you and the interviewers don’t speak English as your first language. That’s fine. But you need to able deliver the message and help them understand you. You almost want to go as far as to wrap up all your answers towards the end of S / A / R. If you are not sure the person jot your notes correctly, help them out by summarizing it for them. So the Situation is XYZ / Action I took is XYZ /Result is XYZ. Make yourself very easy to take note from. (Coming up soon: the 30 Behavioral Interview Questions You Should Be Ready to Answer.)

“Non-Standard Phone Interviews”

As mentioned, you can get a non-standard phone interviews because you are an experienced hire. The questions can then be anything. It can be one of the top 10 interview questions: “Can you tell me about yourself?” We interviewers love this question. It buys us time. Makes you talk. Then, we will just pick anything you say and go really deep into it. (Coming up soon: top-10-interview-questions-sample-answers)

Then, followed by a fit question: why do you want change from doing A / studying B to doing C? Or questions on why you choose a certain major.

If you are luck / unlucky enough to interview with a strategy consulting firm, then it can be a proper case interview: “Our client is private equity firm considering taking private a leading manufacturer of bicycle helmets.  Should they?” (Coming up soon: 7 basic case interview frameworks)

More often than not, interviewers want to know you a little more. In this case you want to be professional and personal at the same time. It’s almost like you are talking with a new friend. Relax and help them relax – sometimes they are more nervous than you are (may be their first time, too). Talk normal. Make the conversation flow so that they know you won’t embarrass them if they invite you to their office.

Depends on the team you are interviewing with and the type of work that you will be doing, your language skill (English and Mandarin) may be tested, too. 

As you can see, in the non-standard phone interviews, it can be quite messy. But the truth is to get a graduate job in ABC, you will need to at least spend 1 day each on group interviews, case interviews, and behavioral interviews respectively. Phone interview is just about doing that with a phone.

  • 8 hours before the call

    Prepare the logistics

    • Book a room in your university or find a quiet place
    • Visualize how you are going to have an amazing conversation on the phone
  • 6 hours before the call

    Prepare yourself

    • Prepare your own Q&A (CV, capabilities, etc.)
    • Review the most commonly asked interview question
    • Have a think on the structures that you will be using for different types of questions
  • 4 hours before the call

    Dress for success

    • Dress up like you do for a face-to-face interview
  • 2 hours before the call

    Prepare for landing

    • Make sure your headphone works by calling your best friends and ask if they can hear you okay
    • Put the index card (Q&A) where you can grab them easily (Don’t read from your index card though…)
    • Prepare a pen and paper in case you need to crack cases
    • (Optional) Put a mirror to check if you are smiling as you speak on the phone
  • When the phone rings

    Convey enthusiasm

    • Stand up and say a good hello
    • Say “Thanks for calling, I know you are incredibly busy.”
    • Convey enthusiasm and be energetic
  • Towards the end of the call

    Ask them questions (mainly for non-standard)

    • Ask them the questions that you have prepared


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Source: CareeTipsHK; Image Credit: Unsplash; Image Effect Credit: Pixlr