Handling Last-Minute Phone Interviews

They can be a bit of a shock sometimes, but knowing how to carry yourself through these unscheduled calls can mean the difference between cinching the next interview step, and letting a chance slip away.
The gradsingapore Team
Dawn Yip
Editorial Intern, gradsingapore
Handling Last-Minute Phone Interviews

While call-backs from companies are usually welcomed, they can sometimes spring up when you least expect it. Sure, some companies will contact you in advance to schedule these calls, but others might skip that step and just ring you up without so much of a heads-up.

You might have experienced it before – you’re relaxing at home in the middle of a Netflix binge when your phone rings. You hit the ‘answer’ button and it’s a recruiter from the company you applied to the other day, and they’re wondering if you have some time for a short chat.

When faced with such an impromptu call, it can be tough to decide how to best proceed from there, especially with the slight state of panic you’re likely in. So, what should you do?

Why a phone interview?

First, it might help to know the motivations behind conducting such phone interviews. When dealing with a large volume of job applications, companies will generally shortlist a group of candidates before moving on to the interviewing stage. This can be done in a variety of ways, but utilising phone interviews (also known as screenings) is one common method.

Unlike a proper interview (be it face-to-face or on video), these calls are usually short and brief, lasting no longer than 30 minutes. This is because the main goal of the phone interview is for the company to determine if you’re a good match for the job role.

Moreover, because they don’t require arranging a meeting in-person, it has become an increasingly viable option with the social distancing measures put in place by the current pandemic. 

handling abrupt phone interviews_why a phone interview

Ask yourself if this is a good time

The first step is to hit the pause button on your episode and take a deep breath to focus on the impromptu call. Now, onto the important question at hand – do you say yes to the interview or not?

You might be tempted to just agree to it right there and then. After all, you don’t know if they’ll even get back to you again if you turn them down now, right? But before you make any rash decisions, assess your surroundings and your own state of mind first. In most cases, being caught off-guard and then agreeing to the interview tends to not go in your favour. You might be too flustered to answer the questions properly, and to sound unprepared is the last thing you want to show your potential employers! Rather, asking for a later time will help you gather your thoughts and be more composed to answer their queries.

So, if you’ve been caught at a bad time, there’s nothing wrong with asking to reschedule. As long as you do it politely and offer a reasonable timing, the employer will usually be understanding and willing to do so. 

handling abrupt phone interviews_ask if this is a good time

Pick a time that suits you instead

When asking for a reschedule, you should also give some thought on when exactly you want to do so. Ideally, you’ll want to pick a time where you can be in a quiet, private place with no disruptions. Just as you’ll want to be able to hear the caller clearly, you’ll want them to be able to hear you too.

When suggesting alternate timings, the general rule is to not set it so far-flung into the future – you should arrange the time to be within the same day. But once you agree to a timing, be sure to stick to it. Confirm all the details with the recruiter, including who you will be talking to, and whether you should expect the call or if you need to make it yourself. 

handling abrupt phone interviews_pick a time that suits you

Use the time to prepare yourself

Apart from making sure that your environment is conducive for the interview, there are other things that you should prepare beforehand. For starters, if you know who will be interviewing you during the call, then you can tailor your answers accordingly. If it’s your potential supervisor, then you know that the discussion will be more focused on the job scopes. If it’s a recruiter, they’ll highly likely ask you to quote your salary expectation. Additionally, re-read the job description carefully and formulate some questions to ask at the end.

During the interview proper, you should also try to have a copy of your resume and the job description with you beforehand so that you’ll be able to answer the interviewer without having to fumble around for your notes. You can even consider compiling what you need on one word document and use that as your cheat sheet during the interview. 

handling abrupt phone interviews_use time to prepare yourself

Phone interviews are just the first step in the interview process for many companies to sift out which candidates they think are qualified for the job. They may be less formal than a video interview or a physical one, but doing well here is crucial if you want to be considered for the next stage of interviews. As with any other forms of interviews, as long as you show up prepared, have confidence in yourself that it’ll go well. Just look at it as a chat with someone who wants to know if you’re suitable for the job. After all, if the role is not suitable for you, then you’ve just avoided wasting time in the wrong job.