updated on 17 January 2012
Some employers conduct initial interviews by phone, and just as in a face-to-face scenario, good preparation enables good performance. With vac scheme application deadlines approaching, why not prime yourself for the possibility of one?
Practise makes perfect, so find a more experienced friend or relative who will give you a mock interview. Make sure you have at least one topical story to discuss and tailor your choice(s) to the type of firm you are interviewing with. If it's a high street firm, then pick things related to the law and society. If it's a commercial firm, then obviously you need a commercial story at the ready and preferably something in an area in which the firm is strong.
Take the call somewhere private so you won't be distracted and make sure it's a quiet place with good phone signal so there's no chance of communication problems. Have you got enough battery charge for the call? You should be in the right frame of mind so don't squeeze the interview in between other activities. Do not stress: do something meaningless but pleasant beforehand - a puzzle or game perhaps? Consider dressing in business-like clothes (seriously!) - the interviewer won't see you but you'll feel more professional. Sit at a table where you can spread your paperwork out in front of you. Some people find they are happier standing, but the paperwork thing still applies.
What to 'take' to your interview
Have a copy of your application/CV in front of you. You will probably refer to it and you should definitely remind yourself of what you wrote. The interviewer will definitely be using it as a tool. Keep a notepad to hand also, and some information about the firm (especially its proper name and accepted abbreviation) and the position for which you're being interviewed. Have some basic information about the person interviewing you - full name, job title and whatever else you can glean from the firm's website and LinkedIn. If you're unsure about how to pronounce the interviewer's name you can ask them to clarify this at the start of the interview, although they will probably introduce themselves fully when the call starts.
Etiquette and manners
Be punctual, irrespective of who is calling who, and know ahead of time who is going to initiate the call. If you have not made contact or been contacted for more than 15 minutes after the scheduled time then leave a message and state your availability. Telephone tennis is a frustrating and all-too-common aspect of professional life, but don't let it put you off your game. Just make sure you are not the cause.
Don't gossip or badmouth anyone. Be chirpy. Don't allow your tone to become monotonous or slip into slang. You must always sound super interested in the topics you discuss, but don't go overboard and sound like a crazy person.
Giving good answers
Your answers should be neither too short nor too long. Easier said than done? Well, when an interview goes well, you can kind of tell. Do listen out for signals from the interviewer, for example if they keep prompting you to expand on your answers, you're probably not saying enough. If they keep jumping in when you're still answering then you must be more succinct. Irrespective of whether they are a good interviewer, it's their opinion that counts.
Keep asking yourself, "What are they trying to learn about me from this question?". If you really don't understand a question, don't be afraid to politely seek clarification. Guard against a nervous laugh or "umming" and "ahhing".This is all-too common and doesn't sound great. Your practice interview with a friend or family member can be useful for picking up on your own particular verbal ticks.
Asking good questions
At the end of the interview you'll be given a chance to ask questions, so have a modest selection prepared in case some topics have already been covered during the interview. If the interview is for a vac scheme then you could make your questions about the vac scheme itself. Think about the role of the person interviewing you. A partner is more likely to know about the cases and deals the firm works on. An HR staff member is more likely to know about the recruitment process and the structure and reputation/style of the firm. Make sure you understand the next steps after the interview, and when and how you will learn about whether your application has been successful.
After the interview
Check that you have accurate contact information for the person who has just interviewed you so that you can send a brief email thank you. Don't undo all your hard work by allowing typos or inaccuracies to creep in. Don't grovel or beg. Desperation smells bad.
You should make a few notes straight after the interview. How did you perform? What did the interviewer ask you? What did they sound most interested in and what answers did you fluff up? Your family or friends are likely to ask you how it went and you should take their questioning as an opportunity to discuss and learn something about your performance. And remember, it's utterly pointless being self-indulgently negative about it.
Why? Because you wouldn't have landed a phone interview unless the firm liked what they saw in your application.