How to Nail an Unexpected Phone Interview

3 minute read

We all love it when recruiters call to follow up on an application… but we also like to feel prepared for it. When you answer the phone and realise that you’re speaking to a recruiter, you may naturally go into a slight panic.

The good news is that this is your opportunity to leave a lasting impression for all the right reasons. Instead of thinking of an unexpected call as a chance to catch you off-guard, consider it your chance to blow the recruiters away.

Not sure where to start? Here are our top tips for smashing your next unexpected phone interview.


Stay calm

Having that slight burst of heart-pounding panic is perfectly normal in an unexpected phone interview. Just don’t let the nerves overwhelm you. Go through the same routine to calm your nerves as you would before a face-to-face interview: take a deep breath and remember how capable you are. That way, you’ll be in a much better position to think clearly and answer the recruiters’ questions.

Remember that recruiters don’t expect perfection when they call candidates unexpectedly. They want to put a voice to the words they’ve read on your CV. Staying calm will enable you to be a true reflection of yourself.

How to Nail an Unexpected Phone Interview

Move around

As strange as this may sound, moving around during the call (such as pacing the room) could help you to feel more at ease. Some people find that giving themselves space to move and use the same gestures they would in a face-to-face interview makes them more relaxed. This in turn can allow them to express themselves confidently.

Of course, everyone’s different and sitting still works for some people. But if you think a bit of movement might help spark inspiration, give it a try!


Grab your CV

Chances are, the recruiter will have a copy of your CV with them. If you can, pull up a copy so that you can be prepared for any questions about your work history. This should calm your nerves as everything they know about you is currently in your hands, which lowers the chances of you being caught off-guard.

However, if you don’t have your CV to hand, don’t panic! Since this is an unexpected phone interview, the recruiter can’t expect you to be prepared for any question they might ask. If you’re asked a question and you don’t know the answer, the best thing to do is be honest rather than trying to scrape together an answer that ends up sounding underwhelming.

How to Nail an Unexpected Phone Interview

Listen carefully and make notes

At this stage, the recruiter may offer you a greater insight into the role than the job description did. Take this opportunity to note down anything that is key for you (such as the possibility of relocation or flexibility) and refer back to this list at the end of the call if you have any further questions. This additional information will also be useful for your reference after the call.

And remember, unexpected phone interviews are about much more than showing off your personality and social skills. Listen with the intention of getting as much information from the recruiter as you’re giving to them.


Take a pause

Silence isn’t something to be afraid of. As we mentioned before, recruiters don’t expect perfection over the phone. If you’re asked a question that requires you to collect your thoughts, say so. Making it clear that you’re taking a moment to think before you speak tells the recruiter that you want to leave the right impression.

If anything, this approach will be refreshing as many people rush into answering questions, ending up tongue-tied and losing track of their thoughts. Aim to be clear and concise, pausing when you need to in order to articulate the best response.

How to Nail an Unexpected Phone Interview

Remember to enunciate

A recruiter’s opinion of you is based on much more than your CV and cover letter. What you say and how you say it is also extremely important and plays a huge part. Speaking too fast, too loudly (or quietly) and failing to pronounce your words will not help you to be remembered. Take your time. Speak clearly, project your voice and enunciate each word so that you’re truly heard.


And lastly…don’t forget to smile

Your interviewer may not be able to see you, but your tone of voice gives away a lot. Smiling translates into your speech so that, when you’re answering any questions, you sound enthusiastic. After all, if there’s one thing any recruiter wants to know, it’s that they’re speaking to someone who’s passionate about their organisation and the role they’re applying for.

Last but not least, you want to emphasise your interest by asking any questions you have about the role. Interviews are a two-way street and you have the right to clarify any thoughts or reservations you may have had.

Before you know it, the phone interview you dreaded is over. Now you can sit back, relax and wait for the next stage!

If you’re still searching for a job that ticks all the boxes, have a browse of the latest jobs on available on our site.


This post was originally published in 2020 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current jobseeker experience.


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