Ten Tips for Success in a Phone Interview in Your Second Language

The phone interview: it’s a daunting prospect even in your first language.  But in your second language the thought is even more nausea-inducing.  As a common first step in the recruitment process, it is essential to be well equipped for the moment of that all-important phone call.

Regardless of your level of fluency in a language, speaking on the telephone can reduce even the most confident speaker to a mere stammer.  The difficulty resides in the fact that you can no longer rely on the luxuries of lip-reading and body language.  78% of communication is non-verbal, which explains why a phone call can be such a challenge for foreign speakers.  However, if you are interviewing at an international company it is expected that you will be proficient at conducting phone calls in other languages.  This skill today is indispensable, so here are a few tips to bear in mind before the phone rings:

  1. Prepare notes.  The beauty of the phone call is that you are invisible.  Play this to your advantage and ensure that you prepare answers in note form for questions that you know will be asked, such as “Why do you want this job?”  Additionally, jot down any technical vocabulary which you are likely to forget on the spot.
  2. Don’t be tempted to read entirely from your notes as you will sound robotic and probably speak for too long.  Use it instead as a prompt sheet if you lose your way.
  3. Keep your speed in check.  When nervous and speaking a foreign language, we are likely to speak too quickly.  This can lead to slurred phrases and mispronounced words, making it very difficult for the person on the other side of the line to understand.  Your interviewer will appreciate your measured speed just as you will appreciate his/hers in return.
  4. Pause before you answer.  Sometimes it can be tempting to reply straight away, especially if you are used to taking language exams when hesitating means lost marks.  During a phone interview however, it is expected that you will pause for reflection before answering.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer to repeat something.  Bear in mind that even native speakers have to ask for things to be repeated on the phone.  It is better to clarify a question than to answer what you think was asked and be mistaken.
  6. Be wary of formality.  If you have only had experience of speaking on the phone in a foreign language with friends before, do not be tempted to drop to this level of informality in your phone interview.  For instance, “Hey” and “Bye bye” are not appropriate for a phone interview in English.  Also, for languages which have a polite and an impolite form, such as the “tu” and “vous” form in French, be sure to use the polite form.
  7. Phone signal.  This is vital.  Why make things harder for yourself by trying to hear over background noise or a poor connection?  If you have access to a landline, be sure to give this number to your interviewer rather than your mobile.
  8. Practice as much as possible at speaking on the phone in the given language prior to the interview. If you find comprehension difficult, ringing company numbers with automated messages can be an excellent way to improve your listening skills on the phone.
  9. Ensure that you are well acquainted with basic phone vocabulary.  Here is an excellent site which lists the most important phrases for phone calls in English.
  10. Don’t set the bar too high. If you are far from fluent in a language, it is better not to pretend that you are on your CV as you will quickly be found out the moment you pick up the phone.

If you found these tips helpful, take a look at some of our other articles.  And if you’re looking for a job, consult the offers on our website.

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