Friday, June 19, 2009

Effective Phone Interviews in English

This is an article published on the & I felt it shall Oracle Corporation Recruitment Blog be useful for anyone following my blog as well.

The following article will share with you some tips about how to conducting effective Phone Interviews in English with non-English speaking candidates. Before writing this article, I conducted a survey with Hiring Manager’s from China, Singapore, Japan, India, US and Australia to get their input.

Hope this article would be helpful to both native and non-native English speakers during your interview in a way or another.


1. Highlight your achievements. During the interview, avoid answering the interviewer’s question by reading any paragraph in your CV. The interviewer doesn’t expect you read what he/she can also find on your CV. What you need do is to share what your major achievements are and how you made them in a particular situation. Make sure you can explain any details of the project you did fluently in English.

2. Understand how to address your strengths and weaknesses from both technical and personality perspective. Though most experienced interviewers won’t simply ask what your strength or weakness is, it’s important that you can prepare how to address it in advance.

3. Be confident. I've met some applicants who like to answer the interviewer’s question starting with ' Sorry, my oral English is not good...’ Please bear in mind that a phone interview is the opportunity for you to demonstrate how your experiences and qualifications match with the company's needs. Never lower your interview score by yourself before the interviewer has even started to make any evaluation of you. If your oral English is not as good as how you expect it to be, just try your best to speak each sentence slowly and clearly. Never say anything irrelevant to the interview and please be confident!

4. Don't hesitate to raise questions. Have you ever been in a situation where you could not understand the interviewer's question in English? How did you respond ? More often than not, I have found that candidates choose to keep silent or just try to guess what the question was. Sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes they get it right. However, the better approach is to clarify with the interviewer about the question.

5. Never give the worst answer. Do you know what the worst answer given by the interviewee in an interview is? “…. I don’t know” The interview is about taking the opportunity to show what you know. Especially in a phone interview, the interviewer can’t see you in person so the only way for the interviewer to evaluate you is your CV and your answers to his/her questions. If you simply end up by saying “…I don’t know”, you are just giving up the opportunity.

6. Ensure a good interview environment. Before your English speaking phone interview, ensure the place you are taking the call is quiet and with strong cellphone signal. In most cases, we would suggest you use your land line telephone to have phone interview.


1. Start by building rapport. Building rapport with the candidate at the beginning of an interview plays an important role to a smooth and easy communication onwards. Not only can it create the pleasant atmosphere, but also can let the candidate become familiar with your voice and your English tongue. Each interviewer is different and has their own accent when speaking English.

2. Be careful using Speaker phone. It would be better to use a headset with microphone or handset to have a phone interview. However, if you must use speaker phone, please try to sit as close to the speaker as possible so as not to allow your voice to be unclear for the candidate’s benefit.

3. Rephrase your question in different ways. Sometimes due to the limited vocabulary, the candidate may not understand your question, so if you can rephrase the question another way, he/she may be better able to catch your meaning.

4. Try to avoid asking theoretical or hypothetical questions. This kind of question can involves terms that may not make sense to a non-English candidate. If you can provide illustrations to explain the question via data and sample results wherever possible, that would be much better.

5. Use tools to assist your phone interview. Interviewing completely in English is hard, especially for a technical English phone interview. It would be better to use some tools like Oracle web conference system to make the complex programming questions and answers more visible. If this kind of tool is not available, perhaps you could ask the interviewee to write down the answer first and then read it out for you. This approach will help the interviewee give you a more logical and clearer answer.

6. Invite a local interviewer or recruiter to be one of the panel interviewers. If your position doesn’t require an excellent command of the English language, then perhaps regard the English phone interview as the way to assess the candidate’s English communication skill, but, not as a measure of their technical capability. Hence, invite a local interviewer to be part of the interview process which will improve the effectiveness of the interview.

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