Grad scheme tipster, Hannah Salton recalls a series of disastrous phone interviews and urges all candidates to be super prepared
n my previous blogpost, I talked about the research I did when applying for the BT graduate scheme. This time I’ll be focusing on the next stage of the application process I went through.
This part of the process wasn’t all plain sailing for me. After I’d done my initial application for BT, I was asked to complete numerical and language tests online. While I found the English language task fairly straightforward, having studied A-level English literature, I didn’t have enough time to complete the maths test. Maths has never been my strongest point, and I have to confess to having a rocky relationship with numbers.
Unsurprisingly, I had a bit of a panic that I hadn’t completed the whole test. I knew I should have listened to my dad and concentrated in GCSE maths. However, despite my worry, it seems it’s better to be relatively thorough and complete what you can correctly rather than rushing through all the questions and guessing (probably incorrectly in a state of panic) many answers. I only ended up completing around two thirds of my online maths test, but as I did that carefully and methodically, I was ecstatic to hear I’d got through to the next round; a phone interview.
Not being very technologically minded, I’ve always tried to prepare for the unexpected, and learnt to realise that whatever can go wrong, often will go wrong with technology. A short while before my phone interview with BT, I had another one with a different company. In preparation, I had my mobile phone fully charged, and assessed my entire room before the call to ensure optimum signal at my desk. Incidentally I’d never had a problem with phone reception before, but I was being overly cautious. I waited patiently by my phone for the interviewer to ring, and answered quickly when they did so.
The phone interview seemed to be going well, until halfway through when I lost all signal on my phone. After uttering my apologies, I managed to find a spot sitting on top of my wardrobe (not necessarily the best look for a young professional) leaning towards the window. I completed the phone interview OK, if a little stressed. Needless to say, I never had problems with the reception in my room again. But for my phone interview with BT, I had learnt my lesson. I had smugly booked out a room in the university library, just for me, to conduct my interview in. The study room was private and enclosed, and as I settled down with my notes (very important) I felt very proud of my forward thinking.
The great thing about phone interviews is you can relax in your own environment (phone reception permitting), and have as many handy notes as you like. I found having my CV to hand with a few key points about your skills and situational example answers can be really helpful. I did try and keep my notes simple and easily laid out though; the last thing you want to be doing is flicking through rustling paper, umming and arring as you try to find the answer to why you are a great team player.
Some of the questions included giving an example of a time I have demonstrated leadership, responded well to a challenge and been flexible in adapting to change. For my phone interviews, I printed off my CV and annotated it with different skills I thought I could be asked about, allocating them to different achievements on my CV. For example, I used my numerous group presentations and projects at university to demonstrate my ability to team work, and so on. One project in particular I found useful to discuss was a retail marketing module where I worked with a group to launch our own fictitious clothes line. Our team was allocated different roles such as marketing, finance and commercial specialist, and put in simulated market situations which we had to respond to.
I didn’t think it is a good idea to sound too rehearsed on calls, like a robot reading cliched lines, but sometimes having one or two examples can be reassuring when you’re asked the dreaded “what’s your biggest weakness?” (note: I came to find that saying you’re a perfectionist is apparently a bit over used – and opted for “I take on too much work and sometimes find it hard to say no to people” instead).
I think it’s important to try and relax and let your personality show in phone interviews. At BT you’re encouraged to be yourself, and even though it can be hard when you’re getting grilled, I think it’s better for a company to know what you’re like upfront as there’s only so long you can pretend to be someone you’re not.
As I mentioned before, keen to avoid another phone-signal dilemma, for the day of my BT phone interview I booked a library study room. But I hadn’t counted on a group of six international students setting up camp outside (loudly) brainstorming ideas for their group project. Even after I politely asked them to keep it down, the quiet hum of their energetic chatter couldn’t help but distract me. As it turns out, it didn’t matter in the end, as I managed to pass through to the next round.
But my advice? Anything that can go wrong often will go wrong, so always prepare as well as you can in advance for all kind of questions and unexpected situations. Especially enthusiastic exchange students.