Face-to-face interviews are what we’re traditionally used to, but sometimes they’re not doable because of distance. In this case, phone interviews are another option.
Given how fast globalization is moving today, it’s already common for phone interviews to happen between people from different countries. That’s not a problem—the cost is nearly zero, thanks to online messaging apps. However, what if you have to interview someone who speaks a different language?
It’s not an impossible feat—the solution is to get help from an interpreter.
Phone Interviews with an Interpreter
In meetings and conferences, you typically see simultaneous interpreting. The interpreter talks at around the same time as the speaker, and the audience hears through headphones whichever of the two is using their native language. This prevents confusion and saves time.
With phone interviews or remote setups in general, it’s far less doable. Consecutive interpreting is used instead, where the speaker and interpreter take turns. Depending on their personal style, the interpreter may either wait for the speaker to finish or interject on their own.
By default, the interviewer and interviewee won’t be in the same location for the phone interview. If you’re using a telephone translation service, the interpreter is also remotely located, and all participants should have a telephone or computer with VoIP.
Otherwise, the interpreter and interviewer can simply sit near each other. The most convenient setup here is to use a dual handset phone, which has two receivers that they can use all at once. Alternatively, they can put the phone on speaker mode, but the interview might be overheard and background noise might be distracting.
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Pros and Cons
Even if you’ve had experience with interpretation for meetings before, phone interviews are a different situation altogether since these involve carefully evaluating the interviewee. Normally, the interviewer is responsible for asking thoughtful questions and analyzing the interviewee’s responses, but in a phone interview that requires interpretation, the interviewer must work in tandem with the interpreter. For the interview to be successful, the interpreter must convey the interviewee’s responses accurately.
Another major factor is the lack of face-to-face contact. Body language is very expressive, and without being able to see it, the interpreter must rely on the words of the interviewee alone. At least twice as much time must also be allotted for the interview because the interpreter will essentially be repeating everything that both the interviewer and interviewee say.
If you’re not placing a call directly, avoid using a cellphone as much as possible—opt for landline or a phone with dual handset instead. For calls placed through online apps, make sure that the internet connection is stable. Reserve a quiet space for the call, and do a trial run before to check the sound quality.
Before the Interview
Because there’s a charge per minute for both offline calls and interpreting services, prepare your questions and discussion points to maximize time.
Regardless of how experienced an interpreter may be, consult with them at least a few days before and brief them about the interview. You can explain its purpose, give basic information about the interviewee, and share your list of questions. This way, the interpreter will have the mental space to prepare and review any niche-specific jargon that may come up. It’s also a good idea to ask the interpreter what their usual process is like. Do they interpret after every few sentences, or only when the speaker is done? What equipment have they tried before?
Likewise, the interviewee should also be aware before about the presence of an interpreter. Let them know about the interview setup and clarify that the interpreter will only be there to translate, not serve as another interviewer.
During the Interview
Introduce everyone at the start. To keep the flow natural, be mindful of the interpreter and pause after long statements to give the interpreter a chance to speak up. There might be delays occasionally on the side of the interpreter because they’re grappling real-time with words that have no direct translation.
Throughout the interview, maintain transparency by having the interviewee aware at all times of what you’re saying. Don’t have private conversations with the interpreter—everything that you say as the interviewee must be addressed to the interviewer, unless you’re asking the interpreter for clarification.
After the Interview
Once the call ends, check in with the interpreter and ask if they want to expand on what they said, in case they weren’t able to formulate a full translation at any point in the interview because of time pressure. They can also bring up any cultural nuances that’ll shed more light on what the interviewee said.
A phone interview with an interpreter on board is still ultimately an interview, so the same rules apply. Prepare well, give your full attention to the interviewee on hand, and by the end of it, you’ll still get the information you need. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore, and teaming up with an interpreter will help you conduct bilingual phone interviews successfully.