Today, in the post-COVID world, phone interviews are a norm rather than a springboard to the next level, which is why it’s more important than ever to be ready for them at the drop of a hat.
Just because the recruiter can’t see you doesn’t mean you can wing the interview. Believe me; I’ve tried. Back when I was younger (and more naive), I thought telephone interviews were just a formality, something that recruiters use to check if you are who you say you are.
Oh, how wrong I was! I wish someone had given me some job interview tips for college students that would explain how to interview on the phone. But, no one did, which is why I had to gather my wisdom the old fashioned way.
Thankfully, I decided to selflessly share that wisdom with you today in the form of 17 phone interview tips that will guarantee you a job (today)!
II. 17 Phone Interview Tips That Will Land You a Job
Now, I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy to convey just how perfect (and yet down to earth) you are in a 15-minute phone call. But it is possible!
Here’s how to nail every phone interview and get a sure call-back:
- Know all your details
- Reschedule if you need to
- Practice before the actual interview
- Have the answers ready
- Create a phone interview cheat sheet
- Prepare everything beforehand
- Find a comfortable, quiet environment
- Cut the distractions
- Hope for the best but prepare for the worst
- Voicemail messages matter as well
- Start strong
- Small talk matters, and so does your tone
- Let the conversation breathe, and don’t interrupt them
- Talk clearly and slowly
- Prepare questions for the other side
- Take notes
- Always follow-up
Now, some of these tips seem like common sense to some of you. However, even the most seemingly insignificant details can make or break the entire interview.
For example, you might think it doesn’t matter if you smile since the hiring manager can’t see you, but smiling is actually vital. The person on the other side can hear it in your voice. So, smiling and generally being enthusiastic (without going overboard and sounding like a maniac) is essential to leaving a good impression.
A phone interview might be your only chance to make a good impression.
III. Why Do Phone Interviews Matter So Much?
Now, most people who are on the lookout for a job know that all interviews matter. But, as I mentioned, in a world where face-to-face meetings are seemingly a thing of the past, phone interviews are more important than ever.
Sure, you’ll still get your chance to dazzle the recruiters with your smile and cheerful demeanor via a Skype or Zoom video call, but you still have to nail the phone interview before that.
Recruiters use phone interviews as a time-efficient means to an end. Since they are generally short and can be done from anywhere, they are an ideal way to quickly and efficiently weed out the candidates who aren’t suited for the position.
Alternatively, phone interviews are also a way to interview candidates who live out of town. The recruiters quickly assess the candidates over the phone to see if there’s any use in making them take a long trip or not.
Tip of the day:
Phone interviews are quick, and the interviewers usually have a list of preset questions. That means your time to make an impression is limited, so don’t waste it by fumbling with the answers. Be prepared.
➤ The Advantages of Phone Interviews
Let’s make one thing clear — nobody likes phone interviews. In general, job hunting is a stressful ordeal, and people, even those who test and interview well, would much rather skip the entire process.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible. We have to power through multiple rounds of the interviewing process, which usually starts with the dreaded phone interview.
However, phone interviews have their advantages both for the prospective employees and the recruiters:
- They don’t take a lot of time — phone interviews are generally short. No one will keep you on the line for several hours. More often than not, you’ll have to endure 15 minutes of interviewing.
- They aren’t as anxiety-inducing as in-person meetings — being nervous before an interview is entirely normal. Unfortunately, anxiety can severely impact our ability to represent ourselves in the best possible light. Since you don’t actually see the other person, phone interviews are less nerve-racking.
- You don’t have to think about your body language — you can slouch, wring your hands, bite your nails and do all those other things that all interview tip articles tell you not to do during an in-person meeting. Also, you can wear whatever you want, which is a great perk (especially for those of us who haven’t worn anything other than PJs for months).
- They transcend geographical distance — phone interviews make it easier for hiring managers to screen out-of-town candidates and save them a trip.
Pros of phone interviews:
- Less stressful
- Body language doesn’t matter
- Transcend geography
➤ The Obvious (and Less Obvious) Downsides
Aside from being common stepping stones, phone interviews have some other downsides to them. Even though they aren’t as important as in-person meetings, you still have to prepare for them extensively.
Aside from that:
- Bonding is difficult — phone interviews make it challenging to build a rapport and bond with the person on the other side. Communication is one-dimensional, and there’s very little room for your personality to shine through and charm the hiring manager.
The time to make an impression is limited — I’ve already mentioned this, but phone interviews are usually short and sweet. That means you have no time to waste and you need to be able to quickly make an impression.
- Lack of visual stimuli means the attention might wander (on both sides).
Cons of phone interviews:
- Building rapport is difficult
- Time is limited
- Attention may wander
IV. How to Prepare for a Phone Interview
When it comes to interviewing and job hunting, the best saying is, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready!”
But what does that mean? It means that, if you know that phone interviews are coming your way, it’s best to always be prepared for them. Aside from my amazing key phone interview tips that I’ll soon share with you, there are also some tips on overall preparation that you should keep in mind.
➤Do Your Research
Before you make contact with the company, make sure you know everything there is to know about it. Remember, you have to be an ideal match for the job position, skill-wise, which is what the interviewer is screening for. However, the company also has to be a good match for you. So, do your research and make sure that it is.
By researching the company, its core values, policies, and goals, you’ll not only figure out if you’re a good match but also gain some knowledge and insights to share during your interview.
Having a candidate who knows nothing about the company is the number one red flag for hiring managers. Not doing research gives the impression that you aren’t trying and that you’re essentially uninterested in the job.
➤ Answer Your Own Phone
This particular advice is one of those “common sense” tips I mentioned. But I think it’s worth elaborating on at least a bit because not everyone understands what kind of impression they leave if someone else answers their phone.
When you schedule a telephone interview, both you and the other party know it’s happening. So, the fact that you don’t have your phone on you and can’t be bothered to answer it yourself shows that you have little or no interest in the interviewing process and, in turn, the job itself.
I understand that you can’t be glued to your phone. That’s neither healthy nor necessary. But if you aren’t by your phone when a scheduled phone interview is happening, and someone else picks up, that speaks volumes about who you are as a person.
Sure, mistakes happen, but the person on the other side will most likely think that you don’t value other people’s time and that you are unprofessional and indifferent when it comes to the interviewing process.
➤ Have Your CV Handy
The best thing about phone interviews is that they usually follow a pattern. Sure, some hiring managers will throw a curveball or two your way and ask you something unexpected. However, most of the questions are easily predictable.
One of those is, “Walk me through your CV” or, “Tell me more about the previous position listed in your CV.” Now, the hiring manager may or may not have your CV in front of them (they probably do), but you must.
If the application process required a cover letter, then print out a copy of that as well. It’s also a good idea to have the job listing open in front of you. You need to be able to quickly defer to all three in case the interviewer makes a reference to any of these documents or asks you to clarify something.
Trust me; you don’t want to leave the person on the other side waiting on your answer while you’re fumbling with files on your laptop, trying to find your CV because you’ve forgotten the minutiae of your first job position.
➤ And a Glass of Water
Although it’s rude to eat, drink, or smoke while in the middle of a phone interview, keep a glass of water nearby. In case the interview proves to be lengthy and your throat gets dry, it’s better to make a brief pause and take a sip of water then to cough directly in your interviewer’s ear.
➤ Always Smile
I’ve already mentioned this, but I think it bears repeating. Because you can’t really rely on your body language to convey information, you have to make sure you’re projecting positive vibes in other ways.
That means smiling or even laughing (but only if it’s absolutely appropriate) during the interview. You probably won’t have the time to adequately explain to the person interviewing you how grateful you are for the opportunity and how excited you are to become a part of the team.
That’s OK; you can achieve the same effect by maintaining a positive attitude.
A Phone Interview Checklist:
- Prepare your documents
- Having a list of possible answers isn’t a bad idea
- A quick recap of your research about the company will also come in handy
V. The Best Phone Interview Tips In One Place
1. Know All Your Details
I already mentioned that you need to do your research on the company before the interview. However, that’s not the only information you need to gather.
No phone interview starts out of the blue. The recruiters don’t just call their candidates whenever they feel like it. Usually, an exchange of emails will precede the actual phone call. In those emails, both you and the recruitment team will settle on the best date and time for the call.
During that back-and-forth emailing, make sure to also ask about who you’ll be talking to, what their position is, and what number they’ll call you from.
It’s also a good idea to grab a central number for the company or for the HR or recruitment team, just in case you need to contact them (if the call cuts off, for example).
If you’re currently awaiting a phone interview and are just now realizing that you’re missing one or a few pieces of information I mentioned, don’t worry. Just send them an email to confirm the date and time, and use that opportunity to ask for the info you need. They won’t see it as a faux pas but as you making sure all your Ts are crossed (which is exactly what you’re doing).
2. Reschedule If You Need to
As I said before, phone interviews are just as important as in-person ones. So you need to put your best foot forward and make sure you really nail the interview.
That’s why you mustn’t hesitate to reschedule the interview if the time or the date doesn’t work for you. Don’t try to wing it — you’ll only end up messing it up.
So, what should you do if the company schedules the interview on the day of your sister’s wedding? Should you look for a quiet corner during the reception and try desperately to sound like you definitely aren’t at a wedding? Of course not! Just ask if any other date/time works for them.
3. Practice Before the Actual Interview
Sounding confident is easier over the phone. No one can see you, and you can make silly faces or react to questions naturally without worrying about the other person’s reaction.
However, don’t think that means an automatic win for you. Sure, the phone makes things a bit easier, but only if you know what you’re supposed to say.
That’s why you must practice your interview answers. Recruiters are known for asking standard questions during phone interviews as well as throwing in an odd question or two into the mix. Practice both the expected answers (that you’ve previously carefully compiled) and your delivery of them, as well as your reactions to sudden, unexpected questions.
It’s best if you do this with someone, but you can also practice by yourself. Either way, make sure that your practice runs take into consideration the fact that phone conversations are different than regular ones.
Cutting in while someone is speaking is more difficult over the phone (at least if you’re trying not to be rude). Furthermore, you can’t silently agree with the other person. Not to mention, staying completely silent on the other end doesn’t work either.
Thus, practicing phone conversations matters almost as much as having the right answers ready.
4. Have the Answers Ready
Speaking of which, don’t let any of the interviewer’s questions confuse or unsettle you. Unless they are trying to eliminate you based on your quick reactions to unexpected problems, most interviewers will ask a typical set of questions. Those, you can prepare for.
I’ll go over the list of most common phone interview questions and potential ideal answers to them in a bit. However, take the time to think of other likely questions and tailor the answers according to your skill set and resume.
Also, think about other questions that will surely come up and that only you can answer—salary and benefits expectations, for example. Don’t fumble with your delivery when they ask about them (and believe me, they will).
You need to be able to confidently answer the question about the salary because otherwise, you’ll look unprepared and as if you don’t know your real value. Make sure the number you say is realistic and in accordance with your skill set, experience, and the job position you’re applying for.
5. Create a Phone Interview Cheat Sheet
If you can’t hold all the potential answers in your head, don’t worry — you don’t have to. Lucky for you, the interviewer can’t actually see you, so you can make as many cheat sheets as you want and glance at them whenever you need to.
Make notes on the company details, write down your intro and potential answers, as well as a few jokes (you never know when you might need them). That way, if you stumble over a question or forget what you’re supposed to say, you can cheat a bit and look at your meticulous notes.
However, make sure you don’t spend too much of your attention on your cheat sheet. Sometimes a little bit of spontaneity might prove more useful than a set of well-rehearsed answers.
6. Prepare Everything Beforehand
I already told you that you need to keep your CV, cover letter, and the job listing in front of you during the interview. Still, thorough preparation should go beyond just having your CV within reach.
Get your charger, headphones, and a pen and paper ready before the interview. Make sure all your ducks are in a row, so to speak, and every tool you might need is within reach before that phone rings.
7. Find a Comfortable, Quiet Environment
If you share your home with someone, make sure you aren’t in the same room as them during the interview. Even if they keep completely quiet during your call, their presence might mess with your flow. You might be more nervous simply because you know that someone else is listening to you while you’re trying to be extra professional.
If it’s possible, make sure the spot you pick has good reception and an available outlet.
8. Cut the Distractions
A lot of things can distract us even when we’re doing our best to stay completely focused. So, when you’re picking a spot for your interview, make sure there are no distractions around you.
Aside from being alone and avoiding sharing a room with your roommates or family members, it’s also essential that you throw your pets out. You don’t want your interview to be interrupted by your cat that decided to sing the song of its people by mewling as loudly as it can, right?
So, no pets. It’s also a good idea to remove all gadgets from your vicinity. If there’s a TV or a radio in the room, make sure they are off.
Finally, minimize distractions by using headphones during the call. That will make the surrounding noise less troubling, and it will help you focus on the interview. What’s more, it will also help you hear the person on the other side better.
9. Hope for the Best but Prepare for the Worst
You must have a contingency plan if something goes wrong. Ideally, you’ll go through the entire process without a hitch. But what if something happens?
What if your phone battery runs out? Or, what if someone busts into the room you’re in and disturbs you? More importantly, what if you can’t remember which responsibilities you had in your previous position?
These are all unlikely scenarios. Still, that doesn’t mean they are impossible. Make a plan on how you’ll proactively solve each of these potential problems. That way, you’ll be more relaxed during the interview.
Sure, you know that they probably won’t happen. Still, knowing that you have a contingency plan if they do occur will make you calmer.
10. Voicemail Messages Matter as Well
Even though the interview date and time will be scheduled and planned, it’s a good idea to make sure your voicemail message is polite and professional. The interviewer will probably never hear it, but just in case, change whatever you have now (especially if it’s something cute or rude). And, yes, I do mean change it now. You’ll forget about it later.
11. Start off Strong
How you start your interview is extremely important. It will make or break the entire thing. It will determine whether the interviewer will listen to you attentively or not.
So, make sure your tone is friendly and that you answer the phone professionally and decisively. Don’t just say hello; answer with your name. Throw in a “Good to hear from you!” or “Thanks for calling.” Those are much stronger options than a simple “Hello” could ever be.
12. Small Talk Matters And So Does Your Tone
It’s best to let the other person set the pace of the interview. So, after answering the phone, give them a chance to start the conversation. If you have the opportunity, exchange a few pleasantries and make sure you use a conversational, friendly tone throughout the entire interview.
You don’t want to jump straight to the business unless you have to. Building rapport is difficult over the phone, and bonding is even more challenging. So, use every opportunity you have to endear yourself to your interviewer.
13. Talk Clearly and Slowly
With all the preparations you’ve made, I’m sure you have a lot to say. But make sure you say it calmly. It’s also important that you talk slowly and enunciate the words properly. After all, you want the person on the other side to not only understand you but also be able to follow what you’re saying.
So, don’t rush.
14. Let the Conversation Breathe and Don’t Interrupt Them
All phone conversations have some natural pauses in them. Don’t be intimidated by this, and don’t be quick to fill in the silence simply because you feel like you have to.
Always try to remember that there’s a person on the other side, not a robot. Perhaps they need a moment to collect their thoughts and move on to the next question, or they’re simply contemplating your reply.
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous one because it’s essentially another reminder that you don’t have to rush. You don’t have to punch out your answer immediately after the interviewer finishes the question. It’s alright to take a moment and contemplate the best way to put your answer into words.
More importantly, if you get interrupted, don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s rude and will antagonize the person on the other side. Instead, stop talking and focus on what the other person is saying.
15. Prepare Questions for the Other Side
Remember when I said that the company has to be a good fit for you and not just the other way around? Yeah, sometimes people forget that. They are so eager to get the job (or just a job) that they forget their opinion matters as well.
Even though the entire point of the phone interview is for the recruiter to screen the candidates, it’s also an opportunity for the candidates to assess the company. So don’t be shy to ask some questions of your own.
However (there’s always a however), make sure the questions are relevant and not redundant. Don’t ask something you could easily find out on the company’s website.
Make sure your questions are intelligent and imaginative. For example, ask them which skill or trait they think is vital for the position. Alternatively, ask about the department’s dynamic, the position you’re applying for, or the company’s future projects.
It’s also vital that you ask about the next steps in the interviewing process. Although the interviewer will surely tell you, even if unprompted, it’s always good to be proactive. It’s also an excellent way to wrap the interview up in a natural way.
16. Take Notes
Taking notes is a great way to make sure you aren’t missing (or forgetting) something. If you have a lot to go over during the interview, you can create a checklist so you don’t skip a step that you think is important. And while the interviewer is answering your questions or giving you details about the job, taking notes is never a bad idea.
You can also record the conversation.
17. Always Follow-up
“Don’t call us, we’ll call you” is a cliche and a misguided rule. Ideally, you’ll hear back from the person you talked with soon. But if you don’t, don’t just sit quietly and wait patiently.
Be proactive (again, proactivity is the running theme here) and send an email to see where they are in the process.
Tip of the day:
The DOs and DON’Ts of phone interviewing:
✔️ Be polite, professional, and friendly.
❌ Don’t talk to the interviewer like they are your best friend.
✔️ Stay focused, listen carefully, and give concise, coherent answers.
❌ Don’t call them by their first name.
✔️ Take your time, and don’t rush through your answers.
❌ Interrupting the other person is extremely rude — avoid it at all cost.
VI. Is That Everything?
Although questions may vary from industry to industry, there are a few general ones that you’ll undoubtedly hear in a phone interview or two (or, more likely, all of them).
➤Most Common Phone Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)
1. Tell Me a Bit About Your Work History
No one expects you to go over your entire work history, especially if you’ve been in the field for a while. Instead, go over the highlights and focus on the goals you’ve achieved while you held the positions you’ve had in the past.
“Tell me about your work history” is a common question, but it’s also one of the most important ones. The person that’s interviewing you might not be familiar with your field. Therefore, they won’t know off the top of their head which responsibilities and objectives each of your positions involved. They also might not be able to connect the dots in your resume, especially if you’ve worked in various roles over the years. Keep that in mind when you answer this question.
2. Why Are You Leaving Your Current Position?
By asking about your previous position and the circumstances that led to you leaving it, the interviewer is actually asking about your work ethics, general attitude, and expectations. They will expect a well-thought-out answer, so make sure you have one.
Still, that doesn’t mean you have to complicate it. Keep things simple and positive. If you were fired, show the interviewer that you understand why that happened and that you’ve learned and grown as an employee thanks to that experience. If you’re leaving to pursue other opportunities, make sure to mention that and highlight which opportunities you’re after.
Of course, never (ever) badmouth your previous boss or coworkers. This should go without saying, but that’s not a way to build rapport.
3. What Are Your Strengths/Weaknesses?
Make sure you point out which strengths make you the best candidate for the position you’re applying for. It’s also vital that you “show” and not “tell” the interviewer about it. In other words, instead of saying “I’m a great team player” and calling it a day, say, “My biggest strength is my ability to adapt to a team environment, which I think is very important in this field, given that it requires a lot of interdisciplinary work.”
When it comes to weaknesses, the trick is, of course, to frame them in a positive way. No one in their right mind will say that they are lazy or can’t keep a schedule when asked about their weaknesses. Instead, pick a weakness that can be good for the company.
Too detailed oriented, doesn’t know how to say “No,” has trouble asking for help — these are just some of the examples of positive weaknesses.
You can also be honest and say what your most significant professional weakness is. However, if you do, make sure to follow up with how you (successfully) overcome it every time it rears its ugly head. For example, if you’re really that keen on saying that you’re prone to procrastination, also make sure to mention that you set false, early deadlines for yourself to make sure your weakness doesn’t affect your overall productivity.
4. How Do You Handle Pressure?
Things don’t always go smoothly at work, and, naturally, your potential employer wants to know how you deal with that. What’s more, some fields are more stressful than others, which is why people who work in them already know this question is coming.
If you work well under pressure, mention that. However, if you don’t, make sure to mention how you deal with it successfully and to the company’s benefit (perhaps you work a bit more in advance to avoid the stress of missing deadlines or something similar).
5. What Makes You the Ideal Candidate?
This is a tricky question because it asks for not only introspection but also some knowledge about the company. Coincidentally, it’s also the question where all the research you’ve done (as per my tips) will pay off.
Make sure to mention how your personal goals and values align with the company’s and how your skillset is uniquely matched with its needs.
- Make sure you’re prepared for the interview. Gather all your documents, notes, cheat sheets, research, and tools in one place so you have them within reach during the call.
- Remove all the distractions and carefully pick a spot for the interview. Make sure no one can disturb or interrupt you.
- Practice makes perfect so rehearse both talking over the phone and answering questions before the actual interview.
- Giving coherent answers that make sense is more important than answering the questions quickly. Take time before you answer (but not too much).
- Maintain a friendly, conversational tone and, if given the opportunity, chat for a bit with the interviewer.
- Prepare the questions that you’ll ask at the end of the interview and make sure they are original and intelligent.
- Follow up if you don’t hear back from them within a week or two.
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