By Jeff Gillis
Your resume is stellar, your application was impeccable, and you’ve caught a potential employer’s attention. Now, the hiring manager wants to get to know you a bit better, inviting you to participate in a phone interview.
That’s great news!
But if you want to ensure you’ll excel, you’re going to need some stellar phone interview tips by your side. In the end, phone interviews are more important than you think.
By using the right strategy, you can increase your odds of impressing, allowing you to move forward to an in-person or video remote interview and, hopefully, land the job.
Fortunately, we have your back. If you’re wondering how to prepare for a phone interview, here are some insights about what to expect, as well as some phone interview tips to get you moving in the right direction.
Why Do Some Employers Ask for Phone Interviews in the First Place?
The main reason employers ask for interviews is the pare down the list of candidates. Essentially, instead of spending the time and resources needed to bring you in for an in-person interview, they’ll use this approach to see if you should remain a contender.
In many cases, a phone interview is probably your first real contact with the company. While you’re not going to land the job from a phone interview (most likely), you certainly can lose it!
At their core, phone interviews are pretty similar to any other interview and should be taken just as seriously…if not more seriously.
You see, one advantage an in-person interview has is the employer gets to physically meet you…shake your hand, and see one on one just how the chemistry works. All of these things, which might seem rather insignificant in the moment, are actually critical parts of any interview.
When you’re interviewing via phone, you’re going to have to work even harder to make sure you are coming off as personable, capable, and above all, the perfect candidate.
So what exactly can you expect from a phone interview? Below are things you absolutely need to consider before picking up that phone!
What To Expect In A Phone Interview
- Usually one interviewer only – not a group
- Hiring manager “trying to eliminate you”
- Varying “interviewer styles” (ex. casual or formal)
- Basic questions about your personal life
- Housekeeping questions (ex. availability, travel, etc.)
- Potential salary expectation discussion
- A few “odd-ball” questions
- Hiring manager expects focus – no distractions!
- Back and forth dialogue – pause and listen.
- Standard job interview questions
- No “next interview” promises
The last point is key. It’s quite rare that you will get an offer of an in-person interview at the end of your phone call. But don’t be discouraged! The general practice is for the hiring manager to assess all of the phone interviews and create a shortlist of candidates to be brought in for in-person interviews.
So, you’re probably wondering about how to ace a phone interview. Luckily almost all of the standard rules from in-person interviews still apply. Since that’s the case, preparing for a phone interview is more or less the same. However, there are some phone interview tips that can really be of help:
20 Phone Interview Tips
1. Take It as Seriously as an In-Person Interview
In the end, this is a job interview, so treat it like one. That means be ready!
Set aside time BEFORE the interview to prep for it. Make sure you’re well-rested. Get your vocal cords warmed up. Brew a cup of coffee or tea and be ready for your day. Brush your teeth!
Also, dress the part. This is just as much a mental game as a physical game, and dressing professionally (even if they can’t see you) can really help you kick your mind into the right frame to get you the job.
If you get a phone call out of the blue and you think it could be for a phone interview, I would suggest letting it go to voice message, listening to the message, prepare for the phone interview appropriately and then call them back ready to rock. - Or - If you do happen to answer the phone unknowingly, let the interviewer know that you aren't able to speak freely and ask if you can schedule a time for the call. DON'T TRY AND WING IT!
2. Focus And Cut Out All Distractions
Make sure you’re not distracted. Turn off the TV. Silence any notifications that may draw your attention. Put your computer screen to sleep. Be in a room with a door you can close.
Then, find a good spot to sit down and have all your prep materials nearby for easy access. In most cases, a desk in a home office is best, but a kitchen table can work in a pinch.
Whatever you do, don’t lay down. Additionally, don’t slouch. In both of those cases, it can alter how you sound, your mindset, and your confidence, so it’s better to sit up straight, just as you would when interviewing in person.
3. Do Some Research Before The Interview
Odds are you’ve applied to more than one company, and it’s always helpful to know a bit about who you’re talking to from both a professional and a business standpoint.
Double-check the job description you’re interviewing for. Google the company. See how they’re doing and what they’re doing.
If you know who’s doing your interview, you can see what sort of digital footprint they have and find out more about them on a personal level. Look them up on LinkedIn but don’t go overboard.
By doing this research, you’ll have an easier time tailoring your answers. That way, you can ensure that not only are you satisfying what the interviewer is asking, but you’re also positioning yourself to be the best possible candidate for the job.
4. Listen And Don’t Dominate The Conversation
Yes, this is an interview which means they’re going to be asking you questions. But it’s also an opportunity to show your potential employer that you’re good at listening too. Talk, but don’t dominate the conversation. Instead, let the interviewer guide the discussion.
Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t answer the questions thoroughly. Just make sure you don’t turn it into a one-sided monologue by also remaining concise. Additionally, keep a pencil and paper nearby so you can jot down questions and notes and save them for the end. That way, when it’s time for you to ask questions, you’ll have some at the ready.
5. Prepare Your Own Cheat Sheet
Obviously since it’s a phone interview the hiring manager can’t see you looking down at your handy cheat sheet! Have one prepared with any information that could help you during your interview:
- Name of the hiring manager. CEO etc
- Questions to ask the hiring manager
- Company info (events, initiatives etc.)
- Anything that you might forget!
NOTE: Don’t let the cheat sheet get in the way of the flow of the conversation.
6. Slow Down
Take a beat (or a breath) between the interviewer asking you a question and when you start answering it. Sometimes people ask questions but then continue to talk rather than waiting for you to answer. Give the interviewer a second or two after each question before you start so you don’t both end up talking at once, which can be awkward.
Also, as you’re pausing, it gives you a chance to really think about what you’re going to say rather than just rattling off whatever happens to pop in your mind first. Be thoughtful. Be thorough. Be concise.
And don’t forget to breathe during those questions! Take your time and pronounce your words clearly. Speak slowly enough to be understood. You’re interviewing for a job, and unless that job is for a carnival barker or auctioneer, slow down!
7. Be Ready for Common Phone Interview Questions
In many cases, there are specific phone interview questions you should prepare yourself for, ensuring you’re ready for what likely lies ahead. By practicing answering them before your interview, it’ll not only help with nerves, but it’ll also make your responses more targeted.
In many cases, phone interview questions cover your basic qualifications, traits, and skills. They’re designed to assess your fit on a general level, not an in-depth one. By keeping that in mind, it’s far easier to prepare.
8. Send A Thank You Email After the Phone Interview
Remember, this stage is about making good first impressions, and the fact that you’re doing this all via phone makes the follow-up even more critical. Make sure you not only end your phone call on a positive note but follow up with a thoughtful thank you email after your phone interview.
In the end, 68 percent of hiring managers feel that thank you notes matter. By ensuring you send one, you increase your odds of standing out for all of the right reasons.
9. Direct Them to Your Personal Branding Website
A personal branding website can be one of the most powerful tools you use as part of your job search, allowing you to impress hiring managers, differentiate yourself from your competitors, increase your visibility online, and create a hub for your brand. By directing the hiring manager there after your phone interview, you give them a simple way to learn more about you.
Traditionally, near the end of the interview, the hiring manager will say something like, “Is there anything else that you want me to know that we haven’t covered in this interview?” Now is your chance!
Reply with something like, “I’d love you to check out my personal website, [your website URL]. It will give you a great idea of the work I have accomplished, the experiences I’ve had, and most importantly, the type of person you’ll be getting if you decide to hire me for this position.”
In doing this, you will not only give the hiring manager a much more engaging and interesting experience, but you’ll also show what an intelligent, dedicated, and forward-thinking individual you are.
10. Know Who Is Calling Whom
Phone interviews can occur in a number of ways. For example, the hiring manager might call your phone number, or they may want you to call a toll-free number and connect to a conference line.
Make sure you know which approach is being used. That way, you can proceed accordingly.
11. Charge Your Phone
If you’re not using a landline, make sure you charge your phone before the call. With a full battery, you don’t have to worry about running out of juice before the call wraps up.
12. Use the Right Greeting
If the hiring manager is calling you, make sure you identify yourself as you answer the phone. For example, you can pick up and say, “Doe residence, John Doe speaking,” using an upbeat tone. That lets the hiring manager know they’ve reached the right person and sets the stage for a positive call.
13. Make Sure to Smile
While the hiring manager can’t see you, they can assess your mood based on the tone in your voice. By smiling, even if you’re forcing it, your voice actually sounds happier, which works in your favor.
14. Check Your Signal
Having a call drop during a phone interview is a nightmare. That’s why you want to make sure you have a strong signal before your call is supposed to take place. If you have doubts, look for an alternative.
Using a landline is often ideal, as you won’t have signal issues. However, if that’s not an option, try moving to a different part of your home. Then, do a test call with a friend to ensure you’re coming through clearly.
15. Let the Hiring Manager Decide If There’s Small Talk
Phone interviews are typically very short. Since that’s the case, some hiring managers may skip the small talk and hope right into the questions. However, others may prefer a little chitchat. Since that’s the case, let the hiring manager steer the initial parts of the conversation and only engage in small talk if they create that opening.
16. Embrace Fillers to Show You’re Engaged
While fillers aren’t necessary in an in-person interview, as you can simply nod to show you’re tracking the conversation, they’re helpful in phone interviews. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what the hiring manager is saying with a quick “yes,” “right,” or “okay” on occasion. That way, they know you’re engaged (and still on the line).
17. Try Standing to Increase Your Energy
While sitting during your phone interview makes it easier to review materials, standing could make you seem more energetic. Plus, it may help you burn off nervous energy, giving you room to move or gesture. Just make sure you aren’t so active that it’s evident in your breathing or speaking voice, as that can work against you.
18. Handle Unexpected Background Noise
Even if you prepare properly, unexpected background noise may occur. If it does, apologize for it first. Then, move to address it if possible. For example, if passersby outside or construction on a neighboring building is an issue, close any windows or curtains to block the sound or relocate to a quieter room.
Usually, it’s better to ask for a quick moment to handle the problem than to leave it lingering in the background. That way, it won’t interfere with the rest of the call.
19. Have Water Nearby
While you don’t want to chug between answers, having water you can sip helps you avoid a dry throat. As a result, you’ll have an easier time remaining clear when you speak. Plus, it’ll keep you comfortable.
20. Update Your Voicemail Greeting
While your goal is to answer calls from hiring managers before they hit voicemail, there’s always a chance that won’t be possible. Since that’s the case, make sure your voicemail greeting is suitably professional. In most cases, one that simply announces your name and says you aren’t available is enough, so use that as a starting point.
Phone Interview FAQ
How long is a phone interview?
Around 30 minutes. Think of it like a gatekeeper interview to see if you are qualified to get an in-person interview. That’s why what you deliver during those 30 odd minutes is important!
What is the purpose of a phone interview?
The most common reason for a phone interview is to eliminate any candidates that are clearly not a good fit for the position. The other potential purpose of a phone interview is to interview candidates that may be out of town or unable to attend the in-person interview.
Putting It All Together
So, there you have it! If you follow the phone interview tips above, you can almost guarantee to have the interviewer eating out of your hand… even if they aren’t in the same room as you.
FREE: "Phone Interview Questions & Answers" PDF CHEAT SHEET
Get our handy "Phone Interview Questions & Answers" cheat sheet.
In it you'll get word-for-word sample answers that you can use in your next phone interview.
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Jeff Gillis( Co-Founder and CTO )
Co-founder and CTO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more.
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