10 Common Phone Interview Mistakes to Avoid

By Natalie Briggs
Sep. 22, 2022

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For many companies, phone interviews serve as the first step in the hiring process, and they will use this interview to narrow down the pool of candidates that they are considering. This first round of interviews will often lead to an in-person interview down the line, so you need to ace this phone call.

Because of this, it is important to give a good first impression, as acing this step in the interview process could move you forward in the process.

We’ve compiled a list of tips for your phone interview, so you can be as successful as possible.

Key Takeaways:

  • Rather than asking someone to commute to the office, a phone interview is a great way to meet someone and get a sense of who they are, without requiring a meeting in person.

  • It’s important not to take the call on speakerphone because the interviewer will think you are distracted and it can be hard to hear you.

  • Avoid multitasking while on the call, and this includes driving.

  • Make sure your phone is fully charged and you have good reception before getting on the call.

Phone Interview Mistakes

10 Common Phone Interview Mistakes to Avoid

Let’s start with the things you should avoid doing during a phone interview. These are things that can make you seem rude, inconsiderate, distracted, or even uninterested.

  1. Don’t take the call on speakerphone. You want to be heard in an interview, so it’s best to avoid using speakerphone. This can make you appear distracted, and it makes the interview wonder what you are so busy doing that you cannot hold the phone up to your ear.

    Plus, speakerphones tend to become echo-y, muddled messes of sound, which only serve to make it harder to understand you. The same can be said for headphones, especially Bluetooth. Always speak into your phone’s built-in microphone to avoid technological issues.

  2. Don’t take the phone call in a public place. Public places are unpredictable and often hectic. They are filled with noises of people coming and going, and these are only going to distract from what you are saying. For this step in the interview process, avoiding Starbucks or the public park is best.

    Opt instead for a quiet place in your home, where there are likely to be fewer interruptions. If you have roommates or family members living with you, let them know you are expecting an important phone call and ask them to keep the noise to a minimum.

    Take advantage of the fact that you will be on the phone. This means that you can wear comfortable clothes, and you get to remain in your home. You will be avoiding the discomforts that come with going to a new place and meeting strangers, and instead, you will have the home-field advantage of being in a relaxed, secure environment.

  3. Don’t multitask. No matter how good at multitasking you may be, people can pick up on when you sound distracted. There is nothing worse than having your answers filled with “um’s” and “uh’s” because you are trying to balance completing the interview and doing something else.

    • Having another task on your plate is too risky, as it can make you come across as unprepared, disinterested, or even inconsiderate. Give this interview the respect it deserves and give it your full attention.

    • If you are the type of person who needs something to do with their hands to think clearly, try taking notes, as this can keep your hands busy and also allows you to record important information.

    • You can also try playing with a pencil or pen — avoid clicking your pen, though, as this can be distracting if not annoying — or pace around the room as you talk. Giving your body the chance to move around typically sates the fidgeting urge.

  4. Don’t wait to call in. Punctuality is just as important with a phone interview as it is with an in-person interview. The general rule to follow is to have the call connected and going within five minutes of the agreed-upon time.

    If you are unsure of who will be calling whom, take the initiative and assume you were meant to call them. Contacting them on schedule will show that you are eager about this opportunity and that you don’t want to waste other people’s time.

  5. Don’t talk too much. For many of us, we talk when we are nervous, or when we feel there is an unnatural lull in the conversation. However, in interviews, this can lead to babbling and getting off-topic.

    When answering an interviewer’s questions, only talk enough to answer their question fully and completely. Make your point and then allow them to take the next step. If they need clarification or want you to speak more about a particular topic, they will ask for it. Remember that it is better to be concise than it is to be over-explanatory.

  6. Don’t speak over the interviewer. When you’re talking over the phone, its hard to read the nonverbal cues of the interviewer to suggest that they are done speaking. Don’t feel as if you need to speak through the silence. Let the interviewer speak first and then allow for a moment of silence to see if the interviewer is finished speaking before answering their question.

  7. Don’t put your interviewer on hold. Phone interviewers typically don’t that long so any other phone calls or text messages can wait until the phone interview is over. It can look bad on your end if you tell your interviewer to hold because your best friend needs to tell you some gossip.

    If you are expecting to hear urgent news, like information on a sick family member, make sure to tell your interviewer this information at the start of the interview or email them prior to your email.

  8. Don’t assume your reception is good. There is nothing worse than your interviewer needing to repeat themselves over and over because your call keeps getting cut out. Make sure you test your reception beforehand by having a friend call you or you use a landline phone for the call.

  9. Don’t have someone else answer the phone. Just don’t do it. Your interviewer is trying to get ahold of you and not someone else. Nothing looks more unprofessional than your friend answering the phone and making your interviewer wait for you to get on the line. You should be prepared and waiting for the call.

    There’s a chance your interviewer might think they called the wrong number and figured you gave the wrong phone number and your interview is over before it started.

  10. Don’t be driving. This goes along with don’t multi task. When you are driving you can be distracted and either not hear what the interviewer said or cause an accident trying to deal with the interview. Plus the interviewer will hear it in your voice if you are trying to do something else while answering the questions. It just comes across as unprofessional.

    If you have to do the interview during a road trip or while driving somewhere, try pulling over in an area with good reception and do the interview then.

Tips for a Successful Phone Interview

Now, let’s move on to what you absolutely should do in a phone interview. These are boxes you need to check off if you want your phone interview to be a success.

  1. Set yourself up for success. Do your research on the company. Gather a few talking points that you can use in conversation to prove to the interviewer that you are interested in the position and their company. This goes a long way to set you apart from the competition.

    Be prepared for common interview questions and have a few answers lined up. Anything you can do to help you seem more prepared will be extremely helpful in this or any interview.

  2. Make sure your connection is working properly. Having the call drop can cause a snag in the interview that could cost you the job. It disrupts conversation and sends everyone scrambling to get the interview up and running again.

    To avoid this, designate where you will be taking the call, and do a few test calls to friends or family members. Make sure you can hear them clearly and vise versa. This will ensure that technology will cooperate during your interview and it will go off without a hitch.

  3. Make sure your phone is charged. Before the interview begins, make sure you have a full battery on your phone. It won’t look good if you are mid sentence and you get cut off because your phone died. If you can’t have your phone at 100% before the interview, try keeping it between 40% and 60% charged.

    Also try to keep your phone charger next to you incase your phone does start to die. You don’t want o be scrambling around trying to find a charger in the middle of the interview.

  4. Speak up if you can’t hear. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, technology can fail us. There may be a time during the interview where hearing the interviewer becomes difficult. If this does happen, speak up. Let them know that you are having difficulty understanding them, and ask them to repeat what they just said.

    No matter whose technology is to blame for the bad connection, it is better to admit there is an issue rather than trying to answer a question you only heard half of.

  5. Take notes. For many of us, stressful situations like an interview can pass by in a blur, and in the end, we realize we may not have absorbed as many details as we thought we did. Taking notes is a great way to combat this. Write down important figures and dates, such as the hours per week you’d be expected to work or the anticipated start date.

  6. Get the interviewer’s email address. Before the call is over, ask the interviewer for their email address. This can come in handy if any questions arise, but it also allows you to reach out to them with a quick thank-you note after the interview.

    This shows your appreciation for their time and shows that you are a considerate individual grateful for the opportunity they are giving to you.

  7. Realize there will likely be next steps. As we said before, this is often the first step in the interview process. Many companies use a phone interview to screen candidates and decide who will move on to the next round, which can be in-person or virtual. After the phone interview, it is not uncommon for the interviewer to ask for more from you.

    For example, if you are a writer or another creative type, they may ask you to send a few examples of your past work or send in a portfolio. Write down everything they ask for so you are sure you don’t miss anything and send the materials to them promptly.

  8. End the interview well. How you end an interview can be just as important as the interview itself. You should always close the interview by thanking the interviewer for their time and telling them it was nice to meet them.

Final Thoughts

Even though they are over the phone, phone interviews can be just as stressful and just as important as in-person interviews. Being prepared is a great way to alleviate some of this stress. Research the company, on the position itself, and on what skills they are looking for. Read about mistakes you can make in an interview or how you can avoid leaving a bad impression.

By perfecting your over-the-phone interview skills, you put yourself well on your way toward an on-site interview and getting the job.

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Natalie Briggs

Natalie is a writer for Zippia with a passion for research and storytelling. She is a graduate of Lake Forest College and holds a degree in both English and French.

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