How To Ace Your Phone Interview And Get the Job

By David Luther - Mar. 23, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

Phone interviews can be awesome.

You can cheat. You can sit in front of your computer and search for answers, you can write down notes and questions to read — and if you’re exceedingly awkward and unattractive like me, then you don’t have to watch your interviewer cringe as you demonstrate your poor grasp of nonverbal cues.

But, you can’t read their nonverbal cues either, and you might be the type of person who comes off better in person.

People also have a greater tendency to drone on when they’re on the phone, and dominating a conversation is not the best way to handle these.

I’ve personally been party to an interview where “Tell me about yourself” lasted for more than eleven minutes without a break — and since the interview is not only designed to test your capabilities as an employee but what you’d be like to work with as a person, that’s a bad thing.

To avoid that, we’ll be answering the big questions about phone interviews, and give advice on the best way to present yourself during one.

Who and Why

Small companies and startups without robust HR departments often use phone interviews before granting an in-person. Your future supervisor might be the only one who has any hand in the hiring process.

So it’s up to them to talk to a dozen people in a day just to find the best fit.

Also, if this is for an out-of-town company, they might be interested in flying the serious candidates in — and not interested in flying the goobers who shotgun applied to everything online — and if this is the case, then decide your answers to, “would you relocate” and “when can you start” in case they come up.

Big companies who are flooded with applications for certain job openings also use phone interviews to narrow down their pool of candidates.

What

A phone interview a real interview and you should be just as prepared.

It’s really not a bad idea to take the whole thing a little far, getting dressed up and pretending like it’s the real thing — imagine you’re sitting outside of the interviewer’s office, and when the phone rings that’s you being called in.

I recommend writing down notes the same way you would in person, putting together your ideas and questions to ask just like you would in a padfolio.

Here’s a little cheat sheet of phone interview tips for you:

  1. Treat the phone interview seriously and prepare as you do for an in-person.

  2. Put your cheat sheet together that will help you answer the most common interview questions, with a list of stories, questions, examples of your work, and qualities you can anticipate needing.

  3. Speak directly into your phone or with a reliable handsfree headset — not speakerphone.

  4. Clean yourself up and put yourself in a business-like frame of mind.

  5. Get together the collateral material you’ve shared: resume, cover letter, work samples, etc. so you can easily reference it.

When

They’re usually scheduled, but start preparing as soon as you know that you may have one coming in the near future. And honestly, if you’re on the job hunt then you should be ready at any time.

However, if a call comes in and you’re unable to take it because you’re in an airport, have bad reception, are arm-wrestling The Rock with your free hand, etc. then don’t be afraid to say something like, “I’m away from my desk and can’t really give this call the attention it demands, when should I call you back?”

But don’t say something like “because I wasn’t expecting it” or “Hey, my team’s down on a team deathmatch right now and I can’t have my Xbox headphones on and talk to you at the same time, can you call back later?

Also, you don’t need to give them a reason why, just that you need to call them back — and don’t admit to being on the losing team, either.

Where

Find a quiet place with a good phone connection, like a quiet space in your home.

No coffee shops. It’s not your fault if someone starts talking too loudly or if they’re playing Lorde too loudly in the background, but it is if you haven’t exercised enough good judgment to select a quiet place in advance.

They also serve as a more realistic screening alternative for cases in which companies are considering out-of-town (or out-of-state and foreign) candidates — or for remote positions. You should demonstrate that you’re capable of making this whole thing work from a distance.

How

To have a successful phone interview, research the company, study the job description, and practice your responses to anticipated questions, just as you would for any other interview.

You’ve got an advantage because you can have your cover letter, documents you’ve designed or written, and descriptions of your previous experience right in front of you — just don’t get lost in the phone call format.

The Rule of Fives

There’s a loose five’s rule here: one-fifth of the hundred resumes get phone calls, five make the shortlist, and one of the five gets the job.

These phone interviews are almost exclusively screening, and your knowledge of the position isn’t nearly as important to them as you sounding well-spoken, proving you haven’t lied on your resume and work history, and checking off a box of qualities that the client company gave the interviewer.

You can’t really do much more than just being a generally presentable, confident, and friendly person.

Saying Hello

A good place to begin is with how you answer the phone — I’m not going to suggest that it sets the tone for your entire interview, but this is a game of margins and you want to take advantage of everything you can, including a greeting.

Let’s assume you are a little awkward, or at least unfamiliar with the business world. If you know you have an interview, say this when you answer the phone:

Hello, this is [first and last name] speaking.

From the get-go, that makes the interviewer’s job easier — they don’t have to waste time and feel awkward by confirming that you are who you are and that there’s an interview. Don’t sound surprised and answer with, “Hello?”

When they say:

This is Bimble McFluffers (Oompa Loompa name, I think) from Willy Wonka’s and I’m calling about the senior chemical engineering position.

You can immediately say something suave like:

“Very nice to meet you, and thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.”

Now you’re rolling, looking like this isn’t your first rodeo: you are who they were calling, you were expecting the call, and you aren’t in the middle of skydiving or something.

How to Speak During the Interview

I recommend that you sit at or stand near a desk. The posture does wonders for not just your psyche but the way you speak, and the tone you deliver is absurdly important without any body language for the interviewer to go off of.

To that end, smile too, because it truly does affect the way you speak. Studies show that people can tell a difference — and whether that’s just sunshine magic or your unconscious tendency to speak differently when smiling, it works.

You might have verbal ticks like failing to enunciate or speaking too fast — try recording yourself and count all of your ums, uhs, and likes.

If you haven’t done this before it’ll be eye-opening; most people have them, so don’t feel bad about it — just be aware of it.

You’ll almost undoubtedly sound differently out loud than you do in your head, so give the recording yourself thing a shot.

Also, don’t rely too heavily on the cheat sheet. Interviewers know that they’re trading spontaneity for convenience, but don’t let them hear keys tapping or papers shuffling before every question.

Prepare as you would for an in-person interview — and at least put on a handsfree headset instead of speakerphone, to minimize the noise.

Do’s and Don’ts of Phone Interviews

The dont’s are usually more important in these situations:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for them to repeat a question, but listen to each one as if you can’t.

  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer. Wait for them to finish — no awkward silences, please, but give them a moment to finish speaking.

  • Don’t let them hear you shuffling papers or typing too much.

And on the positive side, here are your do’s:

  • Make a cheat sheet of accomplishments and question prompts.

  • Take notes.

  • Give them your full attention.

  • Ask to reschedule if they surprise you at an inopportune time.

  • Thank them for calling, thank them after the interview, and let them hang up first.

Send a Folllow-Up Email

Seriously, send that follow-up email.

I compare interviews to dates fairly often, and this is one of those times where you have to call the next day — but wait a full day and no longer. If there’s no response to your email, I recommend sending another follow-up (don’t say anything passive-aggressive about the first follow-up).

Say something to the effect of, “I’d again like to communicate that I liked what I heard during our conversation and from what I learned, believe I’d fit well there. This will be my last time contacting you about the position, and thank you again for your time.”

You never know how close it is, so putting yourself in the professionally polite category might just tip you into the shortlist of in-person interviews. Remember, in almost all cases the point of a phone interview is to get an in-person interview.

Tips to Ace Your Phone Interview

In summary, follow these tips to ace your phone interview.

  1. Turn your phone on “do not disturb.” The last thing you want during your phone interview is for your cell phone to be constantly buzzing with texts, notifications, and other calls. At best, you’ll be distracted and at worst the recruiter will think you’re splitting your attention with other activities.

  2. Review the job description. Phone interviews are to regular interviews as applicant tracking systems are to resumes — they’re all about keywords and hitting certain targets.

    To that end, read the job description carefully before your job interview. Highlight all of the keywords used and then make a checklist of where your skills, experience, or demeanor matches the job requirements. This small note will make sure that you stay on track as you give answers that directly address the company’s needs.

  3. Don’t be afraid to reschedule. Rescheduling a phone interview isn’t nearly as difficult or offputting for a company as rescheduling an in-person interview.

    If you feel that the time your phone interview has been scheduled for isn’t ideal (e.g., you’ll be rushing to get to a quiet space), then feel free to ask for a new time and/or date. Give yourself the perfect environment to give a perfect performance.

  4. Let the interviewer lead. Every interviewer is different — some are all business and others will want to make small talk just to warm up the conversation. Whatever style your interviewer has, follow their lead.

  5. Let the interviewer finish their thought/question. It can be tricky to decide when a person is done talking or asking a question on the phone — especially when you’re just meeting that person.

    Err on the side of allowing an extra half-second of time before you launch into your response to ensure that the interviewer said everything they wanted to say.

  6. Ask for clarification if you need to. Whether you can’t understand what the interviewer said or you didn’t understand the content of their question, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions.

    It’s much better than giving a totally unrelated answer, and it shows that you’re approaching each response with care and consideration.

  7. Be brief. At onsite interviews, you’re encouraged to talk for about 1-2 minutes on most open-ended questions.

    For a phone interview, you want to keep things shorter than that. Remember that these are essentially screenings and the person on the other line might not be a hiring manager (or even be an employee of the company you’ve applied to). Keep your answers brief and to the point.

  8. Double-check the essentials. As your phone interview approaches, make sure you’ve got everything you need — not just your interview materials (resume, cover letter, research on the company, etc.), but also things like a glass of water in case you feel a cough coming on.

    Make sure your phone is fully charged, your phone service is working normally, and your internet is functioning (in case you need to check something online).

Final Thoughts

Phone interviews don’t have to be stressful. You don’t have to worry about finding the location, dealing with traffic, or figuring out where your interviewer’s office is.

However, you still need to be prepared with thoughtful responses and questions, know something about the company, and speak like a professional with a great attitude. If you follow all our advice from above, you’re sure to get past the screening process and make it to the next round of interviews.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
David Luther

Author

David Luther

David Luther was the Content Marketing Editor for the Zippia Advice blog. He developed partnerships with external reporting agencies in addition to generating original research and reporting for the Zippia Career Advice blog. David obtained his BA from UNC Chapel Hill.

Find The Best Job That Fits Your Career

Major Survey Entry Point Icon

Where do you want to work?

Related posts