How to Handle a Phone Interview and Get the Job

David Luther
by David Luther
Get The Job, Guides - 3 years ago

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phone interview

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 mastery 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 or, lucky dog, can actually use your looks to your advantage.

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.

79 phone interview hacks to 100 percent guarantee that you’ll get the job

Ok, so I don’t actually have 79 phone interview tips and I can’t guarantee you the job — but if you’ve been googling how to handle a phone interview, then you’ve probably been promised that already.

By this point I’m sure you’re tired of hearing a bunch of inane, jabroni comments like “you can’t wear your pajamas” and “strike power poses”.

phone interviews jobs

(Disclosure: they’re right).

So we’ll just jump right into the practicality of how you should interview on the phone.

The Five W’s

Here’s a quick rundown of how phone interviews work to give you an idea of how they work, because it’s not just “like an interview but on the phone”.

Who and Why

Small companies and startups without robust HR departments often use them 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 out whether you’re a moron, lying about your resume, or a moronic liar who isn’t aware of how obvious it is that you’re lying about your resume.

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.


This needs to be said: it’s 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 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 common questions, with a list of questions, stories, 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, you animal.
  5. Get together the collateral material you’ve shared: resume, cover letter, work samples, etc. so you can easily reference it.


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, but that’s another story.

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?

Know where the mistake is there? You asked them to call you back and didn’t treat it as a given.

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.


Do I need to say this? Yeah, I do, because someone out there reading this is proof that common sense is uncommon, so here it goes: find a quiet place with a good phone connection.

Like, your home. Ever see the Skype audition in Master of None?

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.

And of course the How

To kick this thing’s ass, 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.

A note on recruiters

Also keep in mind that another creature lurks through the career services field: recruiters. You can usually recognize them by certain features:

  • Recruiting company’s or titles in their email signatures
  • A tendency to “reach out” via LinkedIn and use of other obnoxious business jargon
  • Avoiding mentioning the company’s name when discussing the position with you
  • Sending you one of those frustratingly stupid, mini-Meyers Briggs personality tests.

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 about 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 — and if you need a careers website to tell you how to do that at this stage in your life then you’re probably not any of those things.

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 interview have to waste less time and feel more 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 ain’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, it works.

So do it.

Be mindful of your speech pattern problems

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 try not to quit the job search in shame. I was at a coworking space recently and heard a woman who said, “right” to pretty much every pause the interviewer gave, and I mean nanoseconds.

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

It’s simply part of the game, interviewers know that they’re trading spontaneity for the 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 speaker phone, to minimize the noise.

Tips, dos, and don’ts

The do nots 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 dos:

  • 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.

And always follow up

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.

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