Phone Interview Tips That Will Help You Get Hired

Illustration by Katie Kerpel. © The Balance, 2018

 

While you're job searching, it's important to be prepared for a phone interview at a moment's notice. Many companies start the interview process with a phone call to discuss the job opportunity with a prospective employee, determine whether the candidate is a good fit, and to gauge his or her interest in the position. In some cases, a phone interview may be the only interview you'll have.

In many cases, your interview will be scheduled in advance by email or phone. In others, you may receive a surprise phone call asking whether you're available to chat about the job.

You never know when a recruiter or a networking contact might call and ask whether you have a few minutes to talk, so always answer the phone professionally, especially if the number is unfamiliar.

You should also make sure that your voicemail message is professional.

Why Companies Use Phone Interviews

Employers use telephone interviews as a way of identifying and recruiting candidates for employment. Phone interviews are often used to screen candidates to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews. A phone call is a relatively quick, low-effort way to determine whether a candidate is suitable. 

They are also used to minimize the expense involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates. For remote positions, a phone interview may be the only option.

Prepare for a Phone Interview

Before you get on the telephone to interview for a job, review these phone interview tips and techniques so you can ace the interview and make it to the next round.

Research the Company

If you have advance notice of the interview, make sure to review the job description and do a bit of research on the company

Prepare in Advance

Prepare for a phone interview just as you would for a regular in-person interview. Compile a list of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as a list of answers to typical phone interview questions. In addition, have a list of questions ready to ask the interviewer.

Show the Employer You're a Match

Take the time to match your qualifications to the job description so that you can speak to why you're a strong candidate for the position. Review your resume as well. Know the dates when you held each of your previous jobs, and what your responsibilities were.

Have Your Job Materials Nearby

You should feel comfortable and ready to discuss your background and skills confidently during a phone conversation. Have a copy of your resume nearby, so that you can refer to it during the interview. Also have a copy of the job posting and a copy of your cover letter if you sent one. 

Consider creating a draft email or a new Word or Google file with all of the relevant information. That way, you'll have all the details—notes on the company, key points you want to emphasize during the interview, your cover letter, the job posting, and so on—in one spot. 

Practice Interviewing

Talking on the phone isn't as easy as it seems. As with an in-person interview, practice can be helpful. Not only will this help you rehearse answers to common phone interview questions, it will also help you realize if you have a lot of verbal tics, fail to enunciate, or speak too quickly or too slowly.

For practice, have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview and record it so you can see how you sound over the phone. Once you have a recording, you'll be able to hear your "ums" and "uhs" and "okays" so you can practice reducing them from your conversational speech. It will also help you spot if you have a bad habit of interrupting or rambling. 

Additionally, listening to the recording will help you pinpoint answers that you can improve.

If you don't have someone who can help, practice answering your own questions. You don't need to memorize answers, but having a sense of what you're going to say will help reduce your nerves and make your responses sound more natural.

Get Ready for the Call

Before the call, confirm all the details, including the date, time, and who you will be talking to. Be sure you know whether the interviewer is calling you or if you need to make the call.

If something goes wrong and you miss the call, or the recruiter doesn't call on time, take a deep breath and try to stay calm. You should be able to get the call back on track or reschedule if need be.

Use a quiet, comfortable, and private space with no distractions so you can focus on the interview.

If you'll be using your cellphone, make sure it's fully charged, and you are in a spot with good reception for the call. You may also find that standing during an interview helps you sound more energetic during the call.  

Proper Phone Interview Etiquette

Review these guidelines for appropriate phone interview etiquette, so you make the best impression on your interviewer.

Answer the phone yourself. First, be sure to let family members and/or roommates know you are expecting a call. When you answer the phone, respond with your name. You can say, "This is Jane Doe" or "John Smith speaking!" That way, the interviewer will know they've reached the right person. Make sure to use an upbeat tone of voice (try smiling as you speak). 

Follow the interviewer's lead. Some interviewers may wish to engage in a few minutes of small talk. Others may want to get right into the interview. Let the interviewer steer the start to the conversation, but be prepared to talk about the weather or make other small talk. 

Listen carefully to the interviewer and don't start speaking until the interviewer finishes the question. If you have something you want to say, jot it down on your notepad and mention it when it's your turn to talk. It can also be helpful to jot down the question (or at least some keywords). 

Don't worry if you need a few seconds to think of a response, but don't leave too much dead air. If you need the interviewer to repeat the question, ask.

Tips for Acing a Phone Interview

Follow these tips for a successful phone interview:

Create a checklist. Review the job posting and make a list of how your qualifications match the hiring criteria. Have the list available so you can glance at it during the interview.

Have your resume handy. Keep your resume in clear view (either on the top of your desk, or tape it to the wall) so it's at your fingertips when you need to answer questions.

Be prepared to take notes. Have a pen and paper handy for note taking.

Don't get interrupted. Turn off call waiting so your call isn't interrupted. Put your cellphone on "Do not disturb" so you won't hear beeps or buzzes from apps, text messages, and so on. 

Reschedule if you have to. If the call wasn't scheduled, and isn't at a convenient time, ask if you could talk at another time and suggest some alternatives.

Clear the room. Evict the kids and the pets. Turn off the stereo and the TV. Close the door.

Use a landline. If you have a landline, use that instead of your cellphone. That way, you'll eliminate the possibility of poor reception or dropped calls.

Do's and Don'ts During the Call

  • Do use Mr. or Ms., followed by the interviewer's last name. Only use their first name if they ask you to.
  • Don't smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink.
  • Do keep a glass of water handy, though. There's nothing worse than having a tickle in your throat or a cough starting when you need to talk on the phone. Have a glass of water ready so you can take a quick sip if your mouth gets dry.
  • Do smile. Smiling will project a positive image to the listener and will change the tone of your voice. It can also be helpful to stand during the interview, since this typically gives your voice more energy and enthusiasm.
  • Do focus, listen, and enunciate. It's important to focus on the interview, which can be harder on the phone than in-person. Be sure to listen to the question, ask for clarification if you're not sure what the interviewer is asking, and speak slowly, carefully, and clearly when you respond. It's fine to take a few seconds to compose your thoughts before you answer.
  • Don't interrupt the interviewer.
  • Do take your time. It's perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
  • Do take notes. It's hard to remember what you discussed after the fact, so take brief notes during the interview.
  • Do give short answers. It's important to stay focused on the questions and your responses.
  • Do have questions ready to ask the interviewer. Be prepared to respond when the interviewer asks whether you have any questions for him or her. Review these questions to ask the interviewer and have a few ready in advance.
  • Do remember that your goal is to set up a face-to-face interview. At the end of your conversation, after you thank the interviewer, ask if it would be possible to meet in person.

Follow-Up After the Interview

As the interview winds down, make sure to say thank you to the interviewer:

  • Ask for the interviewer's email address, if you don't already have it.
  • Send out an email thank-you note immediately, thanking the interviewer and reiterating your interest in the job.
  • You can also use your thank-you note as a way to provide information on anything regarding your qualifications that you didn't get a chance to mention during the phone interview.

When the interview is over, carefully review any notes you were able to take during the conversation. Jot down what types of question you were asked, how you responded, and any follow-up questions you may have if you have an opportunity for an in-person interview or a second-round phone interview—or even a job offer. Good luck!