Learning how to prepare for a phone interview can feel a bit unusual. While the fundamental approach is similar to any job interview, there are a few hurdles (and advantages) to be aware of when it comes to calls.
This list of phone interview tips will help you leave a great impression and move on to the next phase of the hiring process.
What You Should Expect from a Phone Interview
Phone interviews are increasingly common these days and can also serve as a “screener” stage of the interview process. When companies have many applicants, they do phone interviews to pare down the candidates before moving to in-person meetings. And that’s why it’s so important to prepare for them. In fact, you can think of these interviews as the qualifying round that puts you in the running for consideration.
Typically, a standard phone interview lasts around 30 minutes. During the conversation, the interviewer will ask many qualifying questions that primarily focus on your qualifications. The person conducting this screening call is usually in Human Resources or a recruiter. They may or may not have intimate knowledge of the role. Their goal is to learn about your background, skills, and experience to see if you’re a good fit.
You may go through two phone interview rounds, depending on the position and company. The second is usually with the hiring manager and goes into deeper detail about your qualifications.
Phone Interview Tips to Remember
While these interviews are often merely the first part of the hiring process, leaving a good impression is paramount. If you do well, you are likely to move forward in the process. If you don’t do well, you can get eliminated. This is why it’s a good idea to spend some time preparing for your phone interview.
Here are some phone interview tips to ensure success and help you move on to the next interview stage.
1. Find Out Who You’ll Be Talking To
Our first phone interview tip is simple: Know who is going to call you. Getting an exact name is not always possible, but you can often learn about the person’s responsibilities. Understanding their role in the hiring process gives you a better idea of the types of questions you’ll hear.
For example, a recruiter is more likely to ask broad questions about your qualifications. Meanwhile, a supervisor or hiring manager may ask more detailed questions that require more thought.
2. Introduce Yourself Professionally
When you get the call, pick it up yourself and make an introduction. Remember to state your name clearly, so the interviewer knows they’re speaking with the right person. Always maintain a professional tone and skip the nicknames for now.
Present yourself as if you were meeting in person. Every second counts, and that initial impression will stick.
3. Don’t Rush
Putting this phone interview tip into practice might be harder than it seems, but it’s important!
Don’t make the mistake of barging through questions. It’s easy to accidentally interrupt the interviewer when you can’t rely on body language and visible social cues. Some people will ask a question and provide context.
Take a beat after hearing the question. A brief pause will keep the pacing calm and give you a second to form your response in your head. Avoid rushing through the conversation.
4. Take Good Notes
Have some paper and a pen to jot down notes as they come. You can get inundated with information during a phone interview, and you might hear something you want to circle back on later. Or, you might get crucial information about the hiring process you don’t want to forget.
Write notes as needed. Interviewers will appreciate that you remember the finer details. They can’t see you writing, so feel free to make as many notes as necessary. Your notes will help you write your thank you email.
5. Keep Your Resume and Portfolio Handy
There’s a good chance that the interviewer will ask questions about your resume or portfolio. They might ask for clarification or want you to discuss a specific point. Whatever the case, it pays to have that information in front of you.
Before the scheduled call, print out these documents for reference or have the digital file open. You can quickly reference them instead of pausing the interview to fetch the documents mid-call.
6. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Phone interviews usually last around 30 minutes. But that’s a ballpark average. Conversations can run long, so you’ll need plenty of time available.
The last thing you want to do is cut the interview short because of another engagement. To be on the safe side, plan for an hour. Give yourself time before and after that 30-minute interview, just in case.
7. Look Into the Company
Preparation is key. Many people make the mistake of thinking that phone interviews are less important than in-person ones. Because of that, they fail to do their research about the company beforehand.
Don’t be one of them! Learn as much as you can about the organization. Make a little cheat sheet and have notes in front of you.
Pay special attention to the company’s core mission and values. You can bring those details up later, connect them to your own values, and make yourself look like a fantastic candidate.
8. Keep Your Phone Charged
Here’s a phone interview tip that many people overlook. Keep your device charged! Imagine how awful it would be to run out of battery mid-call. Always go into the call with a full battery to avoid that potential nightmare.
If your phone is low or struggles with battery life, consider keeping your phone charged throughout the entire conversation. You can stay plugged into the wall or use a mobile battery pack. Either way, having constant power will give you peace of mind.
9. Be An Active Listener
This sounds like a given, but there’s a real art to being an active listener. Staying completely silent and only responding to questions isn’t ideal. It makes you come off disinterested and detached.
Being an active listener means engaging with the interviewer, asking questions, and being present. Try practicing this skill with friends. Have a back-and-forth while still being respectful of the interviewer.
The key is to show that you’re interested in what they’re saying.
10. Have Relevant Notes & Documents Nearby
This phone interview tip is similar to the previous one about having your resume on hand. However, this focuses more on supplemental documents you might need to make your case. For example, you can print out salary research, information about your previous company, old projects, questions you want to ask, etc.
Having those documents in front of you makes referencing them easier. Your interviewer may also ask a question that requires you to look at the documentation to answer. Once again, it’s about being professional, avoiding long pauses or delays, and responding with a memorable answer.
11. Make Sure You’re Somewhere That Has Service
There’s nothing worse than dealing with calls that go in and out with every sentence. Poor service can make it difficult to hear your interviewer. They may also have trouble making sense of your answer through the gargled audio. It’s not a good idea to talk while driving in your car or on mass transit! You’re more likely to lose service.
Look for a spot with full bars or the closest you can get to it. If necessary, consider utilizing features like Wi-Fi calling to ensure that you have crystal-clear audio with an uninterrupted signal.
12. Try Smiling
You’re not sitting in front of the interviewer, so why smile? Interestingly enough, smiling can dramatically change the tone of your voice. It helps add a little pep to your voice, creating a sense of energy and interest.
Remember: You want to show that you’re interested in the position and passionate about getting the job. Expressing energy and enthusiasm makes all the difference!
13. Dress for Work
This phone interview tip is all about helping you get into the right mindset. Dressing up for this interview can have a surprisingly powerful effect on the energy you bring to the call. When you’re sitting in your PJs, you might sound lazy and uninterested.
When wearing professional clothing, it becomes natural to bring professionalism to the call.
14. Consider Using Headphones
If you have a good pair of headphones available, use them!
Headphones serve a couple of purposes. First, they cut out distractions and let you focus all your attention on the call. You can drown out excess noise and ensure you’re laser-focused on the conversation.
Secondly, headphones can improve sound quality. Most modern earbuds have powerful microphones with sound-isolating technology. They can cut out ambient noise, making it easier for your interviewer to hear your responses.
15. Get Familiar with the Job Description
Look over the job description several times to get a better idea of what the company is looking for from a new hire. These little blurbs are more than just supporting information for job openings. They provide insight into the type of candidate the hiring manager wants to hear from.
Pay attention to critical details and mold your answers around them. For example, the job description might mention leadership. With that in mind, you can highlight past experiences leading a team to let the interviewer know you fit the bill.
16. Make Sure Your Voicemail Sounds Professional
It’s not the early 90s, so kitschy voicemail greetings are not the way to go! While you should always be ready to pick up when interviewers call, things happen. Sometimes they call unannounced or when you’re unavailable, resulting in them going to voicemail.
A silly voicemail message can hurt that professional impression you’ve worked hard to create. Check on your greeting and change it to something neutral. If all else fails, you can always use the prerecorded message to be on the safe side.
17. Review Common Phone Interview Questions
Interviewers can ask anything, but most will follow a script that includes many common phone interview questions. Do a bit of research about what those questions are and develop your answers early. Thinking about your response before the call will help you avoid long pauses and stumbling over your words.
Another good phone interview tip is to write your responses down and have them in front of you. Have a few bullet points for each question, and you can refer to your notes as they come up in the conversation.
18. Speak Clearly
Without visual body language and social cues to fall back on, it can be difficult for interviewers to understand what you’re trying to say at times. Speak clearly and enunciate every word. Take things slow to avoid creating confusing sentences.
Good communication will always help you when trying to get a job. Failing to speak clearly could work against you.
19. Make Sure They Can Hear Your Enthusiasm
Don’t let the mundanity of speaking on the phone affect how excited you are about this job opportunity. Remember that companies often use phone interviews to trim down the number of potential candidates and determine who’s genuinely interested in the job. If you sound bored and detached, you won’t be moving on in the hiring process.
Be enthusiastic. Try smiling when you speak and practice those active listening tips we talked about earlier.
20. Find a Quiet Place to Talk
Avoid any loud rooms when doing a phone interview. Whether you’re at home surrounded by kids or out in public surrounded by road noise, that ambient noise can cause issues. Not only does it make it difficult for interviewers to hear you, but those noises could distract you from giving your best.
Go into a silent room. If necessary, do your interview in a quiet closet! Have complete silence so that you can concentrate on the conversation.
21. Prepare Questions You Want to Ask
Asking questions is a great phone interview tip that applies to all other forms of interviews as well.
Even if there isn’t anything you want to find out, there’s no better way to showcase your enthusiasm and seriousness. Spend a few minutes and come up with a list of questions you can ask at the end of the phone interview.
Pull from your research about the company. You can ask about your day-to-day activities, who you report to, and any other questions you don’t have clear answers for.
22. Keep Water Close
Talking on the phone for half an hour can make your throat dry. Have water nearby to avoid coughing fits, voice cracks, and dehydration. Keeping some close to ensure that you don’t have to take a brief break to get it later.
23. Think About Your Desired Salary
You probably already have a salary expectation in mind (you might have already submitted your desired salary on the application). But if not, it’s a good idea to research what’s realistic for this job, the industry, and your location. Have this information ready!
Some interviewers will ask you about the range you’re interested in during a phone screen interview, but it’s usually reserved for lengthier phone interviews. It’s a way to weed out the applicants the company can’t afford to hire. Do your due diligence and provide a range instead of an exact number to show your flexibility.
24. Be Professional
One helpful phone interview tip is to keep the mantra, “be professional” in your mind. From the moment you pick up the phone to when you hang up, treat the conversation as if you’re sitting in the same room as the hiring manager. Sure, the interviewer can’t see your physical actions.
However, they can hear changes in your tone. Be respectful, avoid overly casual sentences, and be professional. You don’t have to be overly intense or devoid of joy, but you should treat this interview seriously.
Here’s an odd phone interview tip that makes a big difference. Instead of sitting down or lounging on the couch while you’re doing the call, stand up! Standing can help you sound more energetic and interested.
Plus, it’s an excellent way to burn some nervous energy. You can be as emphatic with your physical gestures as you want. Just make sure to keep your breathing in check!
26. Go with the Flow
You never know what the tone of the phone interview will be until you get on the call. No matter what direction the conversation goes, follow it. It’s not your job to steer the interview. Instead, you should follow the lead of the interviewer.
Follow their pace and match their level. If they’re being quick and trying to zip through the questions, be concise. If they’re more relaxed and asking more open-ended questions, provide appropriate responses.
This is why preparing for phone interviews is so important. You’ll be able to shine no matter what direction it goes!
27. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Conversational
It’s wise to take this call seriously and focus on the main points you think the interviewer should know, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a good conversationalist. You’re a human, after all. Don’t hesitate to be a little more personal!
This tip is especially important if you sense that the conversation is more relaxed than expected. Remember: Always follow the interviewer’s lead and go with the flow.
28. Don’t Be Afraid to Reschedule
If possible, stick to the interview slot you already agreed to before you took the call. But if it’s unavoidable, don’t hesitate to ask for a reschedule. While not ideal, it’s better than the alternatives.
Things come up, and you sometimes have no choice but to be in a non-conducive interview environment. It’s far better to reschedule to a more convenient time than to be frazzled or rush through the interview.
29. Get Rid of All Distractions
Creating a distraction-free zone is a phone interview tip that everyone should follow. Make everyone in your home aware of what’s happening, set quiet time on the calendar, and put yourself in a room free of anything that could pull your attention.
Turn off notifications on your phone, lock the door, and enjoy the quiet. You want to devote all your attention to this interview, and any distraction should be out of the room.
30. Confirm the Time of the Call
It’s a good idea to confirm the phone interview time the day before. You can write a quick email or give the hiring manager a brief call. Write down the date and time, set a reminder, and make sure to be calm and ready when the phone rings.
Don’t leave the interviewer waiting. Pick up promptly, introduce yourself, and get started!
31. Inquire About Next Steps
Once the phone interview wraps up and you ask your questions, don’t forget to inquire about the next steps. It’s also helpful to ask what their timeframe is for getting back to you. Asking about what happens next in the hiring process indicates that you’re genuinely interested in this opportunity.
Some hiring managers will inform you that you’ve moved on to the next round on the very same call. Others will have to get back to you. Either way, asking about what comes next cements your interest and gives you an idea of what to expect.
32. Send Over a Thank You Email
Sending a short thank you email after the phone interview is a great way to stick out in the interviewer’s mind. Try to send the email within 24 hours.
Be professional and highlight a detail you discussed to jog the recipient’s memory. Thank them for their time, express your interest, and keep the door open for continued communication.
33. Follow Up If Necessary
Phone interviews are usually the first step in a much longer hiring process. Usually, you hear back relatively quickly if you’ve moved on to the next round. If you don’t get any correspondence in a week or two, consider following up with them. This is another reason to ask what their timeframe is for next steps. It allows you to follow up after you haven’t heard back from them.
Shoot the interviewer an email or give them a call. They should be able to provide you with an update, for better or worse.
Practicing these phone interview tips will help you feel more prepared and perform better on the call. Many of them aren’t hard to do, it’s just about having a reminder and putting yourself in a position to succeed!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.