What is a phone interview and what role does it play in the hiring process? Many companies use phone calls with candidates who look good on paper to determine if those applicants are ready to move to longer, more in-depth interviews. This is sometimes called a phone screen.
Table of Contents Hide
- What To Expect During a Telephone Interview
- Telephone Interview Tips
- #1. Understand Why Hiring Managers Use Telephone Interviews
- #2. Confirm The Details
- #3. Know Who Will Be Calling You
- #4. Research The Company
- #5. Review The Job Description
- #6. Curate Your Success Stories
- #7. Consider Possible Interview Questions
- #8. Prepare Questions You Want To Ask
- #9. Know Your Salary Number
- #10. Create A Cheat Sheet
- #11. Set A Professional Voicemail Message
- #12. Charge Your Phone
- #19. Have Your CV and Portfolio Ready
- #25. Keep Your Answers Short
- #26. Take Notes
What To Expect During a Telephone Interview
There are a few occasions when an interview happens over the phone. Many companies use a phone screen with a recruiter as the initial step in the hiring process. This is a critically important part of your job search.
The recruiter will ask you about your background, skills and experience to see if it’s well-aligned with the open position.
They may also be screened to see if you would be a good culture fit for the company. If all goes well, the recruiter will move you onto the next stage. But if they come away with a poor or incomplete impression of you, things are unlikely to progress.
The next stage of the interview process is also typically conducted over the phone. In this phase, you will probably speak with the hiring manager or another individual on the team that’s hiring.
This interview is usually more in-depth than the phone screen, as the interviewer has a deeper knowledge of the open role and what qualifications would make someone successful in it.
Both interviews usually last around 30 minutes. Consider phone interviews your opportunity to sum up what’s most attractive to you about the job and the company, as well as the skills and qualifications you bring to the table.
Telephone Interview Tips
Phone interviews are just as important as in-person interviews, so adequately preparing for them can influence your success.
If your interviewer does an initial phone interview, being successful in this first round can ensure you move on to the next. Here are 30 tips to consider when preparing for a phone interview:
#1. Understand Why Hiring Managers Use Telephone Interviews
Mostly, phone interviews are used to screen candidates to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited to a second interview, which is usually in person.
It gives hiring managers the chance to gauge your fitness, availability and interest in the job, find out your salary expectations, clear up any questions about your CV, and determine whether you’re worth their time.
Sometimes, meanwhile, companies use phone interviews to minimise the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates or for remote positions and maybe the only type of interview used in the hiring process.
#2. Confirm The Details
A day or two before the scheduled call, send a quick email to the company’s representative to confirm the details: the date and time of the call, and the caller’s name and phone number.
Not only does this show that you’re professional, but it also shows that you’re respectful of the interviewer’s time.
#3. Know Who Will Be Calling You
The company will typically schedule a phone interview with you in advance by email, which will include the contact details of the person who’ll be calling you.
This gives you the opportunity to do a little research into the interviewer (via their LinkedIn profile or their bio page on the company website), specifically any shared interests or background that you can use as an icebreaker or (strategically) work into your conversation.
Meanwhile, if you know someone who works at the company with the interviewer, you can ask your contact what’s it like working with them to get an understanding of their values and who they are.
#4. Research The Company
Though you’re more likely to be asked ‘What do you know about the company?’ in the second interview, there’s a good chance it will also come up in the initial screening interview.
Even if it doesn’t, by reading up on everything you can about the company before your phone interview, you’ll be able to craft meaningful responses to questions that align with the company’s mission, values and culture.
#5. Review The Job Description
Go over the job description again to jog your memory on what the employer is looking for and what responsibilities the job entails. This will help you tailor your answers to questions that the interviewer will ask you.
For example, if the job description mentions specific technical skills that you possess and software that you’re familiar with, be sure to work them into the conversation.
#6. Curate Your Success Stories
Take stock of all the projects you completed, solutions and results you achieved, challenges you overcame, awards you won, and anything else that you accomplished throughout your career.
Once you’ve brainstormed your success stories (and created an outline for each one), you’ll be better prepared to answer the interviewer’s questions, all the while showing your work ethic and showcasing what you can do for the company.
#7. Consider Possible Interview Questions
Before any interview, take the time to research and prepare for questions that the hiring manager might ask you.
During phone interviews, hiring managers typically ask the same questions that come up in traditional, face-to-face meetings, but mostly focus on general questions about yourself and your background to determine whether they should move forward with your application.
Some common questions include ‘Can you tell me a little about yourself?’, ‘Why are you interested in this role?’ and ‘When can you start?’.
#8. Prepare Questions You Want To Ask
Always prepare your own questions to ask the interviewer. Remember: you’re interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you.
Asking insightful questions helps you evaluate the company and whether they’re a good match for you and shows the hiring manager that you really are interested in the job.
But don’t wait till the end of the interview to ask your questions. Try to work them into the conversation throughout the interview.
#9. Know Your Salary Number
It’s quite common, if not standard, for recruiters to ask you about your salary expectations during a phone interview, so it’s a good idea to do your research before the call and know the specific number you’re going to ask for.
Here’s a little tip: ask for a little more than what you want — the hiring manager will feel like they’re getting a better deal if they negotiate down to a number you’re comfortable with.
#10. Create A Cheat Sheet
Interviews, whether by phone or in-person are highly stressful, even for the most experienced job seeker. And these nerves often get the best of us and make us forget about the things we want to bring up during an interview.
The solution? Create a cheat sheet. This could include things like key information about the job, company and interview you found during your research, your salary number, questions you want to ask, and anything else that will help you along with the call.
#11. Set A Professional Voicemail Message
If you miss the scheduled call because the phone service dropped unexpectedly or you had to hurry to the restroom (you never know when nature will call!), you’ll save face with a professional voicemail message.
Something simple like ‘Hi, you’ve reached John Smith. I can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can’ will do the trick.
#12. Charge Your Phone
Make sure your phone is fully charged before the scheduled interview. The last thing you want is the call to get cut short because your phone battery died.
It’s also a good idea to have your phone charger on standby, or perhaps use a landline to make the call.
#13. Gather your tools
Make sure you have everything you may need during your phone interview at arm’s reach.
This may include a headset (or headphones), your phone charger, a notebook and pen, the cheat sheet you prepared earlier, and even a glass of water and some tissues.
#14. Plan For Worst-Case Scenarios
The call unexpectedly drops. Roadworks are happening right outside your home. The interviewer forgets about your interview. The call is lasting longer than you expected and you have another interview in five minutes.
While these scenarios are unlikely to happen, they’re still possible, so it’s a good idea to take the time to think about what could go wrong and come up with a contingency plan for each situation.
#15. Dress For Success
Dress as if you were attending an in-person interview. You won’t be dressing for the interviewer’s benefit here (they can’t see you, after all), but rather for your own.
Indeed, choosing a more interview-appropriate outfit will generally make you feel much more confident than, say, your pyjamas and this will come across in your tone.
#16. Find A Quiet Environment
Choose a quiet environment to take the call like a home office and make sure to let friends and relatives know the time of your phone interview to avoid any unexpected visitors.
If you have to take the call at work, meanwhile, book a conference room for at least 30 minutes. That should give you enough leeway in case the call goes over the typical 15-minute mark.
Whatever you do, though, avoid taking the call in a busy coffee shop or other public spaces, or your car (especially when driving).
#17. Cut The Distractions
Though you can’t control everything around you (like loud neighbours), it’s important that you eliminate as many distractions as you can while you’re doing your phone interview.
Not only will the background noise distract you and affect your confidence but it will also distract the interviewer, which is the last thing you want.
#18. Arrive Early
Better yet, be early. If your phone interview is scheduled for 3:30 pm, for example, make sure you’re ready to go at least ten minutes earlier.
Though it’s unlikely the interviewer will call you before the agreed time, you’ll save yourself from scrambling to answer the call at the last minute.
Meanwhile, if the interviewer is in a different time zone, it’s a good idea to double-check the time difference and plan accordingly.
#19. Have Your CV and Portfolio Ready
The interviewer will probably ask you questions about your CV or portfolio, so it’s a good idea to keep them close by.
Either print out the documents or open the relevant files on your computer and refer to them as needed.
#20. Speak Clearly and Slowly
In a phone interview, it’s essential that you speak clearly and slowly to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding. Take your time answering questions and articulate your words carefully.
It’s also a good idea to speak louder than usual, particularly when making a point or agreeing with the interviewer. But don’t yell, pay attention to the volume of your voice and adjust it accordingly.
Really listen to what the interviewer is saying – from the very beginning of the call, they’ll be giving you information (whether directly or indirectly).
But if you’re not hearing it, you’re missing out on insights into the job, company and culture that will help you tailor your answers to the interviewer’s questions and, ultimately, help you decide whether the job is a right fit for you.
Though a phone interview might not feel as formal as a traditional in-person interview, it’s not your typical phone call with a friend.
Always keep it professional and be respectful and courteous. Don’t answer the phone with ‘Hey, what’s up?’, for example, and address the interviewer appropriately (Mr, Mrs, or Miss). Likewise, don’t chew gum, eat or smoke during the call.
#22. Tie your Answers Back to your Skills and Accomplishments
With any question you answer, it is important that you tie your background to the job by providing examples of solutions and results you’ve achieved. Use every opportunity to address the requirements listed in the job description.
#23. Maintain A Conversational Tone
Yes, you should be professional throughout your phone interview, but that doesn’t mean being overly formal.
You should still sound friendly. Remember: an interview should be a two-way conversation, not an interrogation.
Engage in small talk (particularly memorable topics like a common interest or something company-related) and don’t be afraid to make an appropriate joke. This helps you build rapport with the interviewer and sets the tone for the entire call.
#24. Don’t Interrupt The Interviewer
When the interviewer is speaking, be careful not to interrupt them. It’s unprofessional and downright rude. Let them finish what they’re saying and then say what you want to say.
If you’re worried you might forget what you want to say, that’s where that notebook and pen come in handy. Jot down questions or talking points you have and bring them up when it’s your turn to speak.
#25. Keep Your Answers Short
Remember: phone interviews typically last no longer than 15–20 minutes, so make every second count.
In other words, don’t ramble on or over-explain. Keep your answers short and on topic. If you need to offer a detailed answer, make sure you keep it for two minutes.
#26. Take Notes
As the interviewer answers your questions and provides you with insights into the job and company, keep notes of all the important information you learn.
This is especially important as, with the nerves that come with interviewing for jobs, it negates the risk of forgetting things you discussed, which will help you in the next round of interviews. The information you learn can also help you determine whether the job is a good fit for you.
You might feel a little silly smiling down the phone, but it makes you sound warmer and friendlier.
Although the interviewer can’t see you smile, they can definitely hear it. In fact, research shows that smiles have a distinct ‘sound’ that the other person on the line can pick up on — and then mimic.
Do be careful, though: too much smiling can work against you.
#28. Mind Your Body Language
Again, your interviewer can’t see you over the phone, but how you use and move your body will affect its ‘sound’, as well as your tone of voice and your overall confidence.
If you can, stand up during the interview. If you have to be seated, sit up straight don’t lean back in your chair with your feet up on your desk!
It also helps if you gesture with both hands. That’s where your headset comes into use.
29. Ask About The Next Steps
Before ending the call, make it a point to ask the interviewer about the next steps in the hiring process if they don’t volunteer that information, as it reiterates your interest in the position.
By knowing what comes next, and when, you’ll be able to plan accordingly, including how long to wait before following up after your interview.
#30. Send A ‘thank you’ Email
A quick ‘thank you’ email after the interview goes a long way in showing your interest in the job and your appreciation of the interviewer’s time.
Be sure to personalise the email, like mentioning something you and the interviewer discussed on the call while getting to know each other.
As for when to send a ‘thank you’ email, it’s crucial that you do so within 24 hours of the interview while you’re still fresh in the interviewer’s mind.
Telephone interviews, like many interviews, can be stressful, whether you’re applying for your first job or you’re an experienced jobseeker.
But the tips we’ve shared here will help you ace your call and get you one step closer to landing your dream job.
All you have to do is to prepare in advance, show your enthusiasm and interest for the role, and remember that a phone interview is, ultimately, a two-way conversation and you’ll be able to successfully navigate this all-too-important call.