How to Master the Phone Interview (with Examples)
For a lot of people, the phone interview is even scarier than the in-person interview. It’s the first time your would-be employer will hear your voice and get to interact with you. (And if you’re interviewing for a remote job or internship, it may be the only time!) What if your delightful personality doesn’t shine through? What if you muddle your responses?
By reading our simple phone interview tips and sample questions and answers, you can ace the phone interview and get one step closer to that dream job or internship.
What a phone interview is really about
Simply put, a phone interview is a chance for the hiring manager or recruiter to get a first look at the person behind the resume. Given that every job opening today gets an average of 250 applications, employers need to be as efficient as possible. A phone interview is a quick and inexpensive way to find out if you’re worth further consideration as a candidate.
Just as with an in-person interview, you’ll typically talk about the company, the job opening, and how you fit the profile of their ideal candidate. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Since interviews are a two-way street, assume that the last 10 minutes will be a chance for you to ask the questions. Since you’re not relying on body language to build rapport, a phone interview can sometimes seem impersonal. That said, if it seems like you’re a good match, you’ll usually be invited for an in-person interview.
Common phone interview questions (and how to answer them)
Good news: A lot of interviewers ask very similar questions for phone interviews. Sure, they might rephrase them a bit, but the gist will be the same. While in-person interview questions can range from high-level to in-depth, most phone interview questions are designed to be an initial screening, ensuring you meet certain minimum requirements for the role. Here are a few questions you should prepare to answer:
- “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me through your resume.”
This is your elevator pitch. The interviewer wants to hear you present yourself in 90 seconds—personally and professionally. You’ll want to walk the interviewer through your professional journey, conveying your relevant skills and current responsibilities and emphasizing how they’ll add measurable value for the company. Keep your response clear and concise, and end with an upbeat summary of your current situation.
- “Why do you want to work here?”
The interviewer wants to understand how this specific role connects to your experience, skill set, and interests. Given that you should always research a company before an interview, focus on what you learned from your research and highlight how your unique qualifications relate to these areas. Then, highlight your enthusiasm, since enthusiasm for a job often translates to higher productivity. And one more thing: If you’re interviewing for an internship, never respond, “For school credit.”
- “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
This is a classic, and it’s important that you approach your strengths and weaknesses in a diplomatic, honest way. Share at least two strengths that are relevant to the role and support them with evidence. For weaknesses, be honest and stay positive. Point to a real (but not debilitating) weakness that’s not vital to the job at hand. Then, focus the majority of your response on how you’re working to improve in this area.
- “Tell me about a time when you took the lead on a project.”
This often serves two purposes: It shows that you have leadership abilities, and it demonstrates that you can work well on a team. Remember that a true leader is not always in charge. Real leaders know when to lead, when to delegate, and when to follow someone else’s lead. Your answer can speak to any of these areas, as long as you frame it as a STAR response, backed up by specific evidence.
- “What are your salary expectations?”
This is less likely if you’re applying for an internship, but even so, it’s always best to be prepared. With hundreds of applicants, recruiters want to ensure they can afford you, so do your research beforehand! Check out sites like Salary.com, which shows salary ranges based on geographic location. In your response, offer a rough salary range, directly referencing current data. Then, reinforce your enthusiasm and state that you’re open to negotiation based on other benefits. End by reassuring them that you’re sure you can reach an agreement when the time comes.
How to prepare for a phone interview like a pro
A phone interview is like the ultimate open-book test. Take advantage of that and have the following materials arranged around you like your own personal command center. By preparing for your phone interview, you’ll be able to concisely and clearly communicate your value.
- Research on the company and the role.
Read the job description, and then spend 30 minutes researching the company. Use Google to review the company website, recent news articles, employee reviews, and social posts. You should also go over the LinkedIn profiles of anyone you know you’ll be talking with; these are great sources of potential information and shared interests.
- Talking points about yourself.
It’s important to prepare your answers in advance so that you don’t find yourself tongue-tired during the actual interview. Use your research to guide your responses, ensuring that you use the STAR Methodto craft a strong story for each job requirement. Write down your strengths and weaknesses, past or current projects, and any leadership or team experience.
- Questions you want to ask about the company.
A good interviewer will likely leave at least 10 minutes for you to ask questions of your own. Create a list of 10 or more interview questions in advance that focus on what you’d like to know about the role, the company, or the manager. Just be sure not to ask anything they’ve already answered!
Once you’ve prepared in these three areas, it’s just about practice! As you use your notes as prompts, ensure that your responses sound natural and not like you’re reading from a script. You might want to consider recording yourself or rehearsing in front of a friend. You’re essentially creating a sales pitch—and pitches are always smoother when well-rehearsed.
How to avoid common phone interview mistakes
Now that you’re ready to show the interviewer how awesome you are, the last thing you want to do is botch it with a rookie mistake. Here are a few reasons people don’t land that second interview:
- Poor phone etiquette.
Being on your phone seems easy. You can take a call anywhere, right? Wrong! You need to plan for this one. Minimize distractions by going to a designated quiet space and setting aside whatever time is necessary to give the interviewer your undivided attention. Things like a spotty cell signal or background noise can be very disruptive. Fully charge your battery and carry a pair of noise-reducing earbuds with a built-in mic for good measure.
- Lack of preparation.
Getting a phone interview is a big deal, so don’t wing it. Interviewers know the difference between a nervous stammer and a total lack of preparation. Keep a copy of your resume in front of you and have a list of your stories (proud moments, strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments) to serve as reminders. If you really want the role, do the homework and prove it.
- Reading your answers.
While it’s perfectly acceptable (and very helpful) to have your “cheat sheets” in front of you, don’t read them word for word. Your recruiter will know because you’ll sound flat and overly rehearsed. Tailor your response to the interviewer’s style, show your enthusiasm, and be engaged.
- Being unprofessional.
Phone interviews can feel more casual than an in-person interview. Don’t fall into this trap. Interviewers want to see that you’re professional and can handle yourself accordingly. While you want to show your personality, avoid interrupting the interviewer or speaking to them like they’re just one of your friends.
If the interviewer doesn’t set up a face-to-face interview at the end of your conversation, ask about next steps. Specifically, ask if you can reach out if you have not heard anything by a certain date. How the interviewer answers questions about the next step in the process will tell you how serious they are about your candidacy.
To wrap up, just remember: If you take the time to prepare and practice for your phone interview, the interviewer will take notice—and you’ll be one step closer to getting an offer.