How to Master the Phone Interview (with Examples)

The first phone interview is scary for everyone. But it doesn't have to be.

In fact, it can be easy and even energizing! By following these simple phone interview tips, you can ace the phone interview and get one step closer to that dream job or internship.

What a Phone Interview Is Really About

phone interview tipsSimply put, a phone interview is a chance for the hiring manager or recruiter to get a first look at the person behind the resume. You’ll typically talk about the company and the job opening in particular, and how you fit the profile of their ideal candidate.

This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. At which point if it seems like you’re a good match, then you’re usually invited for a longer in-person interview.

Now this is important:

The phone interview is also a chance for you to learn about them.

Interviews are a two-way street, and trust me when I say that you really want to like who you’re working for. Even though most of the interview will be about you, assume that the last 25-30% will be a chance for you to be the question asker.

Why Employers Like Phone Interviews

  • It’s easier on them.
    According to hiring industry statistics, the average job opening attracts more than 50 applicants. In the business world, time is money, and efficiency is key. To bring in every candidate, in-person, for the first time…well, you get the idea. Companies know how to do better. Which leads to the second reason:
  • They know how to judge a first impression.
    Odds are that they’ve been doing this for a while. At the very least, they know what it’s like to be in your seat. They don’t need to see you face-to-face if a simple phone call can tell them a lot up front. So before you can get this job, you need to prove yourself!

How to Prepare for a Phone Interview Like a Pro

phone interview questionsThe great thing about a phone interview is that it’s like the ultimate open book test. So take advantage of that and have the following materials arranged around you like your own personal command center.

  • Research on the company and the role.
    Spend 30 minutes on Google researching the company website, news articles, employee reviews, and even their social posts. LinkedIn profiles of anyone you know you’ll be talking with are also great sources of potential information and even shared interests.
  • Talking points about yourself
    List out your strengths, weaknesses, past or current projects you’ve worked on, and any leadership or team experience you have. Frame these into some basic STAR Method talking points on note cards for yourself so that your nerves don’t leave you at a loss for words during the interview.
  • Questions you want to ask about the company.
    A good interviewer will likely leave at least ten minutes for you to ask questions of your own. Create a list of ten or more phone interview questions in advance that focus on what you’d like to understand about the role, the company, or the manager. Just be sure not to ask anything they’ve already answered (hence the need for 10 or more).

Once you have these three things ready—practice!  Spend some time selling yourself in front of the mirror or recording yourself. You’re essentially creating a sales pitch for yourself, and pitches are always smoother when rehearsed.

How to Avoid Mistakes That Can Totally Kill a Phone Interview

Now that you’re ready to show them how awesome you are, the last thing you want to do is botch it with a rookie mistake. Some people do, and here are a few reasons they don’t land that second interview:

  • Poor phone etiquette.
    Interviewers want to hear you, clearly, without interruption. Things like a spotty cell signal or background noise can be very disruptive. Try to pick a quiet, private environment where your phone shows a lot of bars. I also like to fully charge my battery and carry a pair of noise-reducing earbuds with a built-in mic for good measure.
  • Lack of preparation.
    If you already did your homework above, then this shouldn’t be a problem. But interviewers know the difference between a nervous stammer and a total lack of preparation. Don’t let a dead silence on the phone get the interviewer wondering if the call dropped. If you really want the role, then do the homework and prove it. The other candidates certainly will.
  • Being too modest.
    Remember that this is a sales pitch! This is your chance to show how you’re the perfect mix of all the right skills and traits necessary to do the job right. But the person on the other end of the line can’t see the excitement in your eyes when you talk about the job, so you need to make sure that it comes across in your voice.
  • 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 it’s often okay to show that you have personality and a sense of humor, it’s better to not risk it by throwing in profanity, interrupting, or speaking to them like they’re just one of your friends.

Common Phone Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)

Good news: A lot of interviewers ask very similar gating questions for phone interviews. Sure, they might rephrase them a bit, but the gist will be there. Here are a few you should prepare to answer:

  • "Tell me about yourself."
    This is your elevator pitch. They want to hear how you present yourself in 90 seconds—personally and professionally. It’s a key moment to build up the experience that you do have (from school accomplishments, clubs, or internships) and lead the interviewer to where you are today.
  • "Why do you want to work here?"
    The interviewer wants to understand how the role connects to the experience you spoke to in question 1, while also connecting to your passions. Enthusiasm for a job often translates to higher productivity.

Pro Phone Interview Tip: If you’re interviewing for an internship, the answer to this question should never be “for school credit.

  • "What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
    Speak about at least two strengths that are relevant to the role. As for weaknesses: The best answer is an honest (and real) shortcoming, followed by how you’re working to improve. I’ve often spoken about my tendency to rely on email too often, but would work to find the right method of communication for the right situation.
  • "Tell me about a time that you took the lead on a project."
    This often serves two purposes: to show that you have leadership qualities, and that you can work well in a team. 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.

To wrap up, just remember: Nobody expects you to be a pro for your first phone interview. If you take the time to prepare and practice for your interview, employers will notice and you’ll come out ahead.