Expert Advice on How to Make
The Most of a Phone Interview

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
|
Last Updated: September 28, 2020
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Good news! You submitted your resume for the job of your dreams, and just found out the company wants to meet with you. In the old days, that would have meant one thing: a sit down interview in the office. But more and more interviews are being conducted remotely--whether by phone, Skype, Zoom, Google chat or other platforms. Despite all this transformational technology, the fundamentals of interview etiquette remain the same. Fortunately, if you’re invited to have a job interview by phone (or other remote means) JobHero has all the expert advice you need to help you successfully navigate the experience and get the job.

Why Companies Sometimes Prefer a Phone Interview

The first and most obvious reason an employer might suggest a phone interview is simple: geography. For example, if you live in California and the job is in New York, a hiring manager may offer you a phone interview to avoid the cost and time of having you fly across the country for an initial face to face meeting. But there are other reasons this method of interviewing is sometimes preferred.

Before investing the time and manpower that a sit-down interview requires, some companies may want to arrange a preliminary call to see whether you sound like the kind of candidate who’s worth meeting in person. So while it’s great that you’ve been invited to have a phone interview, this is definitely not the time to cruise. Be on your best behavior, because chances are the hiring manager will be using an initial round of phone interviews to eliminate candidates.

PRO TIP : If you get an email inviting you to schedule a phone interview, respond within one day (or sooner if possible).

8 Keys to a Successful Phone Interview

While it may not be possible to seal the deal over the phone and definitively land the job, you can certainly lose the job with a poor performance. Just because you’re on the phone is no excuse to “phone it in.” Here are 7 keys to nailing a phone interview:
1
Prepare

Make sure you set your alarm for 5 minutes before your call, so you’re ready and don’t keep the hiring manager waiting. If the interview is scheduled for first thing in the morning, make sure to warm up your voice. Even if you live alone, you should talk out loud for a few minutes so your phone interview isn’t the first time you’ve spoken that day. (It’s subtle, but people can tell if you just woken up and haven’t used your vocal chords yet.) Your voice should sound calm and alert. Make sure to answer the call in a professional way, for example, "Hello, this is [your full name]." This makes it clear you are ready and expecting the call.

PRO TIP : Review the company’s website for a few minutes immediately before the phone interview and have the job listing available, so you can reference some of the specific language used.
2
Drink a warm beverage

If your interview is scheduled for early in the day, make sure to have your morning cup of coffee or tea before the call. Having a hot cup of coffee or tea before a phone interview does more than warm up your speaking voice. Caffeine can also help you be more mentally alert. (Just don’t overdo it with three large espressos. You don’t want to be jittery.) Have a glass of water nearby in case your throat gets dry.

PRO TIP : Do not chew gum, eat any food, or have a lozenge in your mouth. Those mouth sounds are unprofessional and can be a dealbreaker. If you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, mute your phone!
3
Eliminate All distractions

Although you won’t be making eye contact, you should treat a phone interview exactly the same as an in-person interview. That means turn off the TV (don’t just mute it) and resist the temptation to steal a glance at websites or social media. If you have windows in the room, close the blinds, and give the interviewer your undivided attention.

4
Find a quiet place

If you have a pet (especially a loud dog or a talking parrot!) make sure no animal noises are audible in the background. If you’ve got young children, set them up with something to watch in a different room, or otherwise find a way to make sure they won’t interrupt you. If possible, take your call in a separate room, with the door closed. Don’t go outside for your call, because even in the backyard, the sounds of wind or passing airplanes or cars can come off as distracting and unprofessional.

PRO TIP : If you have high-quality headphones or earbuds, use them. Do not use a speakerphone as that can come off as rude. (Your interviewer may be on speakerphone, but this is not a meeting of equals, it’s a job interview.)
5
Dress for success

This may seem strange, but if you’re wearing your pajamas, that can actually come across on a phone call. Conversely, if you dress as though you were having your interview in-person, it will change the way your voice sounds. Also: people can hear bed sheets rustling. Don’t take anything for granted. Even if the hiring manager can’t see you, this is still a job interview. Sit at a desk or a table.

PRO TIP : Research shows that if you smile it affects your tone of voice, so relax, smile, and assume a position of good posture. All of these little details will make a subtle difference that can help you sound more confident, present and authoritative.
6
Listen and pause

One of the differences between doing an interview on the phone versus in person is you can’t see the hiring manager’s face, so you won’t have any of the subtle cues we normally use as part of our communication. Your adrenalin may be running a little high, so try to take a breath after each statement or question you hear and make sure the person is done speaking. It’s never good to interrupt or talk over anyone, especially not someone who is interviewing you for a job. Of course, you don’t want to take strangely long pauses, but about one second is an appropriate time to wait before answering, so you’re certain the interviewer is done with the question.

PRO TIP : While you should never interrupt your interviewer, you should allow them to interrupt you. If you’ve been going on too long and they want to move along, don’t force the issue.
7
Have your own questions ready

One advantage of a phone interview is you can have a little cheat sheet next to you, where you can write down a few questions of your own. You don’t want to ask these at the beginning of the call, but having a few relevant questions of your own prepared is a good way to demonstrate your passion and curiosity. (Just make sure the questions you ask aren’t things anyone should know from a quick google search.) If a question pops into your mind when the hiring manager is speaking, jot a note down so you can ask it later on, when you are inevitably asked if you have any questions.

PRO TIP : Keep a copy of your resume next to you so you can reference it without having to miss a beat if you’re asked for details.
8
Slow down

Most of us speak too quickly, and that habit only gets worse when you’re nervous. Make a conscious effort to breathe and relax and speak clearly. In the absence of any visual information, your tone of voice is going to be doing all the heavy lifting in terms of representing your personality. So make sure you speak slowly, and take a brief pause between your sentences. This will help you come across as calm, clear, and confident.

What to Expect During a Phone Interview

  • The typical flow for most phone interviews will involve a few minutes of small talk, with the bulk of the time devoted to you answering questions, plans for a follow up, and then a brief goodbye. Towards the end of the interview you will probably be asked if you have any questions of your own.
PRO TIP : Ask for the hiring manager’s full name and email address, if you don’t already have it so you can write a thank you follow up.
  • A typical phone interview will last about 30 minutes. Try not to schedule anything immediately after your phone interview, in case it runs long.
  • Expect an extra dose of skepticism and questions intended to reveal any potential weaknesses, because often the hiring manager is looking to eliminate candidates with a phone interview. Be at your sharpest.
  • In general (though not always) a phone interview will be one-on-one as opposed to an interview by a group of people.
  • There’s a high chance you will be asked to discuss salary expectations during a phone interview, so give appropriate consideration to your desired compensation before the call.
PRO TIP : If you’re asked what salary you’re looking for, answer with a range of about $5,000. For example, “I’m looking for a salary in the range of $60,000 to $65,000.” This creates a little breathing room and suggests you are open to negotiating within a reasonable range

Additional Resources

Now you’re well-armed with all the essential information to prepare for a phone interview. But course, these days, a remote interview is just as likely to be on Zoom, FaceTime, Google Chat, Skype or another video conference platform. In that case, while you may be miles apart from your interviewer, you will be entirely visible. That means you’ll need additional expert advice. Don’t worry--as always, JobHero has you covered: