How to nail any phone interview (the ESSENTIAL 2021 guide)

Looking to nail a phone interview you have coming up? Well read on.

Interviewing is hard.

One of the few ways to make it even harder is to make it a phone interview. In-person, you can read and respond to all of the interviewer’s physical cues, but on the phone you’re often left to guess if they’re engaged in what you have to say or busy checking their inbox while you ramble on.

Unfortunately, many application processes begin with a phone interview.

I used to hate phone interviews…at least until I learned a few simple tips that turned this typically uncomfortable conversation into a job offer — or a follow-up, face-to-face interview — every time.

You already know the obvious, easy tricks:

  • Stand up — you’ll sound more confident and energetic
  • Smile — people really can hear if you’re smiling
  • Use your notes — treat the interview like an open-book test

These quick wins will quickly uplevel your phone interview game, but today I want to go deeper and give you three techniques for truly mastering phone interviews.

Hack the interviewer’s mind


Want to know the secret to acing every phone interview? Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with what school you went to, your resume, or being a smooth-talker.

The #1 factor in your success is how you prepare for the interview. I call this front-loading the work because you do most of the work BEFORE the interview even starts. That way when it comes time to talk to the recruiter, you could answer the questions in your sleep.

One of the best ways you can front-load the work is to hack the interviewer’s state of mind. No, this doesn’t mean you have to be psychic. But it does mean you’ll do some deep research.

Here are a few hacks to get started:


Realize interviewers have jobs, too

“Well duh,” you might say. “How is THAT important?”

Because they want to get back to work!

Interviewers don’t want to waste their day talking to boring candidates on the phone; they want to check the box that says “Hired” and get back to work to their jobs.

By understanding this reality, you can transform the entire feel of the conversation.

  • Instead of seeing it as an interrogation, you’ll feel like the interviewer is a friend who’s just asking if you can help
  • Instead of putting them on a pedestal, you’ll see them as a future colleague
  • Instead of spending the entire time talking, you’ll turn the phone interview into a dialogue and mix in some questions

Remember: They’re looking to hire someone and want you to succeed because it’s in their best interest.


Don’t just focus on your skills

What do potential employers want to hear from a phone interview? I’ll give you a hint: It’s not rambling on and on about your work experience.

They want to quickly gauge your personality and skill set. Understanding their POV lets you focus your preparation around their needs:

  • What are the behaviors and personality traits that this position requires? For example: Engineers are very analytical and pay attention to details. How can you show this?
  • What type of language would someone in this role understand and use? For example: Do you know what Ruby on Rails means? SEO? ROI?
  • What cues do I want to send before I even get on the phone? For example: Sending a calendar invite and list of questions for the call?

When used correctly, you can use these cues to instantly and subtly signal to the interviewer that you are a high-value candidate and vastly improve your chances of receiving an offer every time.


Do your homework

Finally, do research on your interviewer on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google.

The goal is NOT to stalk them or memorize everything they’ve ever done. It’s to learn:

  • Their background (What schools did they go to? What clubs have they been a part of?)
  • Their position with the company (Are they in a new role? Were they recently promoted?)
  • Common interests you both share (Are they into volunteer work, sports, hobbies, etc?)

With these details, you can spark deeper discussions and stand out by asking better questions during the call. This positions you as someone who’s proactive and cares.

Once you’ve taken these steps, it’s time to practice answering the tough questions you might get.

How to craft the perfect answers to tough interview questions

Hiring managers love tough interview questions:

  • “Tell me about one of your weaknesses.”
  • “Tell me about your work history.”
  • “Tell me about a challenge you faced with one of your coworkers.”

These questions are so common because they’re designed to stump and derail most candidates. Luckily with a little preparation, you can craft perfect answers to these and other tough interview questions.

The secret is storytelling. Nobody wants to hear you read off your resume or stumble through a BS answer like “My biggest weakness is I try too hard.”

Let me show you the difference a story can make. I brought one of my students into my studio for a session to help her learn this skill (with just a few hours of practice). Watch as I show her how to improve her answers by adding a personal story to her response:


Key things you’ll learn:

  • The one thing hiring managers LOVE hearing in your responses (0:51)
  • Real before-and-after questions and answers  — how to make your answers more powerful with just a few tweaks (1:10)
  • Why your personality is more important than your technical skills (3:29)

For more examples of story-based answers to tough interview questions, check out this article I wrote.

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