How to nail any phone interview (the ESSENTIAL 2023 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.
What is the purpose of a phone interview?
In a phone interview, the interviewer wants a condensed version of your story and why you’ll be good for the job. It’s your foot in the door and a critical part of the interviewing process. It acts as a screening interview to narrow down the candidates.
How to prepare for a phone interview
You may think it’s simply making sure your phone is loud enough to hear it over reruns of Friends as you contemplate changing out of your pajamas into fresh pajamas. But if you really want that job, you’ll want to take it as seriously as any in-person interview. These are our top phone interview tips.
1. Prepare for what you need
If you’re a compulsive list-maker, eat your heart out because this is your time to shine, baby! List everything that you’ll need during your interview slot:
- Your phone – Make sure the phone is charged and have the charger handy just in case.
- A quiet place – No bustling coffee shops or your kitchen when everyone is home for the day. Choose a quiet space that allows you to focus on the interview. It’s also important in terms of professionalism. If you’re in a chaotic environment, it might make your interviewer feel like you didn’t prioritize the meeting enough for you to seek out a quiet spot.
- A notepad and pen – Hopefully you’re going to ask some questions, even if it’s just to build rapport with the interviewer. Keep those notes so you can do a follow-up, or better yet, provide feedback when you land the in-person interview.
- Your notes – Having your notes on-hand is kind of like taking an open book exam. You don’t get any award for not using notes! You’ll know exactly what to do in a phone interview, which takes some pressure off the interview.
2. Prepare yourself
Business at the top and party at the bottom might help save face during video interviews, but it does nothing for your confidence. Shower, do your hair, do makeup (if that’s you), and get dressed as if you’re going for the in-person interview.
At the very least, get out of those pjs and wear some grown-up shoes. Who knows, this might switch over to a video screen interview without warning.
3. Prepare your responses
Knowing what to say during the actual interview will rely a lot on your level of preparedness. Recruiters often post some questions along with the job offer, and those questions give you insight into the topics up for discussion during the interview.
- Research the company: Use resources such as Linkedin, Glassdoor, and Indeed to do research on your potential future employer. This allows you to get a feel for the company structure but also gives you an idea of the scope of growth in your chosen field. You also want to see if there are gaps that you can help them fill, but more on that later.
- Research the interviewer: If the interviewer’s name is provided, you can do a quick search to find out where they are in the structure of the organization. This gives you an idea of whether the interview is being conducted by HR, or your next line manager. You’ll also get an idea of their personality and interests. Just be sure to keep the info to yourself, as you don’t want to give off creepy vibes.
- Get your story toolbox ready: Interviews generally follow the same scripts, mostly because all interviewers want to know one thing, and that is, “What makes you a better choice than any of the other guys out there?” They want to know why you’re the best fit for the job. Your story toolbox allows you to answer some of the more difficult questions, such as “Tell me about yourself” and “What about this job appeals to you?” By preparing stories that match that line of questioning, you’ll be ready with a response they want to hear, and you won’t waste time rambling.
4. Know what you want from the interview
Before you answer that interview phone call, make notes on your expectations of the role and the company.
- Write down your salary expectation.
- Find out what the actual job title is, roles and responsibilities, and where it lands on the salary band (are you nearing a salary cap?).
- Ask who you’ll report to and the size of the team.
- Find out whether you’re expected to commute or whether the job allows remote work.
These are just a few examples of possible questions. It’s important that you know what you want from your new role and whether it’s worth the change from the existing one.
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Practicing for your phone interview
You didn’t think you were going to get out of this without practicing, didya? Practicing allows you to plan out the interview and make adjustments as you go along. So here’s what you do.
You’re going to phone a friend
Prep your friend with an interview question list and press “GO!” If possible, record the conversation so you can listen to the exchange afterward. You’ll be surprised how many strange quirks you might have, for instance, constantly clearing your throat or saying “um” all the time.
Use the mirror
This may seem like a bizarre tip, but hey, trust us. When you practice your scripts in the mirror, you immediately start making subtle changes such as changing your posture, fixing your hair, and possibly even smiling. These are all little efforts to boost your confidence and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just do it!
Whether you’re practicing with a friend or your reflection, takes notes of things you observe and your responses to the questions. Before your telephone interview, be sure to go through these notes again just to keep them top of mind.
Pump yourself up
Instead of thinking about the interview as scary and something you would rather not do, psych yourself up. Start telling yourself that this is going to be a fun interview, even if you need to be professional and alert. Do what it takes to get yourself motivated as the excitement and energy will carry through to the interview.
Practice small talk
If you’re a straight-to-the-point kind of person, this might be a tough one to swallow. Small talk might seem superfluous and juvenile, but it’s a necessary means to an end. It allows you to build rapport with the interviewer and it also gives you that legroom to relax before bombarding the other party with stories of your greatness.
During the interview
This is your moment in the ring and while it might just be the first knockout round of the tournament, show up for it in a big way.
Even if you’re applying for a job as a children’s entertainment manager on a cruise ship, any job you apply for will have some form of responsibility, so professionalism is still important. You can talk about the elements of fun, but try to remain on topic and answer the questions as thoroughly yet concisely as possible.
It’s tempting to start pulling out all those stories from your story toolbox and just run with it, but chances are good that you’ll miss the question and end up boring the interviewer. Respond to the question and keep it short yet informative.
It’s a natural instinct to want to hunker down and protect your vitals, but it doesn’t translate well over the interview. By standing up, you improve the blood flow which is a quick energy boost. This allows you to literally think on your feet as those questions start coming in. Standing also boosts confidence, by the way, and who doesn’t need an extra boost?
Watch your breathing
Breathe. Focus on measured breathing but make sure it doesn’t sound like you’ve just run a marathon on the other side. Steady breathing also does wonders for circulation, which is needed when you’re cornered with the OG of questions, “So tell me about yourself.”
When you’re breathing is erratic, the body tries to protect the organs which could leave you feeling dizzy and disorientated. Which seems normal for an interview, right? But trust us, you don’t have to have a racing heart and sweaty palms.
You want to start off strong and this means that you need to be prepped and ready. Be ready for that call and don’t let it ring more than three times. You want the recruiter to know you were ready and waiting for their call. Use a greeting that is professional and a little more than just “Hello.”
A rule of thumb is to start off with your name, “Hello, this is Joe Greene.” Anything more than this might just be a bit much before the other person has had a chance to introduce themselves. When they do, let them know that you’ve been expecting their call and that you’re excited about the interview.
Yep, we’re back with this one, but only because it’s so dang important. Something changes in your vocal cords when you’re smiling. Plus, there’s that positive effect smiling has on your nerves, to consider.
You’ve practiced this in the mirror, so now it’s just a matter of applying it during the interview. Trust us, it’s pretty hard to sound happy and upbeat when you’re not smiling.
Be the voice
There are few things that put people to sleep faster than a one-tone drone. Make sure to add some excitement to your voice by alternating the pitch slightly. While that monotone voice might be your usual style, it comes off as lacking interest. Ouch!
While you’re at it, check your volume. You want to be heard, but you also don’t want to blast the interviewer’s eardrums.
The final voice trick is to make sure that the pace is good. While there is too slow, slow is still better than too fast. The last thing you want is losing the interviewer because they can’t keep up with your runaway soliloquy. Acing a phone interview depends a great deal on keeping the other party engaged throughout the call.
Prepare yourself for potential issues
The neighbor suddenly starts their renovation project in the middle of the interview, or there’s a medical emergency, or your phone battery decides to retire, whether you’re on charge or not. Decide beforehand how you will handle events like these and have a plan B.
For starters, you might want to have a second phone handy or another place to conduct the interview, that’s easily accessible within a few seconds.
Or, worst case, you might have to phone the interviewer back as soon as you can and apologize. Ask whether it’s possible to reschedule.
The Bottom Line
Knowing how to do well in a phone interview relies a lot on your ability to stay calm and focused. Preparation will get you halfway there, and the other half is just harnessing your inner best self through little confidence boosts along the way.
Success comes with following sound advice, applying what you learn, and preparing for all eventualities. If you want to learn more about landing your dream job, we’ve got you covered!