How to Ace a Phone Interview in 10 Easy Steps

Ace Your Next Phone Interview: 10 Tips for Success

Phone interviews have become a common part of the hiring process. But the funny thing is that most job seekers seem to ignore them. Think about it: You spend hours writing the perfect resume, and you gnaw your fingernails to the quick stressing about your upcoming meeting with the hiring manager. But the phone interview? You either forget about it or give it little more than a passing thought.

But wait! The phone interview could be what makes or breaks your chances for an in-person interview. Hiring managers use phone interviews to narrow down a large list of applicants who all look similar on paper to select those who will be called in for a personal interview.

How to Ace a Phone Interview in 10 Easy Steps

Now that I’ve gotten your ear, here are 10 tips that could help you ace a phone interview:

1) Pick a private spot.

If a company has scheduled a time for a phone interview with you, don’t just figure you’ll pick up the phone whenever the call comes in. Give it advance prep. First, select a location that’s quiet and free of distractions. That means your home office, not the local Starbucks. You don’t want to have to fight with the coffee grinder to be heard.

If you have children or pets at home, arrange for someone to come over to watch them, or be sure they have an activity to keep them busy for the duration of the call.

2) Don’t do it at work.

A friend of mine once told me that he was sitting in his company’s break room when a coworker walked in and settled down for a phone interview with another employer.

I hope you’re all smart enough to realize that the office is not the best place to do a phone interview. In fact, few places could be worse. Don’t even think about doing it at work, even if you have a private office. It’s unethical, and you’re likely to tip off your employer to your intentions.

If you must take part in a phone interview during work hours, try to schedule it for your lunch break. Then, drive to a nearby parking lot and take the call from your car.

3) Go old school.

Whenever possible, use a land line to ensure a strong, clear connection. If you must use a cell phone, try to select a spot where you can be confident you’ll get good reception.

4) Remember, you have voice mail for a reason.

If another call comes in while you’re talking to the hiring manager, ignore it. Phone interviews rarely last more than 15 or 30 minutes, and whoever rang can very likely wait that long for a call back. You want to show the hiring manager there is nothing more important at that moment than convincing him or her of your ability to do the job.

5) Fire up your printer.

A phone interview is like an open-book test. You’re allowed to have reference materials in front of you! Take advantage of this and print out two items ahead of time: your resume and the job posting.

Why not just pull them up on the computer screen? I like to print out these documents so I can review them with a highlighter and pen in hand. I then mark important points and write brief notes to myself (“Emphasize communication skills”).

We all know that interviews can move quickly, and even when you feel prepared, your mind can suddenly go blank. The quick comments you jotted down can be enough to kick your brain back into gear. They’ll also prevent you from forgetting a key skill or achievement that might help you get the job.

6) Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Some job candidates mistakenly think they can wing it when it comes to a phone interview. Sure, it’s usually shorter than an in-person interview, and the questions are often less intense. But don’t forget that your performance determines whether or not you’ll make it to the next round in the hiring process. With so much riding on the phone interview, why not prepare as diligently as you would for the in-person variety?

7) Rehearse your answers.

The purpose of a phone interview is usually to confirm that you have genuine interest in the position and the skills and experience to do the job. So, you can expect to be asked questions such as:

  • “Can you briefly describe your work history and your most notable accomplishments in previous roles?”
  • “Why did you leave your previous job?” or “Why are you looking for a new position?”
  • “What relevant skills or experience can you bring to the job?”
  • “What interests you about this position?”

You also may be asked about your salary requirements. So, research pay trends beforehand and have a range in mind.

8) Flash those pearly whites.

It’s important to across as upbeat and engaged. But because the interviewer won’t be able to see your body language, your tone and inflection have to do all the work. My suggestion: Smile when you talk. You’ll come across as more enthusiastic. I don’t know why it works, but, trust me, it does.

I also think it’s worth standing (and even walking back and forth a little). Doing so prevents you from slouching, which can come through in your voice, and keeps your energy up.

9) Realize that empty air is OK.

Perhaps the most awkward moment during a phone interview is when you finish responding to a question, and the hiring manager doesn’t say anything … for several moments. Does she expect you to say more? Did she think your answer was inadequate? Is she still on the line? What do you do?

What you don’t do is continue talking. That’s a good way to say something you’ll later regret. If you feel you’ve provided a strong response, resist the urge to fill empty air. The ball’s in the hiring manager’s court now.

10) Find out what’s next.

Don’t let the phone interview end without asking one key question: What’s the next step in the hiring process? It shows you’re interested in the job and will help ease your post-interview jitters by giving you a sense of how you performed.

Last but not least: Write a thank-you note. It’s yet another way to say how excited you are about the job and gives you the opportunity to sell your skills one more time.

What’s your biggest phone interview fear?

Photo Credit.

Robert McCauley

Robert McCauley is a career expert with Robert Half, a leading specialized staffing firm that helps skilled professionals find rewarding temporary and full-time jobs in a variety of fields. Robert has been writing about the job search and careers for more than 10 years. Connect with him and Robert Half on Twitter and YouTube.


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