how to do a phone interview

Phone Interview Tips

Table of Contents

If the thought of a phone interview fills you with dread and conjures up images of accidentally interrupting your potential boss, you’re not alone. Millennials and Gen Z are collectively not the biggest fans of phone calls—a sentiment that has even earned them the nickname “Generation Mute.” One survey found that “81% of millennials get apprehension anxiety before summoning up the courage to make a call.” Which can make phone interviews an especially daunting prospect.

Fortunately, preparation and practice can go a long way toward ensuring you’re at your best. Here are six of our top phone interview tips to help you get great results on your next big call:

1. Prep Your Technical Equipment and Get the Details of Your Phone Interview

While it might sound simple, confirming important information about your phone interview will be worth it. You’ll want to make sure that you know:

  • the time (especially if the company is located in another time zone)
  • who will be making the call
  • how long the call will last

And while phone call interviews don’t require as much technical prep as virtual interviews, it’s still important to make sure that:

  • you have good cell phone service
  • your phone isn’t on silent
  • your phone is fully charged
  • you know how to put your phone on mute and on speaker phone if you need to

These small details are easy to overlook and usually don’t cause any issues. However, they’re worth double-checking just in case. By doing so, you’ll avoid scrambling for your charger part-way through your interview or standing by your phone worrying whether you were supposed to be the one to place the call.

an organized desk with phone and laptop

2. Prepare Your Answers to Common Phone Interview Questions

Employers are more likely to conduct their first round of interviews over the phone. Why? Because they’re more convenient and faster to do than in-person or virtual interviews. This makes it easier for interviewers to contact a large pool of candidates quickly, which fits well with the first stage of the interview process. As a result, you’re more likely to get asked common first interview questions, such as:
  • “Why are you interested in this position?”
  • “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
  • “Why do you want to work for our company?”
It can be a good idea to prepare your answers to these and other common phone interview questions. You can do this by:
  • preparing a list of common interview questions and your answers to them
  • practicing your answers out loud so that you can say them with confidence
  • conducting practice interviews with friends and family over the phone
This will help you feel more comfortable during your interview and help you determine exactly what you want to say. Do you have a great example of a time when you worked well under pressure? Or a terrific story that demonstrates your teamwork skills? By practicing your answers, you’ll be more likely to remember these stories and include them in your interview. Good to know: Some interviewers have started asking candidates about their salary expectations during the first interview. To make sure you aren’t blindsided by this question, look up typical salary ranges and determine your expectations ahead of time—just in case it comes up.

3. Research the Company and Position Ahead of Your Phone Interview

Proper research is important before any interview—whether that interview takes place in person, over the phone, or online. Researching the company can give you a sense of what it’s all about, what its company culture is like, and other critical pieces of information such as any future expansion plans. You can get this information quickly by checking their website and searching online for news about the company. Because you won’t be visible during your phone interview, you can keep tabs open on your computer (just make sure to turn the volume down so you aren’t interrupted by notifications). You can then glance at these pages to refresh your memory during the call.

4. Keep Your Supplies, Notes, and Resume Within Easy Reach

In addition to keeping tabs open on your computer, you might also want to keep your resume and other notes close by during your interview. This will be useful for a few different reasons:
  • it’ll help you remember important anecdotes and information you want to mention
  • it’ll help you remember questions you want to ask the interviewer
  • if your interviewer asks about a specific part of your resume, you’ll be able to easily see what they’re referencing
  • if you panic and blank during your interview, it’ll be easier to get back on track
Here are some things you can keep nearby:
  • your resume
  • your cover letter
  • notes listing what you want to discuss
  • your answers to common interview questions
  • information about the company and its products or services
  • the job description
  • pen and paper to write down anything important
  • a phone charger
  • a glass of water to stay hydrated
a phone interview in progress

5. Prepare a Place That Is Free of Distractions and Background Noise

While gathering the materials you’ll need for your phone interview, make sure that you pick a quiet place where you can take the call. Make sure that:
  • all windows and doors are closed
  • kids and pets won’t be able to interrupt (consider asking a friend or family member for help looking after them during your interview!)
  • distractions are kept to a minimum
Try to pick somewhere in a low-traffic area of your home. Or, if you don’t have a quiet office, ask family members or roommates to be quiet and avoid the area for the duration of the interview.

6. During Your Phone Interview, Be Mindful of Filler Words, Interruptions, and Your Tone of Voice

Part of what makes phone interviews difficult is that you and your interviewer won’t have visual cues like facial expressions and body language to rely on for additional information. According to two famous studies:
  • word choice only accounts for about 7% of communication
  • tone of voice accounts for 38% of communication
  • body language accounts for 55% of communication
So it’s safe to say that it can be a little harder to convey exactly what you mean through a phone call alone. Without visual cues like the interviewer closing their mouth and sitting back in their chair, for example, it might be harder to know when they’re done speaking. Watch out for a few common communication pitfalls that can happen during phone interviews, such as:
  • interrupting the interviewer
  • using filler words such as “um,” “uh,” and “like”
  • an unenthusiastic tone of voice
  • speaking too quickly or too slowly
Fortunately, there are a few phone interview tips you can use to avoid these problems:
  • Wait two seconds after you think the other person has finished speaking to be sure they’re done and it’s your turn.
  • Smile, picture a friend, and use hand gestures when speaking, which will make your tone of voice friendlier and more enthusiastic.
  • Be mindful of filler words during the call. This will help you notice when you want to use them and avoid doing so.
  • Don’t be afraid of pauses. They’re more likely to happen during a phone interview and won’t be seen as a mistake.
  • Try doing power poses before your call to boost your confidence (you can even try them during your call too, since they can’t see you!).
  • Take a deep breath and do relaxation exercises before your call if you’re feeling nervous (you’re more likely to speak faster when stressed).
And if you do make a mistake, fumble your words, or forget what you were saying, here are some tips to get you back on track:
  • If you interrupt the interviewer, apologize and ask them to carry on.
  • If you lose your train of thought, you can ask if your answer covered the entire question.
  • If you don’t understand the question, ask the interviewer if you can confirm that you understood the entire question, repeat in your own words what you think the question was, and ask if you missed anything.
  • If an outside noise interrupts the conversation, simply apologize, laugh it off, and move to a quieter space. If you feel nervous during the interview and feel flustered, apologize, take a deep breath, and check your notes to get back on track.
  • If you accidentally hang up, try calling back immediately. If their number is private, reach out by email and stay close to your phone so that you are ready to answer when they call back.
Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes—everyone does in an interview. Your ability to handle the mistake is what matters most. In fact, it could show the interviewer that you are resilient and know how to acknowledge and handle mishaps when they happen. And what do you do once you’ve aced the phone interview and are ready to move on to the next step? Check out our blog on virtual interviews!