• Jennifer Jelliff-Russell

How to nail a phone interview in 10 steps

You worked hard to develop a tailored resume and it payed off when you landed a phone interview. Fantastic! Now put that same level of effort into preparing for the phone interview by following these 10 steps and you'll be much more likely to move forward in the interview process.


Before the Interview


1) Research the organization

Before any interview (in person or by phone) always do some research on the position and the company. A great place to start is usually the "About" section on the organization's website. When and how did they get started? What's their mission or overall organizational goal? Do they mention having any specific kind of work culture or list any specific values? These are great things to know before an interview as you might be able to work the info into your answers. For example, if they ask why you want to work for the company, then a little pre-interview research will allow you to provide a better answer than, "It's a great company to work for." Perhaps you'll learn in your research that the organization has dedicated itself to donating 5% of its revenue to local nonprofits. Or maybe their employees voted the company the #1 place to work in the country! Or maybe the company has a project dedicated to a cause that you're passionate about.


Those would be much better to mention as reasons for your interest in the company as they show you actually know something about the organization, thereby signaling to the interviewer that this would be more to you than just a job with a paycheck.

Just don't overdo it and start telling the entire company history to the interviewer!



2) Practice interviewing over the phone with someone who will give you honest feedback

There are many organizations and services out there that will do a practice interview with you for free. I highly recommend doing this with an employment services professional rather than someone you know since the employment service professional will be more likely to provide you with honest feedback. You can also ask them to run the practice interview with you over the phone so that you can get ready for the real deal.


Before the practice interview, ask your interviewer to listen for any sounds you subconsciously make over the phone or an overuse of filler words. This could be something as simple as making a clicking sound while thinking or saying too many "Um's" or "Ah's" (filler words) while trying to come up with an answer.


I know it doesn't seem like it would be that big of a deal, but I've had hiring managers tell me that they didn't move a candidate forward in the process because the candidate made odd sounds over the phone which made it sound like they were bored during the interview. It's unlikely you're going to get passed over for using filler words during the interview, but if overused, it can become annoying to the interviewer.


I tend to do both (Using filler words and making clicking noises) while being interviewed. One method I've used to cut down on this is to have a few specific phrases ready to use rather than subconsciously filling the silence. This gives me a few more seconds to come up with a good answer to their questions while keeping too much silence from filling the phone line. My favorite phrases to use are:

  • "That's a great question..."

  • "I hadn't considered that before..."

  • "Good question..."

  • or repeat the question back to them in a thoughtful tone (while you think of an answer)

Feel free to use these - just make sure you don't overuse them or they'll simply become new filler words!


3) Make sure your phone is charged (and have a charger handy just in case.)

Nothing says you're a poor planner quite like scheduling a phone interview and then running out of battery 5 minutes into the session. Dropped calls are one thing and are generally out of your control, but hanging up on an interviewer because you didn't bother to think ahead and ensure your phone was ready might be a red flag to an employer who is trying to hire you for a job that involves future planing.


If you know that you're gong to need the phone for an interview, then it's up to you to ensure your phone is ready for at least an hour (maybe more) of use. If your phone's battery is untrustworthy, then set up your interview area near an outlet and have your phone charger nearby.


4) Find a space with no background noise where you won't be interrupted.

This can be tricky depending on where you live. If you're like me and live on a busy street with semi-trucks passing by all day, you might need to find a quieter alternative to your house. One free option is to book an enclosed study room in the public library. I've also had clients complete phone interviews from their car because it was the only spot where they knew they wouldn't be interrupted.


Keep in mind that interruptions can come in all kinds of forms (like this BBC interview that was interrupted by the special guest's children in the most hilarious way!) For me, it's mostly my dog coming to investigate who I'm talking to. And while I think my dog is adorable, the interviewer might not agree and may see the interruption as unprofessional. Ditto for children.


Also, try not to interview at your current job during work hours. It doesn't send a very good message to a potential future employer if you think it's okay to get paid by your current employer while interviewing for another job. If it's unavoidable, then either step out to your car just before the interview (where you'll have your resume and notepad set up already), or find a quiet room behind closed doors where you can speak without fear of being overheard.


5) Have 3-4 questions ready to ask the interviewer

Remember, an interview is a two-way street: The interviewer is seeing if you're a good fit for the job/company while you are seeing if the job/company is a good fit for you. This is why it's so important to have questions ready to ask the interviewer. (And yes, you NEED to have questions to ask or they'll think you're not interested in the role.)


Make sure to have 3-4 questions written down and nearby during the interview. That way you'll remember them AND if the interviewer happens to answer one or two of them during the interview, you can cross them off your list (which is why you'll have 3-4 in case some of them get answered.)


*Not sure what to ask? Get a free Cheat Sheet of questions to ask the interviewer here!


6) Have your resume, the job description, any research notes, a pad of paper, and a pen set up before the interview

The awesome thing about a phone interview is that the interviewer can't see you - which means they can't see any notes or documents you're looking at! So have your resume and the job description in front of you (in electronic or paper formats) during the interview. That way you'll have the information right at your fingertips if you need it.


I also like to have the notes at hand from any research I did (see Step 1). This has been extremely useful in instances when an employer asked if I could name their core values or mission statement. Had I not had my notes in front of me, I would most certainly have floundered around trying to name them from memory.


Make sure to also have a pad of paper and a pen handy in case the interviewer asks you a multi-part question. This will allow you to quickly jot down notes on the question so you'll be sure to answer each part. You'll also want space to take down any information the interviewer might provide about the job (salary range, timeline to get back to you after the interview, etc.).


A quick note: Try not to shuffle your papers around during the interview. The interviewer will hear the shuffling and know that you're reading off notes. Sometimes it's best to have the documents pulled up as multiple windows on your computer. If you prefer paper, lay out your documents so that they are all easily readable without having to move them around or flip them over.


During the Interview


7) Answer the phone appropriately

You know when the interviewer is going to call you, so go ahead and assume that whoever is calling you around the scheduled time is the interviewer. That means NOT answering the phone with any phrases that might come across as rude.


The best thing to do when answering a call you think will be an interview is to answer with something like, "Hi, this is (Insert your name.)" Doing this will ensure that the interviewer immediately knows that they have reached the right person and that you are a professional who is ready to interview.


In fact, if you're applying to many jobs, let's just get into the habit of making this your normal greeting when answering the phone. That way if an employer calls to schedule an interview, you'll already be making a positive impression on them before you even know who is calling.


8) Dress up

If you're completing an interview over the phone, obviously I know they can't see you. However, it's still worth it to get at least marginally dressed up for your phone interview since it will help you feel and thereby sound more professional. Dressing up will lend you a sense of confidence that you won't get from sitting around in your PJ's while interviewing.


9) Smile while speaking

Similar to dressing up, the interviewer can't see your winning smile through phone, but according to this study from the University of Portsmouth, the other person can actually hear if you're smiling or not. Apparently our tone changes when we smile. So if you're telling the interviewer, "I would love to work for your organization," but you're not smiling, then the delivery will sound flat and inauthentic.


You don't have to force a smile throughout the entire interview, but if you know you'd smile during part of an in-person interview, then you'll want to do the same occasionally in a phone interview. To remind yourself to you smile during the interview, write, "Smile," or draw a smiley face at the top of your notes page.


10) Follow up with a Thank You Email

Always follow up any interview with a thank you email. If you don't have your interviewer's email address, you can ask them for it in at the end of the interview. It's fine to say, "I really appreciated you taking the time to interview me today. Could I get your email address in order to send you a thank you email?"


I completely get that asking can feel awkward. So if you know the name of the person who will interview you, before the interview see if you can find an email address for them on the company website or on LinkedIn. Avoid using a personal address if possible.


By following these 10 steps and presenting yourself as a great candidate, you'll be much more likely to move on to the next step in the interview process or be offered the job!


Happy interviewing!

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