9 Tips for Nailing A Phone Interview

Posted by Tuesday, November 11, 2014 0 4

Job interviews are always scary. You have to worry about wearing the right clothes, paying attention to your body language, and something about not shaking hands like a limp fish? And being so young, you may be more freaked out than other applicants, as you have probably only been through the process a couple of times.

And as far as I’m concerned the only thing that can make the process scarier is when the interview is not face-to-face, but phone-to-phone.

Phone interviews have always been a pain for me for a couple reasons:

  1. I talk fast. No, like really People I have known for life (my mother, father, and siblings) or see on a daily basis (my significant other) tell me constantly to slow down, because they can’t understand me. And if they think my words come too quickly, then how is someone who is not familiar with my John Moschitta, Jr. like speed supposed to catch everything I say over the phone?
  2. You can’t convey facial cues or body language over the phone. You may think that would be a positive, as you save yourself the trouble of having to control your “um…” faces and chronic fidgeting (another lovely idiosyncrasy of mine). But the negative is if you make a joke or statement that only comes across correctly in person and hear nothing but dead air on the other end of the line, you will be beating yourself up for the rest of the day. And yes, that has happened to me.

But no matter how scary, phone interviews are becoming more and more common, especially when you are interviewing for a job located far away, or with a company that wants to do a preliminary interview before bringing you in.

In having to complete several phone interviews recently, I learned a few tricks to quell my own fears. Hopefully what I have to say will help other newly ordained grown-ups handle what can otherwise be an awkward situation.

9 Ways to Ace Your Phone Interview

1. Treat it like an open book test.

Remember how relieved you were when you had all your notes in front of you during that hellish chem final because your angel of a teacher made it open book? Well you’re gonna have that same rush of gratitude during a phone interview, when asked a very specific question about your previous work experience.

Because right in front of you, will be your application, resume, and the typed up answers to questions you will always be asked (“Tell me about yourself?” “What is your greatest weakness?”).

This on its own is the best advice I can give you, because it’s like having a cheat sheet about yourself, when you are too nervous to even remember your name.

2. Know who you are talking to and what they do.

“Why do you want to work for us?” is a very common question asked during an interview. As is, “What do you know about our company?” This is because it is a really fast way to weed out applicants. After all, if a person you were interviewing didn’t know what your company did or have a clear and well thought out answer as to why she was interested in becoming part of your company, you would question whether she belonged there.

So do your homework.

Read up on the company if you weren’t familiar with them at first, learn what you can from their own website, as well as any mentions of them in the news. Have specific talking points about things that sparked your interest, as your level of knowledge and attentiveness can only help.

It also doesn’t hurt to research the recruiter themselves, once you know whom you will be talking to. Check out her LinkedIn profile to see where she went to school and her previous work experience. Finding something you two have in common, is a great way to create a rapport and put yourself at ease during the chat.

3. Have a pen and paper available to take notes.

You can’t normally take notes in a face-to-face interview, as maintaining eye contact is very important. And that’s a real shame, because a lot of things are said during an interview and some important information can’t always be committed to memory.

You will want to know this stuff later, and the luxury of being able to take notes during a phone interview allows you to do just that. So have a pen (that won’t die on you) and paper ready to go and take notes on anything and everything that sounds important.

And when I say pen and paper, I do mean it. The clicking of a keyboard will be distracting to you, and the interviewer might be puzzled by the noise.

4. Be in a quiet place alone.

This one seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how much noise certain things make until you are in the middle of a very important phone call.

I was sitting at my kitchen table during a recent interview, with the sound of silence, when all of a sudden my blaring A/C kicked on and I had to awkwardly move all of my things into another room.

Take a tip from the Boy Scouts here and “always be prepared.” Over think this part. Think of where the absolute best place is to escape any and all noise in your home. And if someone else is going to be home at the time of the interview, ask them kindly to take a hike. Unless they are willing to sit quietly in a closet for 30-40 minutes. That works too.

5. Know your timeframe.

Speaking of how long someone will be sitting in the closet, it’s a good idea to check with the interviewer in advance about how long you should set aside for the interview. Then plan to be ready at least an hour before then, and set aside an additional twenty minutes longer than the estimate given (as sometimes people run late and interviews run long).

6. Read the news that morning.

Educated people read the news. People who read the news know what is going on in the world. People who know what is going on in the world are educated and the people you want to be in business with.

Make sure you are up on current events before your interview. Even if the job you are interviewing for doesn’t require you to know about the economy, politics, or foreign affairs, you will be grateful if for some reason the conversation turns toward current events that you didn’t know about until that morning.

The journalist in me says, you’re welcome.

7. Take a moment to think about the question, and then respond slowly and clearly.

My motor mouth has already been established as an affliction that plagues me in interviews. And whether or not you have this problem all the time, when we get nervous sometimes we all talk a little fast.

The way I have learned to combat it during interviews is to first breathe deeply three times before answering the phone (as the interviewer is usually the one who makes the call at the agreed upon time). This gives me the chance to start off a little calmer and slower than I would have otherwise.

I also take a little deep breath before what I know will be a long answer, and repeat the question to give myself time to gather my thoughts.

On top of that I also put a Post-it in front of me that says “Slow Down!” So that’s nice.

8. Have at least three questions prepared.

At the end of the interview, they are going to ask if you have any questions for them. This is a great chance to show your interest, something we’ve already established as being very important.

But how do questions show your interest? Simple: Someone who wants a job will want to know more, be excited by what they have just heard and have questions they want to ask.

And even if none come to mind after the interviewer has wrapped up her spiel – as lots of questions are preemptively answered in summaries of the company, job, and expectations – you still need to have questions. Having no questions makes you seem uninterested, even if that isn’t the case.

So show your interest by having prepared a few questions based on the job description, what you know about the company, and what opportunities are available to employees (i.e. training, workshops, and the chances for growth within the company once employed).

9. Send a thank-you email the next day, reiterating your interest in the position.

I can’t stress the importance of this step enough, as it goes along with the main theme in this list: expressing your interest. If you want this job, you will thank the interviewer adamantly for her time at the end of the interview.

If you really want this job you will send her a thank-you email the next day. The very act of sending the email will keep you in the interviewer’s mind, and set you apart as a polite candidate.

The email should be brief, but include at least one point from the interview (you have written down thanks to tip three!) that you found particularly interesting. This shows that you listened, are interested and really want the job.


Once the worst is over, you will still have to wait to see how everything pans out. And despite your best efforts, not every interview will lead to a job. But every interview will lead to a more experienced interviewee. I can promise you that.

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