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How to Prepare for Phone Interview Questions – Etiquette, Tips & Tricks



I have a good friend who is currently in an entry-level position for a major corporation. She loves her job, and she does it very well. Her boss knew she wanted to move up in the company and encouraged her to apply for a position within another division.

After she submitted a resume, she landed a phone interview. Because of all the encouragement she had received from her current boss, she believed she was a shoo-in for the position. She went into the phone interview unprepared but feeling confident.

However, during the interview, she started to feel uneasy as she realized her mistake of not preparing for the phone interview. And that’s when the recruiter cut the interview short and told her that she was not a good fit for the position. Ouch!

When my friend told me her story, I felt awful for her because I had never heard of anyone being told during the interview that they were not a good fit. What I learned from her experience is that even if you think you’re a shoo-in for a position, you still need to prepare for and take the phone interview very seriously as it has become standard in many hiring processes.

What Is the Purpose of Phone Interviews?

Many companies implement a three-phase process for hiring. A recruiter, human resource generalist, or hiring manager will sift through all of the resumes and pick the ones they like the most. Then, they call you for a phone interview if you’re selected. After all of the phone interviews are conducted, they will possibly make another cut, and schedule you for a final face-to-face interview.

In a society where unemployment and competition for jobs is high, the number of applicants for any one job may be in the hundreds. A recruiter or hiring manager may not be able to weed out enough applicants by simply looking through resumes alone. There may be plenty applicants that are well qualified for the position, but it is still unknown whether or not their personalities are well suited for the position and company culture.

By conducting phone interviews, a recruiter or hiring manager accomplishes the following:

  • They learn more about the applicant’s personality. You may be very well qualified, or even over qualified for a position, but end up being unsuccessful in a job if you are not company material. Every company has their own culture. There are certain coworker personalities that you will need to mesh with as well.
  • They learn about your phone skills. Are you good at talking on the phone? Will the position require you to make calls to clients? If so, it is imperative that the recruiter knows whether or not you can have inflection in your tone. That is your body language while on the phone.
  • They don’t have to fly in out-of-towners. It is expensive for a company to fly in and accommodate out-of-town applicants. A recruiter wants to be certain you are a potential candidate before doing so.
  • They enable a mutual exchange of information. Interviews are not to be one-sided conversations, and that includes phone interviews. Phone interviews allow you, as well as the company, to gather enough information about the other party to know if each side would like to proceed. It gives you an opportunity to determine if you are truly interested in the position and the company.

Phone Interview Purpose

Before the Phone Interview

Just like with a face-to-face interview, there are several things that you can do in advance to get yourself prepared. Some phone interviews are scheduled, and some are not, so it is important to prepare yourself and be on guard once you start sending out resumes.

1. Research the Company
Most of you will not want to put in the effort of researching a company until you’re getting ready for a face-to-face interview. However, the truth is that phone interviews are real interviews and are just as important. The recruiter will want you to prove that you know about the company. Also, don’t forget to research the job description. Know exactly what is expected of the position. And if you don’t understand everything, make a note to ask about it during the interview.

2. Prepare a Cheat Sheet
The beauty about phone interviews is that you can have any sort of cheat sheet in front of you without penalty. You will want to have the company research and job description research in front of you as well as your resume and a list of your past projects. I like to also have a cheat sheet that lists common interview questions that links them to my past projects. That way, I am able to look at my sheet, find the question, and refer back to my notes. This little trick makes me less flustered during phone interviews. It is a great tactic to finding a summer job or internship as well.

You might also want to make a bulleted list of things about yourself, such as where you’re from, where you went to school and what you studied, some of your hobbies, your biggest accomplishments, and so on. That way when the recruiter asks you the very first question, which is always, “Tell me about yourself,” you will not leave anything important out.

Tip: If you use cheat sheets, make sure you do not use full sentences. You do not want to find yourself accidentally reading a script during your phone interview.

Once you have gathered all these materials, make sure that they are readily available. Keep one copy at home and take another along with you in case you are called while you are out.

3. Start Screening Your Phone Calls
Many people no longer have home phones and only have cell phones. If you are one of those people, you may receive a call from a recruiter while you are anywhere at any time. And most likely, it will be somewhere inconvenient and at a time that is inconvenient. You have two options. Either let your phone go to voicemail or pick up your phone and be honest with the recruiter by saying that it’s not a good time to talk. I’d opt for the latter as long as you are not somewhere extra noisy.

4. Practice
Talking on the phone is different than talking in person. Some people really excel at it while others get flustered. I am much better in person when I can express myself with more than just my voice. If you are like me, it would be beneficial to have a friend give you a call to do a practice interview over the phone. Pretend it is the real thing by having your cheat sheets in front of you. Practicing your interview skills will make you much more marketable in the job market.

5. Prepare Questions for Them
It is always impressive to a recruiter if you have questions lined up for them. It shows that you are truly interested in the job. Although you can jot down some questions to ask during the interview, it is best if you can come up with some beforehand to take the pressure off.

6. For Scheduled Phone Interviews
It’s always preferable to have your phone interview scheduled. However, that does not exempt you from the unexpected happening. Check and double check the date and time (remember to check the time zone as well). Also make sure you know the number of the person who is calling you in case you need to call them instead. For instance, I once had a phone interview scheduled, and I was never called. Turns out the recruiter was waiting for me to call her!

Additionally, if you know when your interview will be, make sure to pick a private location to do your interview. For instance, you probably do not want to take an interview call in the break room of your current job. If your interview is during the work day, go out to your car to do the interview. Just make sure to drive off the property lest your boss sees you in your car talking on the phone!

7. Don’t Stress
Interviews are mostly in the prep work, so if you have done your homework, there is nothing to stress about.

Etiquettes During Phone Interview

During the Phone Interview

So you have done your preparations, and it is time for the interview. The phone begins to ring. What do you do now? Here are some tips for acing a phone interview.

1. Answer the Phone Professionally
Don’t answer the phone by saying, “Hello?” Instead say, “This is ____.” Fill in the blank with your first name. This is typically how people answer the phone in the business world.

2. Call On Time
If you are supposed to call them instead, make sure you call exactly on time. If you call too early, it may make you seem over-anxious, and if you call a few minutes late, it will show that you are not prompt.

3. Speak with Enthusiasm
Your voice tone is representing your body language so it is important to speak with inflection and show some personality. Try to sound enthusiastic instead of monotone.

4. Be Persuasive
An interview is not the time to be humble. You need to sell yourself. Don’t lose sight of the goal just because you are on the phone instead of face-to-face.

5. Insert the Company Name and Interviewer’s Name When Appropriate
I always notice when someone inserts my name into a sentence when they are speaking to me. “How are you doing, Casey?” It makes the statement or question seem more personal even if it is already directed towards me. It makes me feel valued. Do the same during an interview, and especially a phone interview when body language is absent. Just make sure to refer to the interviewer as Mr. or Ms. until told otherwise.

6. Answer Succinctly
Remember that one of the purposes of a phone interview is to weed out applicants. Phone interviews are meant to be kept short. That means you have a limited amount of time to sell yourself. Answer questions thoroughly, but try not to babble or talk in circles.

7. Be Polite
Since you cannot read the body language of the interviewer, it is more difficult to see when they are about to speak – making it easy to interrupt. Be cognizant of that fact. Also remember to smile and say thank you.

8. Take Notes
Write down anything that the interviewer tells you. It may be important later on in the interview process.

9. Inquire About Next Steps
Ask when you should anticipate hearing something back from the company. Also make sure you have contact information from the interviewer.

After the Phone Interview

The phone interview process is not over when you hang up the phone. There are three things that you need to do immediately afterwards.

1. Summarize Notes
If you scribbled some things down during the interview, take the time now to write it all out so that it makes sense. If you wait to make sense of it later, chances are you willy be guessing what your short hand means.

2. Send a Thank You Note
Send a quick thank you e-mail to your interviewer. If you have her physical address, also send your interviewer a thank you note. The more she sees your name, the better the impression that you’ll leave.

3. Consider If the Position Is a Good Fit for You
After discussing the position with someone from the company, does it sound like a good fit for you? Is it worth your time and effort to continue on with the interview process if you are selected for the next round?

Final Word

Although phone interviews may not be as natural as face-to-face interviews tend to be, there are some great advantages to the phone interview. Take advantage of a cheat sheet and any other resource that you may find helpful. Remember to take a phone interview seriously and to show your enthusiasm in your voice. Give the recruiter a good first impression of your personality, and make the phone interview memorable.

Have you gone through a phone interview recently? What are some of your best tips and mistakes to avoid? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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