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

Many recruiters and hiring managers use phone interviews as a way to filter candidates. A simple phone call is a quick and easy way to vet job seekers who have the right skills and experience for the job, so it’s up to you to prove your professional worth and increase your chances of being asked for an online or in-person interview down the road.

There are many ways you can prepare yourself to impress potential employers over the phone before, during, and after the interview. Here are some of the best tips for executing a successful phone interview that will help to land you a job offer.

Why Are Phone Interviews Important?

There are three main steps recruiters and hiring managers use to sift through potential candidates when hiring for an open position: job applications, phone interviews, and face-to-face or online interviews.

If your cover letter and resume are a match for the role, you’ll make it through the application process to the next phase, which is often a straightforward but telling phone call, where you’ll be asked some basic interview questions and to clarify information from your resume.

In roles and industries where competition is high, phone interviews play an essential role in determining whether or not you’ll move forward in the hiring process. If you’re unprepared, you could lose out to another candidate who took the time beforehand to research the company, come up with answers to common phone interview questions, and planned ahead to avoid any technical difficulties or interruptions.

Phone interviews can help recruiters and hiring managers to:

  • Determine whether your personality is a fit for the hiring company’s culture. For some companies, culture is an important part of ensuring that new hires are a fit, and a phone call can help to showcase whether your personality will match those of your team members, managers, or co-workers. For example, how you conduct yourself over the phone can make you seem shy, outgoing, confident, formal, or casual.
  • Find out how strong your verbal communication skills are. If the position will require you to speak with customers or clients or to present new information to other staff members, how well you communicate verbally is an important part of the role. A brief call can be quite informative when it comes to gauging how well you speak to others and whether you’ll be able to conduct yourself professionally and confidently when making cold calls, handling customer service issues, or giving presentations.
  • Confirm or clarify your application details. Sometimes, your resume doesn’t give a recruiter or hiring manager as much information as they’d like to have. For example, it’s common for potential employers to want to know more about any career gaps, reasons for leaving a previous employer, or unfinished educational endeavors. Phone interviews allow them to confirm details about your application that may be unclear or too brief, clarifying whether you’re a qualified applicant.
  • Tell you more about the company. Some positions have special requirements, like working weekends or frequent travel. Phone interviews allow potential employers to explain any uncommon or difficult requirements to you so that you’re both on the same page. This gives you the chance to decide whether you want to pursue the position and ensures the hiring manager that you know exactly what the job will entail before you both invest time into a full formal interview.
  • Save time and money on in-person interviews. In high-level positions, recruiters sometimes have to search for candidates in another city or state, which means they often have to foot the bill for travel to and from an in-person interview. Phone interviews can save money on flights, cabs, and hotels, as well as time invested in interviewing candidates who aren’t a good match.

How to Prepare Before a Phone Interview

Regardless of whether your interview is in-person or over the phone, you’re more likely to succeed if you prepare yourself in advance. Here are some ways to prepare to put your best foot forward before a phone interview starts.

1. Research the Company

Knowing as much as possible about the company you’re interviewing for before you talk to a hiring manager or recruiter will help to put you on the right path when it comes to your phone interview.

Familiarize yourself with basic information about the company, like what it does, its history, and any notable achievements or projects. Review the company’s website, social media pages, LinkedIn, and any review sites like Glassdoor to get a well-rounded overview of what the company does and what the culture is like.

2. Prepare a Cheat Sheet

One of the benefits of phone interviews is that no one can see whether you have notes in front of you. Jot down some of the information about the company and try to find some projects of your own to mention that seem like a fit. Make a note of any numbers you want to reference from successful projects, like how much you increased profit or how many new customers you brought in.

You can also write down any questions you would like to ask or prompts for how you can handle inappropriate interview questions so that you don’t freeze if they come up.

Keep your notes straightforward and use them as a reference only. Reading them word for word sounds much different than when you answer a question conversationally, making it apparent that you’re not confident you can get through the interview without a helping hand.

3. Screen Your Phone Calls

Sometimes human resources representatives will give you a call without letting you know in advance. Although this is often inconvenient, it’s impossible to predict. That means that, once you start a job search, you need to be careful about how you answer calls, even if an unknown number pops up on your phone screen.

If you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, you can either let it go to voicemail or answer it. If it does happen to be a potential employer and you’re not able to talk, ask them if and when you can reschedule. It’s completely fine to ask to speak at another time, especially because the call was unexpected.

4. Practice With a Friend or Family Member

Not everyone likes talking on the phone. If you’re one of those people, practice your phone interview with a friend, family member, or colleague to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. For instance, do you say “um” or “uh” too often? Do you interrupt the other speaker?

Rehearse common interview questions and answers so that you know what you want to say when asked by a potential employer.

Getting comfortable with talking on the phone can help you to get rid of some of your job interview jitters and give you an indication of any bad habits to watch for.

5. Prepare Your Own Interview Questions

Having a few thoughtful questions to ask at the end of a job interview impresses potential employers and helps you to gather information about the company. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to decide whether you can see yourself working there.

Although you can certainly come up with questions as you go, try to have a list of questions written down that you can fall back on if none come up during the interview.

6. Double-Check Interview Details

The date, time, and phone number are all important details in a phone interview. Confirm when it’s taking place, in what time zone, and who is calling whom. Schedule the phone interview for a time when you know you’ll be able to access a quiet room and where you’ll have good cellphone service so that everything goes smoothly.

It’s also a good idea to confirm the name of the person you’ll be talking to and to make sure that you know how to pronounce it properly. If you’re not confident you know how to say it, you can ask them at the beginning of the phone call, or try your luck using an online pronunciation dictionary like Forvo.

7. Print Your Resume and Cover Letter

The recruiter or hiring manager who calls you will probably ask you to walk them through your resume, which will be hard to do if it’s not in front of you. And you don’t want to scramble to find it while your interviewer waits.

Print both your cover letter and resume before your telephone interview so that you can reference them if need be.

8. Have Your Computer Ready

Whether you prefer to use a laptop or desktop computer, plan to have it ready for your phone interview. Make sure it’s charged, updated, and that your volume is off. Have the company website, social media pages, or other relevant tabs open in your browser, as well as the job posting.

Try not to type too much or too often because it can be heard over the phone, which makes you seem distracted.

9. Update Your Voicemail Message

If you happen to miss your job interview call, or a recruiter or hiring manager tries to reach you for an unscheduled chat, they could end up going to your voicemail. If your message is unprofessional or inappropriate, you may not get an opportunity to reschedule.

During any job search, make sure that your voicemail message is polite, professional, and clear.

For example, use something like this:

“Hi, you’ve reached [your name]. I’m not able to come to the phone right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Choose a quiet space when recording your message and minimize any background noise from traffic, household members, or your TV or music player.

10. Charge Your Phone

If you’re not using a landline for your phone interview, make sure that your cellphone is fully charged and ready to go, and have your charging cable on hand just in case. Do your interview in a room where you can easily plug in your phone without causing an interruption.

11. Look Up Your Interviewer on LinkedIn

Before your interview takes place, find your interviewer on LinkedIn. Take note of their role in the company, how long they’re been there, and what kind of professional path got them to where they are now.

Look for experience or background you share in common, like an alma mater, volunteering experience, or even a mutual connection. Bring up any shared experiences or relevant acquaintances in the interview to create a personal link between you and the person interviewing you.

12. Avoid Interruptions

Choose a quiet, low-traffic room for your phone interview. Inform household members of when the area will be off-limits and close or lock the door to any pets or children. If you have to schedule a phone interview while at work, do it in your car during a break.

Select a time when you know you’ll be available and in a position to have a focused, uninterrupted conversation.

13. Relax

If you’ve done everything you can to prepare for your phone interview, there’s no reason to be stressed out. Try to relax because nerves can make their way into your voice, causing you to sound uncertain or uneasy. Take a deep breath and treat the interview like an interesting conversation and an opportunity to learn.


How to Do Well During a Phone Interview

Preparing for your phone interview will put you a few steps ahead of the competition, but you’ll still have to make it through the call itself, all while impressing your potential employer and showcasing your professional skills and experience.

Here are some phone interview tips you can use while talking to a hiring manager or recruiter.

1. Answer the Call Professionally

When you answer the call for your phone interview, try to avoid simply saying “Hello?” Instead, try:

  • Good afternoon, [your name] speaking.
  • Hello, this is [your name].
  • [Your name] speaking.

These greetings all eliminate the need for the interviewer to make sure they’re talking to the right person and make you sound like you’re used to speaking professionally on the phone.

2. Be on Time

Even though it’s not an in-person interview, it’s still important for you to be on time. If the recruiter or hiring manager is calling you, make sure that you are ready to answer the phone when they call.

If you are calling them, call them at the time you scheduled together. If you call them too early, they may not be ready for your interview. Call too late, and you appear unprepared and disorganized.

3. Speak With Enthusiasm

Your tone of voice and facial expressions can go a long way in making you sound engaged and interested during a phone conversation, even if the interviewer can’t see your face. Because you can’t use body language to emphasize your statements or questions, try to smile, intonate, and inject your personality into the way that you speak when you answer interview questions.

Speak at a consistent volume so that your interviewer can hear you and try to avoid being monotone.

4. Tout Your Talents

In a phone interview, you need to sell yourself just as much as you would during a face-to-face. Talk about your experience, accomplishments, and professional achievements. Pull relevant skills and requirements from the job description and draw direct connections to the abilities that make you a fit.

Reference your notes for specific numbers and quantifiable results that you achieved so that you can back up your claims with data.

5. Use Proper Names When Appropriate

When possible, use the company name and the name of your interviewer as you answer questions. For instance, if the hiring manager asks you why you would be a good fit for the position, begin your answer with, “I think I would be a great fit for [company name] because…”

At the end of the interview, thank the recruiter by name for their time by saying, “Thanks so much for your time, [recruiter name]. I really appreciate it.”

This creates a personal connection between you and the company, and you and the person who is interviewing you, which helps you to stand out and get noticed over other prospective candidates.

6. Optimize Your Answers

Keep your answers straightforward and to the point. Phone interviews are generally meant to be quicker than their in-office counterparts, so be mindful of the time and keep your answers short. Avoid talking in circles or overexplaining. If a recruiter wants to know more about something you’ve said, they’ll ask.

7. Be Polite

Because you can’t see each other, it’s easy for you and the interviewer to accidentally interrupt one another during a phone interview. If that happens, let the hiring manager speak first. Don’t talk over them, even if what they’re saying is incorrect. Instead, wait for them to finish, and then provide clarification.

Mind your manners and remember to apologize if you unintentionally cut them off or interrupt them.

8. Take Notes

During your phone interview, feel free to take notes about the company or job that you want to remember. This could include details about the benefits the company has to offer or specific programs you would need to learn to use if you were hired.

This can give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the role and company, which will help you during an in-person interview. If possible, take notes in writing or on a touch screen to avoid the noise of keystrokes in the background, which the interviewer could misinterpret as you being distracted while they’re talking.

9. Don’t Putter Around

While your phone interview is taking place, sit down and stay put. Don’t putter around your office or tidy up your kitchen. Your interviewer will be able to hear background noise, and if it sounds like you’re unloading the dishwasher or running to check the mail, it’ll make you seem like you aren’t taking the interview seriously.

Choose a comfortable chair at a desk or table and commit to staying there for the duration of the interview to minimize noise and encourage you to focus.

10. Avoid Salary Questions

Because a phone interview is one of the first steps in the hiring process, leave your questions about salary expectations and benefits for the next round. This call is simply meant to help both you and the hiring manager determine fit, and asking questions about compensation at this time can be inappropriately premature.

11. Ask About Next Steps

At the end of your phone interview, ask about the rest of the hiring process and what the next steps will be. You can also confirm when you should expect to hear back and what the best way to get in touch is if you have any additional questions after the call.


What to Do After a Phone Interview

Once your phone interview ends, there are a few additional tasks for you to take care of.

1. Summarize Your Notes

The notes you took during the call are probably in short-hand or were quickly scribbled down as you listened to the interviewer speak. Take a few minutes to write them out clearly or type them so that you can reference them down the road if you get a call for an in-person interview.

2. Send a Thank You Email

After your interview, send a quick thank you note to the recruiter or hiring manager who interviewed you. Here’s a basic template you can use:

Hi [interviewer name],

Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me today. I hope to hear from you again soon.

If you have any additional questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Warm regards,

[Your name]

3. Decide Whether You Want the Job

After a phone interview, you should have a better idea of whether the position you applied for is a fit for you. Based on the interview questions and the hiring manager’s reactions to your answers, you should be able to gauge whether you want to participate in an in-person or video interview if offered.


Final Word

Being an interviewee can feel intimidating and uncomfortable, even during phone interviews. By preparing in advance, conducting yourself professionally and respectfully during the call, and thanking the hiring manager for their time, you’ll increase your chances of making a positive impression and landing an in-office interview.

Be polite, minimize distractions, and sell your skills to make your phone interview memorable, keeping you top of mind with potential employers.

Brittany Foster
Brittany Foster is a professional writer with a background in contract law, real estate, and content marketing living in Nova Scotia, Canada. When she's not at her desk you can find her in the woods, on the couch, or behind a camera.

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