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How to Nail a Phone Interview

How to Nail a Phone Interview

If you are currently on the hunt for a new position, being prepared for a phone interview is a must. Today many companies conduct an initial phone screen, primarily to gauge your interest in the position.  They also look to review your experience and to ultimately decide if they should bring you in for an interview. A phone interview can be pre-scheduled or can come out of the blue, so you need to be ready!

Be Professional

If you are actively searching and applying for a new position, chances are that at some point, either a recruiter or employer will reach out via phone. The most important advice that I can give you is to answer your phone professionally! First impressions are everything and if you answer the phone in a casual manner, you may lose your chance at landing that interview. My suggestion to candidates is that if a number comes up on your phone that is not recognized be sure to switch into professional mode. A simple “Good afternoon John Smith speaking” will go along way.

Another good idea is to ensure that your voicemail is set up (accepting messages) and that you have a professional greeting. You want to be sure that if for some reason you miss an employer’s call, they know that they have the right number/person and that they aren’t turned off by a casual voicemail.

Employers typically conduct phone interviews to narrow down the candidate pool. The good news is that if you receive a phone call you have made their list of candidates being considered for that role. The bad news is that they are looking to narrow that list through phone screens. Not to worry! Need a New Gig is here to help and we will make sure you nail that conversation!


In most cases, an employer will pre-schedule a phone interview so you will have time to prepare for the call. There are some cases, however, when an organization may call you directly without notice. We will touch on some direct call tips in a minute, but if you review this information, you should have enough preparation to make it through any call.

Scheduled call

If you have advance notice for your call, you should prepare for it just like an in-person interview. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the job description, and have examples on hand of past experiences that apply to the position. Make a list of your strengths and how those can also be used in this role.  Don’t forget to do your homework on the organization and learn more about what they do.

Another great way to prepare for the call is to go through your resume and past experience. Review each position and your responsibilities, and write down explanations for transitions in your career. Interviewers will typically go through your background, or ask for an overview, so it is a good idea to have a clean-cut summary of each previous position.

Finally, don’t forget to have a list of questions for the interviewer. Chances are that many of these will be answered during the interview, but it is always good to ask 2-3 questions at the end of the call to reiterate your interest.

Unexpected call

If the call is not pre-scheduled there are a few things that you can do to ensure that it goes well. First off, if you see a call coming in from a number that you do not recognize, be sure to answer professionally or let it go to voicemail. If you answer the call, try your best to get to somewhere quiet where you can concentrate. Try to answer their questions as best (and direct) as possible. Since they will be catching you off guard, you will not have materials in front of you to refer to, so try to stay calm and be yourself. If the call goes to voicemail, make sure you have everything you need and are prepared before calling back.

Practice the Interview

Aside from getting all of your information together, it is also a great idea to consider practicing. It may sound funny to have someone conduct a mock interview with you, but talking on the phone isn’t as easy as it sounds (especially if it has been awhile since your last interview).  Have them ask you a series of questions about your background, experience, future goals etc. I also suggest having them ask you a random question that you aren’t expecting to make you think on your toes!

Some professionals even recommend recording your practice interview. This is easy to do and can be very beneficial. Most of today’s cell phones are equipped with a voice recorder, which works great.   This will help identify areas where you can improve. It will also help nail down answers to common questions, which will make your responses flow easily during your interview. Some common areas of improvement to listen for are:

  • Be sure you are saying “yes” instead of “yeah”
  • Try to get rid of long pause pauses and “ums”
  • Listen for word or phrase repetition
  • Work on speed to ensure sure you aren’t talking too fast or slow
  • Be concise and to the point with your answers
  • Make sure you aren’t talking too much where you get away from the initial question

Before the Call

The day has finally arrived for your phone interview, and you are prepared and ready to go! There are a few pre-call preparations we recommend to ensure that everything goes well.

First off, give yourself a 10-15 minute window before your call. This will allow you some extra time to get comfortable, and you will also be ready in case the call comes in early. Make sure that you are in a quiet room that is distraction-free. Be sure to have a copy of your resume on hand, along with any notes or materials that you may need to refer to. I also recommend having a bottle of water with you in case your throat gets dry from talking.

Don’t forget to answer professionally when you answer the phone!

During the Call

Once you have answered the phone and your interview has started, try your best to act like you are having a face-to-face conversation with the interviewer. By simply smiling, it will help project upbeat energy and a positive attitude. Speak slowly and give clear, to the point answers to their questions. Be sure not to interrupt during the call and don’t rush. It is totally fine to gather your thoughts for a minute before responding.

Don’t forget to have a few questions up your sleeve. When an interviewer asks what questions you have, the worst response is to say that you don’t have any. As the interview closes, be sure to thank them for their time, and ask when you should expect to hear feedback.

After the Call

Take a deep breath and a drink of water now that you are done!  Remember to follow up with your interviewer after the call to help reiterate your interest in the opportunity. If you have their contact information, be sure to send them a quick note to thank them for their time on the phone and to let them know that you are excited about next steps!

Dan Metz is the Director of Executive Search and Employee Development at the Resilience Group, LLC, and Co-Founder and Contributing Author for Need a New Gig.  Follow his blog for more great tips like this!