8 Phone Interview Tips That Will Land You A Second Interview

By Jeff Gillis

Congratulations!

Your resume is stellar, your application was impeccable, you’ve caught a potential employer’s attention and now they want to get to know you better.

In years gone by that would have meant an in person interview but in today’s increasingly busy digital world, many preliminary and some final interviews are being held in a wide variety of mediums including on the phone.

A phone interview? As in, we talk on the phone and not actually in person? As in, they have NO idea what I’m actually wearing during the interview!? This is AMAZING!  

Great, right?

FREE BONUS PDF CHEAT SHEET: Get our "Phone Interview Questions & Answers Cheat Sheet" that gives you word for word sample answers to the most common phone interview questions that you can use in your next phone interview.

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Nothing like an interview for your dream job where you can lounge around in your pajamas, secretly watching TV out of the corner of your eye and, gasp, maybe even surf the web at the same time and update your status to “Kickin’ it in my footie jammies knockin’ out my interview!”

No…this guy isn’t ready for his phone interview!

Not so fast. Yes, it’s true, your future boss might not need to know that you’re on the other end of the line in your favorite Scooby Doo flannels, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat the phone interview as seriously, if not more seriously, than any other standard interview.

But..but…but…

No buts.

Just because you’re not face to face with a potential employer doesn’t mean it’s time to throw all our hard learned interview rules out the window.

A good old telephone interview might sound like the perfect opportunity to slack and kick back, but in actuality, you have to work even HARDER to make yourself stand out to a potential employer.

But before we dive into the actual tips for phone interviews:

Why do some employers ask for phone interviews in the first place?

  • In order to quickly eliminate you as a candidate. This is especially common in big companies. Instead of spending the time and resources needed to bring you in for an in person interview they’ll want to see if you give them a reason to cross your name off the list.
  • Interview candidates that are out of town or aren’t able to attend an in person interview for whatever reason.

The point is, this is probably your first point of real contact with the company. While you’re not going to land the job from phone interview (most likely) you certainly can lose it!

Unique as phone interviews are in the job hunting world, at their core they are still pretty similar to any other interview and should be taken just as seriously…if not more seriously.

More seriously? Is that even a thing?

You bet your Scooby Doo flannels it is.

You see, one advantage an in-person interview has is the employer gets to physically meet you…shake your hand, and see one on one just how the chemistry works.

All of these things, which might seem rather insignificant in the moment, are actually critical parts of any interview.

When you’re interviewing via phone, you’re going to have to work even harder to make sure you are coming off as personable, capable, and above all…the perfect candidate.

So what exactly can you expect from a phone interview? Below are things you absolutely need to consider before picking up that phone!

What To Expect In A Phone Interview

  1. Usually one interviewer only – not a group
  2. Hiring manager “trying to eliminate you”
  3. Varying “interviewer styles” (ex. casual or formal)
  4. Basic questions about your personal life
  5. Housekeeping questions (ex. availability, travel, etc.)
  6. Potential salary expectation discussion
  7. A few “odd-ball” questions
  8. Hiring manager expects focus – no distractions!
  9. Back and forth dialogue – pause and listen.
  10. Standard job interview questions
  11. No “next interview” promises

The last point is key. It’s quite rare that you will get an offer of an in-person interview at the end of your phone call. But don’t be discouraged!

The general practice is for the hiring manager to assess all of her phone interviews and create a short-list of candidates to be brought in for in-person interviews.

If you’ve followed our tips, you’ll surely be getting another call from her to be brought in.

OK, so how do you prepare for this bold new frontier of employment screening? Luckily almost all of the standard rules from in person interviews still apply, so the basic prep work is essentially the same but there are some tips specific to phone interviews than can really be of help:

8 Phone Interview Tips

  1. Take it as seriously as an in person interview
  2. Focus and cut out all distractions
  3. Do some research before the interview
  4. Listen and don’t dominate the conversation
  5. Prepare your own “cheat sheet”
  6. Slow down and take your time
  7. Be ready for common phone interview questions
  8. Send a thank you email
  9. (BONUS) Direct them to your personal website

See below for our instructions on each tip!

 1. Take It As Seriously As An In Person Interview

THIS IS AN INTERVIEW! Treat it like one! That means be ready! Make sure you’re well rested. The last thing an interviewer wants to do is feel as though they’re interrupting something else you’re doing, or worse, woken you up.

When your interview is first scheduled, make sure you set aside time BEFORE the interview to prep for it.

If it’s an early morning interview, make sure you’re “going” before the phone rings.

Get up, get moving.

Get your vocal cords warmed up. Brew a cup of coffee or tea and be ready for your day. Brush your teeth!

Speaking of getting up and going…that means changing out of your jammies too.

But they’re so comfortable!

No. No. No. No.

This is just as much a mental game as a physical game and dressing the part (even if they can’t see you) can really help you kick your mind into the right frame to get you the job. If you’re slouching around and being lazy, it will come through in your interview…even if you’re trying your hardest to fake it. Trust us, interviewers will know…

Dress the part…get the part.

JEFF'S TIP

If you get a phone call out of the blue and you think it could be for a phone interview, I would suggest letting it go to voice message, listening to the message, prepare for the phone interview appropriately and then call them back ready to rock. - Or - If you do happen to answer the phone unknowingly, let the interviewer know that you aren't able to speak freely and ask if you can schedule a time for the call. DON'T TRY AND WING IT!

2. Focus And Cut Out All Distractions

Make sure you’re not distracted. Turn off the TV. Let me repeat that. TURN OFF THE TV.

Nobody wants to ask you about your past performances and work history and hear Sponge Bob in the background.   Don’t think putting it on mute is good enough either. People can tell if you’re distracted and delaying your answers to a potential employer because you’re reading the crawler at the bottom of FOX News isn’t going to score you any points.

Get comfortable, but don’t get too comfortable.

Find a good spot to sit down and have all your prep materials nearby for easy access.

Sit at the kitchen table or at a desk.

Don’t lay down. Don’t slouch. Make sure distractions are not going to be an issue.

If you’re doing the interview at home and you’re not alone, make sure everyone knows you’re going to be busy for a bit and to give you some privacy. Put the dogs outside. Pop in a video for the kids. Have your spouse keep everyone calm. At the very least go into a room where you can shut the door and focus on the task at hand.

So, now that you’re up and dressed, let’s get ready for that interview!

First and foremost, make sure you’re presenting yourself in the most professional way possible, from the very first “Hello,” all the way to the “Goodbye.”

3. Do Some Research Before The Interview

Odds are you’ve applied to more than one company and it’s always helpful to know a bit about who you’re talking to, from both a professional and a business standpoint.

Double check the job description you’re interviewing for.

Google the company. See how they’re doing and what they’re doing.

If you know who’s doing your interview you can see what sort of digital footprint they have and find out more about them on a personal level. Look them up on LinkedIn but don’t go overboard.

It’s never a good idea to send them a Facebook Friend Request before you even have the interview…in fact, it’s probably not a good idea afterwards either. Maybe in six months when you’ve already got the job and you’re all good friends having lunch twice a week…but not yet.

The best part about doing this research is it also allows you to tailor your answers when you start getting hit with those interview questions.

Tailoring your answers is the best possible way to ensure that not only are you satisfying what the interviewer is asking, you’re positioning yourself to be the best possible candidate for the job…or, dare we say…the perfect candidate!

Remember as you’re pouring over all those notes you culled about the company and what they stand for that your ultimate goal is to be everything they need in a candidate and that means making sure your answers are specific, targeted and tailored…in a nutshell, customized.

They’re looking for a specific set of knowledge, skills and abilities and it’s the person that embodies all of these that is going to get the job…and if you tailor your answers and show that you’re (honestly) that person…well, then…welcome to your new career!

Need a refresher on tailoring? Check out our Job Interview Questions and Answers 101” article. Trust us, you’ll thank us later!

Before you continue, be sure to get our phone interview questions and answers cheat sheet. In it you’ll get word-for-word sample answers that you can use on your next phone interview. Click here to get the cheat sheet.

4. Listen And Don’t Dominate The Conversation

Yes, this is an interview which means they’re going to be asking you questions, but it’s also an opportunity to show your potential employer that you’re good at listening too.

Talk, but don’t dominate the conversation. Let the interviewer guide the conversation.

Answer the questions, but don’t turn it into a one sided monologue. This is as much about you getting to know them as it is about them getting to know you.

Keep a pencil and paper nearby so you can jot down questions and notes and save them for the end.

Ask a few follow up questions but don’t flip the interview onto the interviewer. It helps to reinforce to the interviewer that you’re truly interested in the company and the job and that you’ve paid attention during the interview.

Have a copy of your resume with you so you can reference it at any time. Keep your answers honest, thoughtful and reflective.

Make sure you breathe and speak clearly.

Most importantly, smile! Sure, they might not be able to see it, but your tone of voice will reflect it.

5. Prepare Your Own Cheat Sheet

Like all good interviews, it’s not just about answering questions, but asking the right ones as well.

The right questions not only help you get information you might need to make an informed decision regarding the job, but it also helps confirm your qualifications as the ideal candidate for the position.

Ask about the different aspects of the job and express genuine interest and excitement in the opportunity.

Take the time to make sure that this is the organization you want to work for…it’ll save you a ton of heartache and headaches in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to dig for more details about the position and the company.

Ask questions about the job that weren’t covered in the job posting…ask about specifics and get details.

You need to know exactly what you’re getting into before you say yes to the job…

Make sure you prepare your own list of questions before you start. Make sure your questions are thoughtful and have a purpose.

Need some examples to use or ideas to kick start your own list? Check out our “Top 14 Questions to Ask In An Interview” blog post.

Remember though to keep these questions short and sweet. Again, remember, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” How can you fulfill their needs?

6. Slow Down

Take a beat (or a breath) between the interviewer asking you a question and when you start answering it.

Sometimes people ask questions but then continue to talk rather than waiting for you to answer. Give the interviewer a second or two after each question before you start so you don’t both end up talking at once…which can be awkward to say the least.

Also, as you’re pausing, it gives you a chance to really think about what you’re going to say rather than just rattling off whatever happens to pop in your mind first.

Be thoughtful. Be thorough. Be concise.

And speaking of taking a breath, don’t forget to breathe during those questions!

Take your time and pronounce your words clearly. Speak slowly enough to be understood. You’re interviewing for a job, and unless that job is for a carnival barker or auctioneer, slow down!

At the same time, don’t be so slow you drop into the dreaded monotone robot. You need to have enthusiasm in your voice while you interview and the easiest way to interject that is to smile!

That’s right…smile!

The interviewer might not be able to see it, but they will be able to hear it…and that can go a long way in making you stand out for all the right reasons.

green-question-mark-small7. Be Ready For Common Phone Interview Questions

Speaking of questions (which you should already be prepping for by doing your research and running through our list of practice questions and answers) there are phone interview specific questions you should prepare yourself for as well.

We can’t guarantee that the interviewer will ask you these, but it’s always better to be prepared so you’re not caught off guard if they are asked! Practice answering them before your interview.

It’ll not only help with nerves (it’s like knowing the answers to a test before you take it!) it’ll make your responses more targeted.

1. “Are you willing to relocate for this job”

Odds are, if you’re doing a phone interview, it’s because you’re not in the same area the work is.

This is a question you should ask yourself LONG BEFORE the interviewer does…and one you have to answer honestly! There is no fudging this question. If you can’t move, say so. If you can, say so.

2. “Will you travel for this job?”

Again, one you should consider before the interview. This one might be a little easier than the first question as it means you should be able to come back to wherever you are right now…but again, keep in mind what this means to both your professional and personal life. Be honest. Be honest. Be honest.

 

3. “What interests you about this job?”

If the job requires you to relocate or to do a lot of traveling, then hopefully your answer is “travel!” Generally if you’re calling from a location far from where the job is actually located, odds are this is a question you’re bound to get…especially if there are other comparable jobs within your geographic area.

When you answer this question, make sure to tailor the answer to fit the qualifications listed in the job posting, then loop them back to connect to your skills and experience. You want the employer to see you not only know about the job you’re interviewing for, but that you’re qualified and a good fit!

 

4. “If you were hired, how soon can you start?”

Oh boy. If you’re an out of area hire and are required to relocate, this answer is far from a simple one.

First off, don’t ever answer with “Now!” Not only will you come off as desperate, but if you’re already employed with another job, you’re going to have to do the right thing and give notice.

It’s easy to get intimidated (or excited) and over-commit to an early start date…but the worst thing you can do is give a date to a new employer and then have to ask for more time. Not the right way to start out your long and mutually beneficial working relationship! Then you have to factor in the actual logistics of making a move.

Even one just across town can be as daunting as one across states…or in some cases, countries!   Depending on the size of your move (don’t forget to factor in things like other family members, kids, pets, spouse, etc.) you could be looking at anything from a few days to a few months.

Again, be honest!

Many employers, if they’re genuinely interested in hiring you, will have programs in place to help you relocate and ease the burdens that come with a full move.

If they don’t, make sure to take that into consideration as well.   Words to the wise…always ask for MORE time than you initially think you’ll need. Trust us, in the long run, it’s far better to have more time than you need than to run out and have to ask for an extension.

One thing NOT to focus on during an initial phone interview is salary…at least not until you’ve had a chance to read our article “When And How To Discuss Salary During The Job Interview Process.

8. Send A Thank You Email After Phone Interview

No, this isn’t a good enough thank you note!

Remember, this stage is about making good first impressions and the fact that you’re doing this all via phone makes the follow up even more critical.

Make sure you not only end your phone call on a positive note, but follow up in a timely manner with a thoughtful thank you email after your interview.

Let the interviewer know you appreciated them taking time to talk to you and that you enjoyed it and that you are invested in the process.

It will help you stand out and reinforce that you’re truly interested in the position. Above all remember that the focus here is on how you add value to the company, not just what your past experiences are and what you’re good at.

9. (BONUS) Direct Them To Your Personal Branding Website

Say whaaat?  Personal branding website?

Oh what, you didn’t know the strategy that all the best job seekers are employing in 2017?

It’s true, having your own personal branding website can be one of the most powerful tools you use as part of your job search.

Why?  Well there are dozens of reasons, but most importantly, a personal website will allow you to impress hiring managers, differentiate yourself from your competitors, increase your visibility online (and own the Google search of your name) and create a hub for your personal brand online.

Not to mention it lets you show off so much more of your personality than your resume or cover letter can.  And this is absolutely HUGE for someone having a phone interview, when the name of the game is standing out and being memorable.

What do you think is more memorable?  Someone who submits their resume and cover letter and then answers a few questions over the phone… or someone who does all of the above and then directs the hiring manager over to their website, allowing them to receive the many benefits I listed above?

It’s a no brainer… and here’s a little secret.

It’s not that hard.

Especially since I made a blog post for you that shows you exactly how to do it, How To Set Up Your Personal Website In Under 15 Minutes.  This blog post will hold your hand through the process and make it brain-dead easy for you, even if you are terrible at using computers.

Introducing Your Website In Your Phone Interview

Once you’ve been able to set up your site, this is how you bring it up in a phone interview…

Traditionally, near the end of the interview the hiring manager will say something like, “Is there anything else that you want me to know that we haven’t covered in this interview?”

Now is your chance!

“I’d love you to check out my personal website JeffGillis.com.  It will give you a great idea of the work I have accomplished, the experiences I’ve had and most importantly, the type of person you’ll be getting if you decide to hire me for this position.”

In doing this you will not only give the hiring manager a much more engaging and interesting experience, but you’ll also show what an intelligent, dedicated and forward-thinking individual you are.

Sounds like someone I would want to hire!

So there you have it!  If you follow the tips above (especially bonus tip #9!), you can almost guarantee to have the interviewer eating out of your hand… even if they aren’t in the same room as you.

Once that’s all done and you’ve hit send on that thank you note, reward yourself for an interview well done!

And yes, now that you’ve knocked that phone interview out of the ballpark and you’re confident in your tailored answers and thoughtful questions…go ahead and put those Scooby Doo flannels back on!

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FREE: "Phone Interview Questions & Answers" PDF CHEAT SHEET

Get our handy "Phone Interview Questions & Answers" cheat sheet.

In it you'll get word-for-word sample answers that you can use in your next phone interview.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE CHEAT SHEET

Phone Interview FAQ

What questions are asked in a phone interview?

Here are some common phone interview questions: 1. Are you willing to relocate for this job? 2. Will you travel for this job? 3. What interests you about this job? If you were hired, how soon can you start? 5. Why should we hire you? 6. Tell me about yourself… 7. What are your strengths?

How long is a phone interview?

Around 30 minutes. Think of it like a gatekeeper interview, to see if you are qualified to get an in person interview. That’s why what you deliver during those 30 odd minutes is important!

What is the purpose of a phone interview?

The most common purpose of a phone interview is to eliminate any candidates that are clearly not a good fit for the position. The other potential purpose of a phone interview is to interview candidates that may be out of town or unable to attend the in person interview.

Should I send a thank you email after a phone interview?

Yes! If you can get a hold of the interviewer’s contact information definitely send a thank you email or note. It will help you stand out and reinforce that you’re truly interested in the position.

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.