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How to Do a Phone Interview

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I had my first telephone interview last week and it went well. Actually, it went better than I expected, and I have another one scheduled for this afternoon. Hopefully, the second phone screening will result in me being called in for a live interview.

I learned a few things about doing telephone interviews, so I thought I would share them with everyone.

Schedule an appropriate time and location

You need privacy and a quiet location to do your best. This allows you to concentrate on your responses and not worry about interruptions or eavesdroppers.

I work close to home, so I scheduled my interview to occur before lunch (a more appropriate time than after lunch, when people tend to be sleepy). I took a couple hours personal time, did my interview, then ate lunch. When I returned to work, no one had a clue I had just done an interview on my own time.

If you can’t make it home, you can consider doing a phone screening from your car or a public location that has minimal noise and allows you to converse without interruptions. A place like Starbucks or Panera Bread may work fine for your situation. Grab a booth in the corner, set up your notepad, and get prepared.

The absolute worst place you can do a phone interview is from your cubicle at work. In fact, you probably shouldn’t do it from work at all. Even though that empty conference room might be tempting, I am pretty sure most companies would seriously frown on using company time and resources to interview for a position with another company. In fact, it may be grounds for dismissal.

Be prepared

You should be well read on the position you are applying for and the company you are applying with. Nothing will turn an interviewer off faster than not knowing about the position for which you are interviewing, or admitting you only applied for the job because “it sounded cool.”

At the minimum you should brush up on the company’s business structure, clients, products, industry terminology, or anything else that may relate to the position you are applying for. Spending an hour or two researching these things before you do an interview can make a great impression on your interviewers and possibly land you a second interview or even a job.

You should also prepare your interview location. Have a copy of your resume, a pen and pad for note taking, have a glass of water handy, ensure your phone is fully charged, use the restroom before the interview starts, and…

Minimize Distractions

As I mentioned earlier, I did my interview from home. While this is a comfortable place to be, it can also be distracting because it is easy to get too comfortable. I shut off or put away everything I didn’t need for the interview. I didn’t do any work from my current job, nor did I use the TV, radio, computer, games, have food available, or do anything else that might distract me. I had a copy of my resume, a pen, some paper, and my cell phone. That was all I needed to do my interview.

Some people may need access to a computer depending on what the position they are interviewing for. Just use your own judgment and be careful not to surf the web or play games during your interview. Your prospective employer deserves 100% of your attention. And trust me, even though they can’t see you, they will know you are distracted.

Dress Professionally

What? You’re on the phone! They can’t even see you! That’s true. But multiple studies have proved that people who dress professionally act more professionally. I’m not saying you need to put on a 3 piece suit and tie, but you shouldn’t do a phone interview in your pajamas either. Being too relaxed can take you off your game and you may respond in too causal a manner.

Follow standard interview etiquette

Telephone communication is often less formal than in person communication. But don’t fall for that misplaced sense of informality. This is your first impression with a company and you want to make it favorable. Paying attention to standard professional etiquette will go a long way in your favor.

Here are a few examples:

  • Address the interviewer by title (Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.)
  • Don’t chew gum, eat candy or food, or smoke
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Don’t be afraid of silence; take your time and give a well thought out answer
  • Close the interview with why they should hire you
  • Thank the interviewers for their time
  • Follow up with the interviewers with a hand written not, or e-mail if more applicable to your industry or there is a time constraint

Successful interviews require practice, preparation, and more…

There is a lot more to a successful interview than just these tips. I have tried to focus on the major differences between doing a telephone interview vs. an in-person interview. Many of the questions you will face in a telephone interview, and the best way to answer the questions may be similar.

If you have additional tips or observations, leave them in the comments section. I would love to hear your ideas. After all, I am looking for a job! ;)


Published or updated April 1, 2008.
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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dividend growth investor

I agree that you need to act as if you were meeting with the interviewer face to face. I would also tell you to smile and/or keep a positive facial expression while on the phone. It sounds silly but research shows that people can sense it whether you are smiling or not..

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2 Mrs. Micah

I’ve done a few phone interviews and looking the part has really helped. However, I stuck by the computer in one case because we were discussing an online assistantship and thus he’d ask me to check out web pages and the like.

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3 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

Do you have any suggestions if YOU’RE the interviewer? I’ve been thinking about doing some email and/or phone interviews of some other bloggers and financial professionals.

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4 Erik1904

You bring up a good point about making sure your phone is charged. Take it a step further and try to use a land line if possible. If you are going to use a cell phone make sure you are in an area with good reception. Nothing irritates me more than talking to someone with poor phone reception.

Great article. The phone interview is the first foot in the door, you have to POP!

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5 Ryan

DGI, Great comment. I have read similar things. I’ll try that on my next interview!

Mrs. Micah, If you need your computer for your interview, then I don’t think it’s a problem – as long as you won’t allow yourself to be distracted by e-mail, web surfing, word-process… – “What was the question again?”

Ron, I’ve never thought about it from the interviewer’s perspective, but that is a great idea!

I think a phone screen is designed to save the company both time and money by filtering out some of the applicants before companies commit to an in-person interview. This would be critical when dealing with people from out of town.

The interviews you mentioned are a little different, and sound more like a journalistic type interview. I try to find an example and use that as a guideline. Good luck!

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6 CRM

I recently got a job after an intensive round of phone interviews. I think the best advice anyone gave me was to do the interview standing up, even pacing around a little. You’ll project your voice more, communicating confidence and sound more energetic. I ended up picking from three offers, so I must have been doing something right! :-)

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7 Alan

Some people who are experienced with in person interviews find it a lot easier to do a phone interview while there sitting at a table. You can’t make yourself think that since this is a phone interview you can slack off. Sit at a table or in a chair and concentrate on the task at hand. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in an interview. Don’t pick your nose, chew bubble gum, wear a Kiss t-shirt et cetera.

These little things do influence you. As stated in the article, multiple studies have looked at this and have all came to the same conclusion, that you must act as professionally as if you were doing the interview in person.

Good post.

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8 Alan

Oh one more thing, make sure you blast them away with your interview as you can’t use your stunning good looks on the manager anymore, only your angelic voice. haha

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9 Dividend growth investor

I featured this article in my periodic blog reviews. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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10 Broke Grad Student

Excellent tips. I’ve had a few phone interviews for jobs and internships, and I agree with all of the tips. However, I’d add a note to the “Dress Professionally” tip, because depending on your industry, the dress code will vary. I’d suggest wearing what you would wear to an on-site interview, which could be anything from shorts and a t-shirt to formal business attire.

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11 Robin May

I have a phone interview tomorrow and jumped on the computer hoping to find suggestions how to handle such an interview and was really happy to find all these suggestions. With the economic situation as it is right now, employers are getting hundreds of applications and this particular company has someone from HR probably whittling down the applications they have received. Their job was just posted yesterday, on which they stated that expecting a huge amount of applications they would only respond to those they feel really qualify. I was gratified to get a response within hours of having sent my resume to them so I guess I said something right. But what worries me now is if I am one of the first to be called, what do I say so they won’t forget me by the time they have interviewed maybe 25 other people after me? That has concerned me with face to face interviews when I have been told they will be interviewing more people over the next four or five days after me. By the time they are at an end, I have become just a vague memory!

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12 Ryan

Robin May,

Since your interview is tomorrow, the most important thing you can do is prepare for the interview. Research the company, the job position, go over your resume, and review sample interview questions (just use a quick Google search and you should find a few things). Practicing by speaking a few answers aloud might be helpful.

Don’t stay up too late though, because just like a test, you can get burnt out by trying to force it. Tomorrow when you call the company for your interview, make sure you are in a quiet location and have the ability to speak freely. Answer confidently and honestly, and you stand a good chance of being remembered.

Even though they may be calling multiple people, they will likely make a quick decision on those people they either want to call again or see in person. I just received a job offer from one company that I had two phone screens, then an in-person interview. So be prepared to do this more than once. Good luck!

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13 tina

Thanks for the GREAT post & all the insightful comments. I have my 1st of 2 phone interviews this week. I know this information will help me prepare for them more effectively.

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14 Kim P

I just had my first phone interview last week. I had received a call from the HR department of a company I had submitted my resume to. I was asked if it was a good time for us to talk. I replied yes, still not knowing that I was about to begin a very unexpected phone interview! Immediately I was asked questions such as why I wanted to work for them, describe my previous work experience in detail (job title, duties and responsibilities, and why I left the company). I was also asked about what type of position I was looking for (full-time/part-time) and what my salary requirments were. I was so nervous and caught off guard that my throat was dry, I was stumbling and fumbling over my words. I was so embarrassed.

When all was said and done I was told by the HR department that these notes would be sent over to the Hiring Manager and if they were interested in meeting me for an interview, I would receive a call. I thought for sure I would not hear back to them after my initial phone interview. Sure enough, the next business day, I did receive a call from the Hiring Manager. I was asked similar questions pertaining to my work experience, type of position I was looking for and salary requirements. I was then told I would receive a call back, the interviewer received a page and had to take another call. I’m hoping that I will receive a call back but this time to set up the “actual” interview.

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15 Ryan

Kim, It sounds like they caught you off guard! I don’t like the idea of doing an interview without advance notice because it doesn’t give either side time to prepare, and could really catch you off guard. I hope the practice worked well for you and will hopefully help you be better prepared for the next phone interview!

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16 Keith

If you have a specific time for a telephone interview (and you don’t have the specific interviewer’s telephone number), how much earlier should you be ready to take the call? If you miss the interviewer’s call because they called a little early, who is at fault? Thanks.

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17 Ryan

Keith, You should be ready a reasonable amount of time before the scheduled call. I think 15-20 minutes should be plenty. Any more than that and the interviewer should contact you in advance to reschedule the call. They can’t assume an interviewee will be waiting by the phone at all hours. As far as “fault” goes, I would hesitate to place blame. The best course of action is to contact the other party and explain that you thought the interview was scheduled for “x” time and you were unavailable at other the time they called. Then politely ask to reschedule. If the interviewer is reasonable, this shouldn’t present too much of a problem. If it does, then you probably don’t want to work there.

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