How to Ace a Phone Interview, According to Industry Professionals

April 23rd, 2018 at 5:00am

After submitting your résumé and cover letter, the first step to landing a job or internship is nailing the interview process. (I say process because it’s rare to have only one interview for a job.) Typically, an employer will ask applicants to speak via phone interview first, then in person, and then perhaps in person again. In this multi-step-process, each interview has the potential to send you in one of two directions—onto the next or out the door. Due to this, it’s important to be prepared at all stages—even the preliminary rounds that may seem more casual or less urgent. Since you can’t start anywhere but the beginning, it’s crucial to ace the first step, the phone interview, to get you on your way to employment. I talked to four professionals who gave me the inside scoop on their own phone-interview successes and advice for college students going forward.

Phone Interview Tip #1: Do Your Research Beforehand

In any job search, it’s important to know a little (or a lot) about the company you are applying to before you speak to them. That way, if an interviewer happens to ask you a question such as, “what encouraged you to apply for this position?”, or, God-forbid, actually hires you, you’ll know what you’re getting into.

While you may think you’re off the hook since you’re not meeting face-to-face, Paulina Isaac, an editorial assistant for Bauer Xcel Media, says not to “make the mistake of thinking because it’s a phone interview you don’t need to prepare just as much as if it was an in-person interview.”

Sure, you can have a stack of notes and your internet-browser open in front of you, but you won’t be able to hold a conversation if you are constantly Googling the answers to questions.

Trish Sammer, managing editor at says, “interviewing for a job is not like dating, where maybe you don’t want to admit that yes, you totally Google-stalked your date before you met them. Showing that you looked at the company’s website or are familiar with a current promotion, ad, or blog post shows initiative. That’s always a good thing.” Sue Monaghan, a news anchor and reporter for KYW News Radio, suggests,”look them up on Linkedin or find their bio on the company website” to show you are engaged.”

Phone Interview Tip #2: Speak With Confidence

In any successful interview, be it over the phone or in person, confidence is key. Why? Because confidence in yourself can give your interviewer confidence in you as an employee or intern. To the same point, speaking with hesitance may cause your interviewer to doubt your abilities.

When interviewing in person, you can demonstrate confidence through a variety of mediums, examples being: your posture, your facial expression, a firm handshake, and your clothing. When speaking over the phone, however, confidence must be projected exclusively through your voice.

Sammer says, “the biggest mistake I think people make is to be too quiet. When you’re on the phone, all you have to go on is what you hear. That can be a disadvantage for naturally quiet people because [they can’t use or respond to] body language cues.”

Sammer adds that she almost didn’t hire an employee who was soft-spoken over the phone. “I wasn’t sure that she’d be able to collaborate at the level I was looking for,” says Sammer. “After giving it some thought, I decided to hire her anyway and it turns out that she’s fantastic and not timid at all.”

Monaghan says that if you’re on the quieter side, staying calm can help you project confidence in phone interviews. “When someone is nervous, their voice tends to get higher which makes them seem less confident,” says Monaghan. So while speaking up can be beneficial, it can also help to speak in a relaxed (but not too relaxed) manner as well.

Phone Interview Tip #3: Pause—and Breathe

To the other extent, some of us have a bit too much to say. Maybe you’re a Chatty Cathy, or maybe you’re just crazy nervous. Regardless—relax! Talking too fast or stumbling over your words is totally normal, but can be a big turn-off in phone interviews. If you find yourself unable to remember what you said last, or what you’re planning to say next, chances are your interviewer hasn’t been following too well, either. They won’t understand you if you’re talking a mile a minute, and, in the not-so-small chance that either of you has a bad phone signal, your pitch will be completely lost over transmission waves.

How can you avoid this? Monaghan instructs interviewees to “be clear and concise” in order to stay focused. She says, “when asked a question, answer the question. Do not ramble on and give extraneous information. It’s easy to lose your train of thought if you don’t stay on topic. If an interviewer wants certain information, they’ll ask for it.”

Logan Beck, a social media and content marketing specialist for Ignite2X, recommends, “avoid using the words, ‘like’ or ‘umm.’ It can easily make you appear unprepared. To avoid this, try taking pauses to fully consider what you’re about to say.”

Phone Interview Tip #4: Look the Part

I know what you’re thinking—Isn’t this article about phone interviews? And, isn’t the best part about phone interviews the fact that pajamas are totally acceptable attire?

Well, yes. But, even though your interviewer can’t see you, dressing and acting professional can translate to how your voice is received on the other end of the line. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to dress and act in a way that keeps you attentive and engaged during your conversation.

On that note, Monaghan says, “don’t wear sweats or pajamas. Even though no one will see you, you’ll feel more confident if you’re dressed appropriately.” She adds, “Smile. Your smile will come through on the phone. It sounds silly, but it works.”

Isaac also recommends a confident body language for successful phone interviews. “When I first started having phone interviews, my mom told me to always stand up during the interview,” says Isaac. “She said, ‘your voice sounds better on the phone,’ and she was absolutely right. I always make sure I stand up (and usually walk around) during the conversation. For me, I find it makes me more relaxed and I speak more professionally.”

Phone Interview Tip #5: Take Notes

Writing notes will organize your thoughts before the interview and give you a (totally legal) cheat sheet to refer to during your conversation. Isaac says to “take advantage of the fact that [your interviewer] can’t see you, [and] write down points you want to include” in your pitch.

Don’t solely rely on these, however, as an interviewer will be able to tell the difference between a prospect who is reading queue cards and one who has done her research.

Monaghan recommends writing down “information about the company, the interviewer and even details about yourself [in your notes.] It’s normal to be a little nervous during a phone interview, so you don’t want to rely on memory alone. If you’re asked something like, ‘Why do you think you would be good for this job?‘ having notes that include your strong points and accomplishments will help you answer the question. You don’t want to hang up the phone and think, for example, ‘I can’t believe I forgot to mention the project I worked on during my internship.‘”

Beck says, “have questions prepared, as well as talking points! You can’t always predict what employers will ask you, but you can at least have some potential responses ready to go so you proceed with the interview as cool, calm and collected as possible.”

Isaac adds, “also, take notes during the interview. It’s always smart to include something you discussed in your thank you email. Always write a thank you note and include something you enjoyed talking about or what excites you about the position.”

Phone Interview Tip #6: Learn From Your Experience

When all is said and done (literally), there’s a lot you can learn from a phone interview experience. Even if you don’t land the job you’re looking for, you should reflect on your successes and failures. Were you prepared? Were you confident? What aspects of this experience can you recycle in the future, and what do you need to discard and replace?

Isaac says, “I had a phone interview that lasted about 45 minutes because it evolved from an interview to a really informative conversation. I didn’t end up getting offered the position, but I learned a lot and was able to create a connection with someone in my field.”

She adds, “don’t always view rejection as failure! Companies can only hire a certain number of people at a specific time. But, if you leave a lasting impression and make a connection with someone you never know where that could lead in the future.” Remember: Just because it’s a phone interview doesn’t mean it has to be any less meaningful than an in-person conversation.

Have you aced a phone interview recently? If so, tell us your tips in the comments below!

Featured image by @trulyleesh.