Messing up a quick phone interview can tank your chances at the job — here’s how to ace it instead


If you’re looking for a job these days, you’re probably going to find that a lot of employers want to interview you on the phone before asking you to come in for a more in-depth, in-person interview.


Phone interviews are increasingly a key part of the hiring process, and doing well at this stage can determine if you make it to an in-person interview or not.


Here are some common questions about phone interviews and the answers you need to know to shine.


What’s the point of a phone interview, anyway?


Phone interviews are a huge time-saver for employers — and for you as a candidate, too. It often just takes a quick phone call to figure out that a candidate isn’t well-matched with the job — and it’s much more efficient to figure that out on a short call than to invest an hour in an in-person interview.


Generally, phone interviewers are looking to make sure that your skills and experience match up with the job as well as they’re hoping from reading your resume. But they’re also looking for any logistical deal-breakers (for example, that you can’t start for six months and they need someone now) or interpersonal deal-breakers (for example, a lack of communication skills or professionalism).


What kinds of things are you likely to be asked in a phone interview?


It varies! Some employers keep phone interviews very short and just make sure that you understand the job description, check to make sure you’re aligned on salary expectations and clear up any questions they had about your resume. Other employers use phone interviews just as they use in-person interviews, and will spend significant time digging into your experience and skills.


They may ask you fairly in-depth questions, such as “Tell me about a time when …” questions (“Tell me about a time when you had to solve a complex problem,” “Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult client,” and so forth).


What’s the best way to prepare for a phone interview?


You should prepare for a phone interview similarly to how you would prepare for an in-person interview:

  • Spend some time exploring the employer’s website so that you get a good feel for them and their work.
  • Review the job description and think about how your experience and skills fit in with what they’re looking for.
  • Prepare answers to common questions you’re likely to be asked, like “Why are you thinking about leaving your current job?” and “What interests you about this opening?” (You can find other common interview questions here.)
  • Decide how you’ll answer any questions about your salary history or your salary expectations, so you’re not caught off guard if the topic comes up.
  • Come up with several questions of your own, because you’ll probably be asked what questions you have. You should have questions about the role itself, but you might also ask about the company or the office culture.
  • Make sure you have somewhere reasonably private to take the call so that you’re not interrupted by a crying child, your dog or your boss.


What if you don’t get any advance warning that a phone interview is coming?


Smart employers schedule phone interviews in advance so that you’re prepared and expecting the call. But some will call you and want to interview you on the spot. If it’s a bad time (for example, you’re about to run into a meeting or you’re in the middle of the grocery store), it’s OK to explain the situation and ask to schedule for a time when you’re able to talk.


Is it OK to do a phone interview from your current job?


It depends on your office setup. If you have a private office, you can often close your door and take the call there. (Consider putting up a “do not disturb” sign.) Some people who don’t have private space will use empty conference rooms or even stairwells, but you risk being interrupted or overheard. Other alternatives are to take the call from your parked car or in a nearby coffee shop.


How can you ensure you come across well over the phone?


Phone interviews can be tricky because you and your interviewer can’t make eye contact or see each other’s body language. As a result, tone of voice really matters!


Make sure that you sound warm, upbeat and engaged, and that you don’t sound low-energy or distracted. Also, make a point of paying attention to your interviewer’s cues. For example, if she says at the start of the call that it should take 20 minutes, that means you shouldn’t spend 10 minutes answering the first question she asks you. Similarly, if she sounds rushed or is cutting you off, take that as a cue to give briefer answers.