20+ Best Phone Interview Tips to Get a Face-to-Face Interview [2020]

A phone interview is sometimes referred to as a screening interview or prescreen interview. For employers and job candidates, this provides a more appropriate and readily accessible format for introducing the job candidate to the job opportunity. It saves the employer time and the job applicant time as it uses this session to deduce whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the job early on. It is considered a fairly normal part of the interview process and job search process. Passing a telephone interview usually means an invite to an in-person interview.

What is a Phone Interview?

A phone interview is a critical part of the hiring process. At its core, it provides the employer and the job seeker an opportunity to qualify each other before proceeding to a face-to-face job interview or second interview (sometimes a video interview). For a potential employer or recruiter, this can save considerable time, ensuring that unqualified candidates are not attending a job interview that might not be necessary.

A phone interview sometimes is referred to as a “phone screen interview.” Below are multiple phone interview tips to prepare for a phone screening interview session.

phone interview tips

Phone Interview Tips

Best practices for leaving a positive first impression upon a hiring manager.

Phone Interview Tip #1: Know the Interviewer

Having an idea of who the interviewer is can be extremely helpful when interviewing. It can assist in the process of starting the initial phone interview as well as helping to make the interviewer sound more prepared. When the hiring manager or HR manager sets up the interview, the name of the interviewer is provided in the calendar invite. From there, a job applicant and candidate can determine who they are interviewing for.

Tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and other professional social media platforms can help to uncover who the interviewer is. Don’t worry; this process is not considered “stalking” and is generally showing positive interest in learning about future colleagues and the company.

Using these tools, try to ask the following questions about the interviewer:

  • What are they currently working on?
  • Are they connected with mutual contacts in the industry?
  • What parts of the industry are they interested in?
  • What parts of the company do they work in?
  • Who do they work with inside the company?
  • What recent products or services have they “launched” or worked on?
  • What are their passions?
  • What are they generally interested in?

These questions can help to start the conversation and begin a connection with the interviewer. Bringing up these interests in passing, rather than it sounding too confrontational. For example, “I noticed you were a fan of [Industry Name], I love him/her.”

Phone Interview Tip #2: Prepare Ice Breaker Questions

Ice breaker questions are great ways to start a conversation. It allows the interviewer and hiring manager to connect on an informal subject matter before beginning the conversation and phone interview. It’s important to ask relevant ice breaker questions that make the hiring manager feel comfortable.

It’s important to tell the interviewer that an ice breaker question is being asked. It’s a fun, yet small game that can be played to create a connection. Ask one of the following ice breaker questions:

  • What's the first job you ever had?
  • What's the best job you ever had?
  • What do you admire in a colleague?
  • What do you admire in a boss?
  • What's the worst trait you could imagine to have in a supervisor?
  • What's the best trait you could imagine to have in a supervisor?
  • What's the longest job you've ever had?
  • What motivates you in the morning before you start work?
  • What's the most important thing for us to remember at work?
  • What's a funny story about one of our customers?

Phone Interview Tip #3: Read the Job Description or Job Advertisement

Reviewing the job advertisement and job description before the phone call can prepare the candidate for the interview. Inside the job description and the job advertisement are key requirements and soft skills for the position. The job description may say particular keywords like “adaptability” or “technical skills” that can be assistive in guiding the interview session.

As a candidate, it’s important to refer to job experiences that display these key skills, characteristics, and core competencies. Prepare work scenarios that are ready to be shared when the interviewer asks behavioral interview questions. Behavioral interview questions begin with “Tell me about a time..” and should be answered by expressing a work situation, a work task that needed to be completed, a work action that the interviewee took, and the result of that action. The answer should be 90-seconds in length.

Phone Interview Tip #4: Know the Company

A hiring manager is likely to ask qualifying questions to the interviewer that contain references to what the company does or what the company provides. It’s helpful to be familiar with what the company objectives are in order to be proactive in the phone interview.

For example, if the interviewer says, “We just released a new version to our software.” Then the candidate can say in response, “Yeah, I just installed it, I really love the new features around photo sharing.”

As a candidate, it’s important to ask yourself these key questions about the company:

  • Who are the founders of the company?
  • Who leads the company?
  • What does the company do?
  • Who are the customers of the business?
  • What does the business provide to the customers?
  • What are the company objectives?
  • What is the work culture of the business?
  • What does the company believe in?

Phone Interview Tip #5: Know Salary Requirements

A common interview question during the phone interview session is, “What are your salary expectations?” It’s best to have a prepared answer to this question. There are two methods for figuring out what your salary range should be. The first method is to take your current salary range and “give yourself a raise”. A typical raise is around 8% of your existing salary. That means you would take your current salary, add 8% and that would be the range of your salary expectations for the new job.

The second method is to use a tool like Payscale.com or Salary.com, which both will help you to see the average salary range for not only the job you’re applying for but the geography you’re applying to as well.

This can be very helpful for those who are moving to a new geography and need to think about the cost of living and average salary as part of their salary negotiation for the position.

You can use both methods in combination as well. Simply take your existing salary and be sure you do the math to figure out what your relative scale is in the new geography and then add 8% to that giving you a range.

Try not to decide on an “exact figure” as this shows you’re not willing to be flexible on a salary offer. By showing a range, it means you’re willing to consider the entire compensation package as part of your benefits and compensation.

Here’s an example answer to the interview question:

“Well, I’m asking for $120,000 to $130,000 and that’s because I did research and found that it’s the average salary range for this role in that geography. In addition, I’d like to provide myself an 8% raise when I enter a new job. And so I feel like this is a fair ask that thinks about the company instead of just myself.”

Phone Interview Tip #6: Be Somewhere Quiet

A quiet place with good cell phone reception is critical. This way, there will be less chance of having to use the mute button on the phone. In the case where getting to a quiet place simply isn’t possible, use the mute button after speaking so the hiring manager doesn’t hear considerable background noise. Significant background noise can be distracting for the hiring manager when speaking. And can force the manager to speak louder, unnecessarily.

Phone Interview Tip #7: Answer Within 3 Rings

It’s considered business etiquette (and phone etiquette) to answer the phone call within three rings. It’s important not to answer the phone call immediately, making the hiring manager feel uncomfortable. Allow the phone to ring at least two times before picking it up. Avoid trying to feel “cool” by letting the phone ring longer than three times.

Phone Interview Tip #8: Answer the Call Professionally

It’s best to answer the phone in a professional tone and manner. When answering the phone call, answer like this:

“Hello, this is Sarah.” And then wait for the hiring manager to speak and start the conversation. It might look something like this:

“Hello, this is Sarah.”

“Hi Sarah, this is Josh calling from Apple, Inc about your interview. Is now still a good time to speak?”

“Oh hi, Josh. Yes, now is a great time to talk.”

Phone Interview Tip #9: Let Them Interrupt You

It’s best to let a hiring manager interrupt you if they have questions during the interview question response. By letting the manager interrupt you This during the response, it can provide an opportunity to answer the interview question with more clarity. This can be especially helpful when answering with too long of responses. If the interviewer decides to jump in, let them.

Phone Interview Tip #10: Write a Thank-You Email

Writing a thank-you email after the interview is critical. According to a study performed in 2019 by Career Builder, 57% of job seekers don't send thank-you emails after an interview is completed. And a study performed by PayScale in 2017 reported that 1-in-5 recruiters or hiring managers will dismiss a candidate if they haven't sent a thank-you email after the interview. Writing a thank-you email is worth the effort.

Phone Interview Tip #11: Don’t Interrupt the Interviewer

It might seem like a great idea to “jump in” much like the hiring manager may do during the interview. But it’s rude and impolite to interrupt the phone interviewer. Patiently wait until the interviewer is completed speaking before providing a response in the phone conversation. The way the candidate carries themselves in this interview can be telling for the hiring manager.

Phone Interview Tip #12: Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Both during the interview and at the end of the interview. During the interview, ask questions to help clarify what the interviewer might be looking for in an ideal candidate or ideal response to the phone interview question. Questions are good.

Questions to ask at the end of the interview include:

  • Can you tell me what you personally value about the company culture here?
  • What are some of the short-term goals for the role?
  • What are some of the long-term goals for the role?
  • How would I be able to apply my problem-solving skills in this role?
  • Can you tell me more about what the onboarding process is like for this role?
  • What do you think the work-life balance will look like for this role?
  • When looking at me as a candidate, what do you think the team will value the most?
  • What are you most concerned about when it comes to myself as a candidate?
  • What skills do you feel every candidate should have in this role?
  • What is your personal management style?
  • Can you tell me more about what the hiring process has been like for this role?
  • What follow-up questions would you ask if you were trying to get hired in this role?
  • What competencies do you feel the team will value the most?
  • What are the long-term plans for the department or team I'm going to be working with?
  • What’s the biggest challenge I might face in this position?

Phone Interview Tip #13: Don’t Be Afraid to Reschedule

In the event that a quiet place is unavailable or that interview question answers are not prepared for, don’t be afraid to reschedule the interview. It’s best to reschedule the interview rather than risking having a successful phone interview. Feeling ill, feeling distracted, or feeling unprepared are all great reasons to reschedule. Don’t tell the hiring manager of these reasons, simply reschedule the interview for another time.

Below is an email example rescheduling an upcoming job interview.

Email subject: Needing to reschedule

Hi Sarah —

I’m sorry to have to do this but I’m going to need to reschedule our interview session that’s coming up on 3/18. The reason for rescheduling is due to illness. I'm really not feeling well. And I'd like to give this job interview my full attention and full ability. I hope you don't mind.

Can I recommend these days to reschedule our interview to:
  • 3/24 between 9am and 11am.
  • 4/14 between 9am and 11am.
Thank you so much Sarah,
Elizabeth

Learn more about rescheduling a job interview.

Phone Interview Tip #14: Take it Seriously

A phone interview is like any other regular interview. It’s best to prepare in advance. Perform a mock interview with a friend, have a good sense of what might be covered, including questions about the resume and cover letter included in the job application. Or questions regarding a current job or current position.

Treat the phone interview like it’s a face-to-face interview. Dress appropriately, pay close attention to body language, smile during the interview, have good posture when sitting down. Treat the interview with respect.

Phone Interview Tip #15: Listen Closely

This goes without saying, but listen closely. The hiring manager or recruiter may provide insights into what the ideal interview response is by simply “reading between the lines.” A hiring manager may show more passion toward one interview question than another. Making it easier to respond and show respect to what the interviewer cares about.

Listen closely, pick up on the appropriate queues, and respond.

Phone Interview Tip #16: Pace Interview Answers and Responses

When having prepared interview answers, a common mistake amongst job seekers is to recite the interview answer too quickly. A great response to an interview question should be said in under 90-seconds. But this doesn’t mean it should be rushed and sound unnatural.

Pace the interview response, be sure to pause, and provide time to let the answer “sink in” for the interviewer. And then move onto the next interview question.

Phone Interview Tip #17: Prepare for Common Phone Interview Questions

common phone interview questions

Below are common phone interview questions and sample answers. These should help prepare a job seeker for the next phone interview session they embark on.

Why are you leaving your current position?

Answer: I love working with my current employer, though I’ve reached a point where there isn’t any more upward mobility within the company. I’m looking to join a company where there’s more upward mobility.

What were your previous job responsibilities?

Answer: I was responsible for handling all of the creative deliverables. This included graphic design, UI design, and marketing or brand design. I worked cross-functionally between multiple departments to deliver on their needs.

What does a typical work week look like for you?

Answer: At the beginning of the week, I assess the work at hand, plan out my week, and communicate with managers on their expectations. Then toward the middle of the week, I begin execution. And at the end of the week, I assess the work, speak with managers about their needs that are filled or unfilled, and plan for the following week.

Why should we hire you?

Answer: It appears that the role is looking for someone who has a long history of driving success in a sales role. I’ve increased net revenues by more than 23% throughout my sales career across all of my positions.

How do you evaluate success?

Answer: It depends on the scenario. For a team assessment, it could be the morale of the department. For quantitative assessments, it could be raw facts and figures.

How could you have improved your career progress?

Answer: I may have made more mistakes earlier on and learned from those mistakes. Taking risks early on could have exposed me to more opportunities.

How would your coworkers describe you?

Answer: They would describe me as an active listener and someone who cares about the company.

What qualities do you look for in a manager or boss?

Answer: I look for an empathetic listener who facilitates the team's needs.

Questions like these can help determine a candidate’s motivations and desires. A common interview question is “why do you want to work here?” — it’s best not to have a response like, “this is my dream job.” Rather, a targeted response like the following:

Sample answer: I read a write-up a few months back on your company’s outreach within the local community. Giving back and volunteering is an important part of my own personal core values, and I remember feeling happy that a company values this community as much as I do. That happiness grew when I saw there was a job position opening in my field here. I would really enjoy coming to work each day with the knowledge that I am helping to make a difference in the community through my work in this position.

Or another sample answer would be the following.

Sample answer: This company has the reputation of being one of the leading businesses in the industry in this state, with quite a list of impressive customers as well as a notoriously high customer satisfaction rate. Your partners are frequent speakers at national conferences in this industry, and they are advocating for solutions and changes for the type of products you make. These are signs that this company is a leader, not a follower, in any sense. With my background in this industry, I'm very interested in changing the industry and feel like I can do that by being a part of this business.

Phone Interview Tip #18: Read the Resume and Cover Letter

This might seem counterintuitive to the candidate, but it’s important to read the cover letter and resume that was submitted to the interviewer and the company. Remember, the interviewer might be reading the resume and cover letter in front of them. As they reference parts of the resume and the cover letter, it’s best to have those same files printed in front of the job applicant or pulled up on the computer in order to refer to what the hiring manager is reading or seeing.

For example, if the hiring manager asks, “Can you tell me more about your last job at XYZ Company?” Being able to refer to what bullet points were listed on the resume can be a great way to make sure the interview answer follows the story that’s being told through the cover letter and resume.

Phone Interview Tip #19: Consider Worst-Case Scenarios

A situation like a phone running out of battery, or having someone interrupt the interview. Or even simply having any type of distraction and losing focus. Factor in these types of scenarios and be sure they are prepared for. Charge the cell phone being used for the phone interview. And be sure the interviewer calls at the appropriate time.

Phone Interview Tip #20: Confirm the Phone Interview

A day before the phone interview, it’s best to reply to the calendar invite or email the hiring manager or HR manager who schedules the call. Email and confirm the appointment on the following day. This will ensure that the times are correct and everyone is prepared for the interview.

Phone Interview Tip #21: Have a Good Voicemail Message

There are times where a low cell phone signal can send a caller directly to voicemail. In this instance, it’s best to make sure the voicemail is professional. Consider saying something like the following in the voicemail:

“Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail box of [Your Name]. I apologize for missing your call. If you could please leave me a detailed voice message, I can return your call as soon as possible. Additionally, you can reach me at my email address of [Email Address].”

Phone Interview Tip #22: Have Excitement in Your Voice

This sounds simple, but the last tip is to be excited about the opportunity. Passion is an important part of the job interview process. Jared Brox describes, “Passionate employees are engaged employees. They believe in the work they do and that they have a vested interest in the success of their company. And, they know their contributions help drive that success. Passionate employees work relentlessly toward their goals – not just to live up to company expectations, but also to their own high standards of personal achievement.”

Phone Interview Tip #23: Take Notes

Taking notes during the call can be especially helpful. These notes can be referred to at the end of the call, ensuring that any questions asked to the interviewer are relevant and helpful. Or assist in writing a customized and tailored thank-you note to the interviewer. Writing notes assists in remembering key parts of the interview for the job candidate. And can assist in active-listening.

Phone Interview Tip #24: Email the Interviewer if Late

It's common for a phone interviewer to be late to the interview. If that's the case, email the interviewer contact information provided on the calendar invite provided by the HR manager or recruiter. The email should say:

"Hi Jeff, following up here about our phone interview session that was scheduled today. Is now still a good time to speak? My contact information is [Cell Phone]. I'm available to speak when ready. Thanks so much, Jeff!"

Common Job Seeker FAQ's

Common questions asked by job seekers regarding phone interviews.

Is a phone interview a good sign?

A phone interview is a great sign. It means that your cover letter and resume have passed through the Applicant Tracking System and that a manager read your job application assets. It is the first step toward having an in-person interview, which is closer to receiving a job offer.

How long should a phone interview last?

A phone interview should last at least 20 minutes. And go no more than 30 minutes. If your interview is shorter than 20 minutes, this could be an indicator that the interviewer felt you were not a good fit for the position.

How do phone interviews and face-to-face interviews differ?

The only noticeable difference as a candidate will be the types of questions asked. A phone interview is more suitable for asking high-level questions rather than asking detailed or nuanced questions. For example, when interviewing for a software engineering role, the interviewer will ask about programming philosophy rather than asking questions about code. Asking detailed questions or nuanced questions can require a whiteboard to share certain ideas or perspectives. Concerning the chemistry of the interview, a phone interview, and a face-to-face interview differ very little.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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