How to Excel at a Phone Interview

Phone interviews have become an important first step in the interview process for most candidates. Here are some suggestions for preparing for phone interviews in order to successfully advance to the next step in the interview process.

Several days before the interview:

As part of your preparation, it is important to research the company. Check out the company’s website. Be able to explain why you are interested in this company and this opportunity. Use the job description for the specific job in your explanation.

Make sure to organize your thoughts. Create a list of your accomplishments, goals and strengths.  Create another list with your weaknesses and what you are doing to overcome them. On a third sheet, write down why you are interested in the company. Think carefully about all of these items, as they often come up in interviews.

In addition, practice thoroughly before the interview date. Take time to practice interview questions with a friend or family member, and practice answering questions both over the phone and in person. Make sure that he/she listens not only for content, but also tone, rate and clarity of your speech. Ask him or her to provide honest feedback so that you can improve your responses. If possible, record yourself speaking, in order to ensure that you are speaking slowly and clearly, and that you sound confident and enthusiastic.

The day of the interview:

Find a quiet space to occupy during your interview. Ideally, there should be a comfortable place to sit, as well as a desk or table on which to lay out your papers. Try to find a location where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Also, organize your paperwork, and gather your writing tools and a notebook or notepad so that you will be able to record notes, questions, and your interviewers’ names. Have a copy of your resume in front of you for reference, as well as the lists that you created while organizing your thoughts. In addition, keep any notes related to the company that you feel may be helpful during the call. Spread these items out across your desk or table so that they are easily accessible. However, only keep what is truly necessary. Too much paper can be a distraction.

As the appointed hour draws near, make sure that the television and the radio are turned off. Exit your email and turn off your computer screen. If possible, disable your call-waiting. Let your family or roommates know about the timing of the interview so they do not accidentally disturb you. Place a do not disturb sign on your door as a gentle reminder.

During the interview:

Be able to explain why you are leaving your current position, or why you are looking for a new position. Know your resume and be prepared to give specific detailed examples about your experience. When answering questions, formulate your answers carefully. Do not immediately say the first thing that comes to mind; rather, take a moment to gather your thoughts.  Speak clearly and concisely. Also, do not spend more than a minute answering each question unless the situation demands it in terms of explanation. Be brief and to the point. Be sure to stress the three E’s: your pertinent skills and experience; your educational training and professional credentials, and your work ethic.

Do not interrupt; let the interviewer take control of the interview. Keep your responses positive and avoid speaking negatively about a past company or manager. Also, do not discuss salary over the phone, always say, you are open to the market salary or a competitive salary package.

These are typical interview questions that interviewers may ask:

Prospective employers want to find out about you and your abilities, so be prepared to answer questions such as these. Be sure to answer the questions honestly, but also make sure to respond in a way that is appropriate to this company and this opportunity.

  • Why did you choose this particular role? What do you hope to gain or learn in your next career move?
  • Why would you like to work for our organization?
  • What interests you about our products or services?
  • What would your previous employer say about you? Do you think they would recommend you for this position? Why?
  • What do you want to be doing in your career five years from now? Why?
  • What style of management do you work best with?
  • What have you learned from some of the jobs you have held? Which did you enjoy most? Why?
  • What have you done that shows initiative in your career?
  • What is your major weakness? What have you done about it?
  • What do you think determines a person’s progress in a good company?
  • What does “teamwork” mean to you?
  • Are you willing to relocate?

Situational interview questions (Examples)

Examples of situational questions are:

  • “Tell me about a time where you had a confrontation with a boss or co-worker”
  • “Tell me about a time where you were working under a serious time deadline”
  • “Tell me about a time where you were asked to do something that you didn’t know how to do”
  • “Tell me about a recent independent project where you had to handle it on your own”
  • “Tell me about something you had to work on recently that you found difficult”
  • “Tell me about a recent event that you planned”(work/social)

For each situational question, answer with the STAR Approach:

S: Situation – Describe a specific situation that applies to the question – do not generalize.
T: Task – Describe the task at hand, again, do not generalize – be specific.
A: Action – Describe the actions you took to resolve the situation and/or complete the task.
R: Result – Describe the final result of the situation – and make sure that it is a positive result.

Questions that you may want to ask the employer:

Host employers are impressed when you question them intelligently during a job interview. It shows them that you took the time to research their organization and can indicate your interest in the position. Remember that the interview is for you as well. Make sure that you are comfortable with the company and the opportunity. Think about the reasons you are looking for a change in your career, and make sure that this position addresses those issues. Here are suggestions for questions that you may want to ask in order to help determine this:

  • How/why has this position become available?
  • How large is the department? Who would my peers be? What is their background?
  • How do you think this position should be performed in order for it to be successful?
  • In what ways does your company foster growth, development and learning of its employees?
  • What has been the key to making this company successful?
  • What is unique about the way the company operates?
  • Why did you come here? What makes you stay? (This a good way to get an idea of the corporate culture)
  • What does your company do to give it a competitive edge over the rest of the market?
  • What economic conditions impact your organization? What is being done to handle these situations?

At the end of the interview, be sure to thank the interviewer. Reinforce your interest in the position, and reiterate why you feel that you are a good fit. Make sure that you ask what the next step in the process will be.