Roadmap to Success: 4 Steps to Ace Your Phone Interview

You’ve been working hard to stand out among the crowd in order to land your dream job. Now, it’s time for the phone interview. This is your chance to interact directly with the interview committee. There’s nothing you want more than to ace the interview in order to secure a spot as a finalist for your dream job.

You can be confident you’ve already made a strong first impression, especially if you followed my past posts on how to draft an impressive resume and how to write a killer cover letter. After all, the hiring committee selected you from the dozens of candidates that applied for the position.

Looking good on paper isn’t enough, though. There have been plenty of times that I have interviewed a promising candidate that tanked the phone interview. The phone interview is your chance to show that you understand the needs of the position and can replicate the success you have had in previous positions.

Today, we’re going to discuss how to ace your phone interview. There are very few industries that skip this important step. Later in the week, I’ll introduce you to a variation of the phone interview: the Skype interview. Video conference calls are rising in popularity as a replacement for the phone interview. I’ll discuss the unique challenges of a Skype interview. And don’t forget to read all my interview preparation tips.

But for now, let’s address the traditional phone interview and steps you can take to land your dream job.

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, read our Disclosures.

Business woman, cell phone, interview

Be Ready for Your Call

While working a job I loved in college, I referred a good friend to an open position. I felt he would be a great fit for the organization. He quickly moved to the phone interview but then made some significant missteps that almost prevented him from moving to the next round of interviews. His first major mistake was not answering the call at the scheduled time. The office called him a second time and when he did answer, he was in a location with spotty phone service, making the interview difficult to conduct. Afterwards, my boss approached me to address some of his concerns that arose from the phone interview. Thankfully, my friend had a strong advocate supporting him.

His biggest misstep was that he was not in a place where he could take the call immediately.  Why did this happen? He got out of class late and was walking to the location where he meant to conduct the interview. As a result, was in a place of spotty reception when the call occurred.

Don’t let this happen to you. When you have a phone interview, be in place and ready to take the call at least ten minutes before the scheduled time. That will give you enough time to make sure you have good reception, your phone is fully charged (or plugged in), and your focus is on the task at hand.

Also, make sure you are in a private location. I conduct all of my phone interviews in the car. I drive about five to ten minutes away from my where I work, find an empty parking lot (churches are great for this!), and make myself comfortable. That way, I know I won’t be distracted by anyone passing by, especially fellow coworkers. Another benefit to sitting in my car is that the acoustics make it easy for the interviewer to understand what I am saying.

Related: Preparing for the Interview



Business woman, cell phone, interview

Practice Your Phone Voice

When it comes to phone interviews, it’s not just about what you say. How you project your answers is crucial to a successful phone interview.

Every phone center has the same phrase posted on the wall: “Smile when you Dial!” Smiling lifts the facial muscles and brings a warm tone to your call – even if you think the person on the other line is rotten. With the absence of non-verbal cues, people will pay closer attention to how you speak on the phone. They’ll pick up on your tone, the words that you say to fill empty space, your pacing, and any long pauses.

While it may sound silly to smile when you dial, it will help. Additionally, you can also do things like stand, walk in place, or motion with your hands. The other person may not be able to see what you are doing like in a Skype interview, but your energy and enthusiasm will come across in your voice. Inflection is probably something you’ve never thought about, but it plays a factor in what you are doing. By mimicking a face-to-face environment, your tone on the phone will come across as personable. Remember, you’re not taking a written test at a desk, you’re trying to communicate in an articulate manner.

Related: Conquering the Skype Interview

In addition, you need to discover quirks you may have when you get caught off guard. Everyone has filler words they fall back on when trying to figure out what to say. Common words are um, uh, yeah, like, well, sort of, etc. In a face-to-face conversation, these filler words may get overlooked since the interviewer is also processing your non-verbal cues. In a phone interview, filler words become painfully obvious.

Once, I had a supervisor listen in on a phone call and count each of my filler words. Apparently, I said um 25 times in a four-minute phone call. That means I basically said um every 10 seconds for four minutes!

The best way to identify these quirks is to record yourself answering random questions from a close friend. You’ll be surprised at how often you fall back on these filler words. Eliminating filler words takes time and consistent practice.

Business woman, cell phone, interview

Precision is Key

A phone interview doesn’t last very long. Thirty minutes may sound like plenty of time to make a strong impression, but it dwindles quickly. Your interviewer will take up to five minutes to give you some background information and a description of what to expect. Then your interviewer will ask four to five questions followed by five to ten minutes to answer your questions. Take a moment to think about that. If you have four to five questions to answer in twenty minutes, that comes out to four to five minutes per question.

Don’t fall into the trap of taking too much time with one question, especially a general question like “Tell me about yourself and why you are interested in this job.” This is one of the biggest reasons I wrote my last post about interview prep! If you practiced ahead of time, you can describe in a succinct manner your impressive past and your passion for the position.

If you didn’t practice and you are not comfortable on the phone, this one question can set you behind significantly. You’ll spend your time describing facts about yourself that aren’t relevant to the position. Plus, you’ll take up precious time with unnecessary filler words and long pauses as you try to think of what to say next. As a result, your interviewer will cut out more important questions to make sure the interview ends on time. To help you manage time during your phone interview, have a clock in view. Then you can keep an eye of how long you’ve spent on any given question.

If your phone interview ends quickly because your answers were so precise, don’t panic. I’ve been in the position where I thought I tanked the phone interview because we ended after 18 minutes instead of taking the full thirty. As long as you provided strong, pertinent answers, your interviewers won’t mind the shortened phone interview. After all, they are after substance.

To be fair and equitable, they will give the same questions to everyone. The purpose of the phone interview is to identity which candidates they want to thoroughly vet in person. To do so, they’ll stick to the same set of questions and compare the substance of what was said.

Related: Resumes that Captivate Attention



Business woman, cell phone, interview

Have a Cheat Sheet on Hand

If you recall in my post about cover letters, I told you do lots of research on the organization. All that time spent researching will benefit you in every phase of the interview process, including the phone interview.

Take your research and put it into a one page cheat sheet. Include all of the information that you haven’t yet committed to memory. Details like the name of the company’s CEO, specific products you want to discuss, important dates and figures, are all great to have on hand. There’s a lot to remember in the heat of the moment. Having that information right in front of you will give you the edge you need to stand out amongst the crowd.

When I was interviewing at my current position, I read a few articles about the institution’s fundraising in the local papers. I wrote down the names and details of a significant $10 and $5 million dollar gift they had secured in the last year and a half, the school’s largest gifts in its fifty year history. When it came time for me to ask questions, I referenced both the details of the two gifts (including donor names) and where I had read the information, and then asked to what they attributed their recent success. I watched the vice-chancellor’s eyes light up and a genuine smile appear. My question had caught him off-guard in an impressive manner.

That question combined with my succinct answers moved me forward to the final phase of interviews even though I was slightly under qualified for that specific position.

What have you found helpful during your phone interview?

Nervous about an upcoming phone interview for your dream job? Don't be! We have all the tips you need to ace a phone interview.

Nervous about an upcoming phone interview for your dream job? Don't be! We have all the tips you need to ace a phone interview.
Nervous about an upcoming phone interview for your dream job? Don't be! We have all the tips you need to ace a phone interview.
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