Phone interviews — HRs’ convenience and job candidates’ major source of anxiety. What if the connection is bad and I won’t hear them? What if my speech sounds slurred and I’ll have to repeat myself over and over again? Or, gulp, what if we’ll have those long moments of awkward silence? Anyone can have a slight (or not so) phone interview phobia and that’s OK. But you must not let that anxiety sabotage your interview!
The best way to calm your nerves and ace your interview is to be as prepared as possible. If you are ready to roll, here are our best phone interview tips!
1. Start with a Background Research of the Company
That phone will ring in a couple of days. Before it does, channel all your early nervous energy into a productive chore: company research.
Just like when preparing for a face-to-face interview, do some background digging on the employer. In particular, try to collect the following deets:
- Company history, vision, and mission
- The business sector and the target market they operate in
- Their key objectives
- Main products/services they offer
- Cultural values
- Any recent corporate news/happenings
- Closest competitions
Doing this legwork will help you in several ways during the interview. First, it helps you visualize the party you’d be speaking to and guesstimate what would matter to them the most.
Secondly, being familiar with the company mission as well as cultural values will help you adapt your tone and communication style (from more casual to more corporate) to match the one of the interviewer’s. Positioning yourself ‘just like them’ is a secret way of getting to your next interview round. (more on this in the next tip!).
Lastly, having strong background knowledge about the company, industry, and competition will help you answer those popular phone interview questions with much more ease since you won’t have to google up the answers with another hand.
2. Prepare Some Questions Too
Most phone interview tips focus on coaching you on how to answer the common screening questions. But an interview always assumes two-way communication, meaning you are also expected to chip in with some Qs.
Posing meaningful questions during a phone interview has several advantages:
- You demonstrate your interest in the company
- Quick ice-breaker questions can put you at ease with the interviewer
- Also, asking questions helps get across your personality more effectively.
- Lastly, you actually learn more information about the proposed position
So as part of your phone interview ‘pre-gaming’, be sure to jot down several specific questions to the interviewer on a notepad. Then keep it within reach during the call.
3. Think Through Your Interview Setting in Advance
Give yourself a good 30 minutes before your phone interview to pick your surroundings and pep-talk yourself into the right mood.
Find a quiet spot in the house. If you have housemates, politely ask them to tone down on the noise during your interview call. Let the dog out. Close the windows if there’s street noise.
Also if you are doing your phone interview from home, don’t:
- Slouch on the couch. Sit behind a table or a desk.
- Wear your PJs. Get properly dressed.
- Pace. This will only add up to your anxiety.
- Leave your email, social media, or another pinging software on.
Don’t feel comfortable speaking from your house or the office? Go outside. Being in nature is a scientifically-proven way to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Looking at the greenery helps retain focus and distract your mind from negative thinking. So park yourself on a bench and get done with your conversation while enjoying some fresh air!
4. Check Your Phone
This is one of those no-brainer tips for phone interviews. But so many people actually forget to check their phone before the interview! Specifically:
- Is it charged? You don’t want to go running around scrambling for a charge during the interview.
- Did you turn off the Internet? You don’t want a barrage of social media messages to distract you.
- Is it off silent mode? It would be super embarrassing to miss the call or get the interviewer diverted to voicemail.
5. Have Your Resume At Hand During the Conversation
Always have a copy of your resume close by. You can pretty much guarantee that your telephone interviewer will be looking at a copy when they call you and asking questions around the details you’ve provided there.
As the nerves can make anyone forgetful, it’s best if both of you stay on the same page — the same page of your resume.
6. Call In Early
Some employers will ask you to phone in at a certain time, let’s say 10.30 am. If that’s the case, be sure to dial them at least 2-3 minutes before that. After all, you might have to go through the answering machine or their secretary first.
This can take longer than you may expect, so it pays to call a couple of minutes early should the line be busy because the receptionist is on another call, or you are kept waiting on hold while being transferred.
7. Smile While You Chat
Here’s one of the less conditional over the phone interview tips you may hear: smile as you talk. Yeah, it may look and feel odd doing so. But smiling your way through your interview can really help you to feel better and less nervous about your call.
Research proves that smiling diminishes your body’s response to stress and helps lower heart rate during intense situations. Another study also found that a smile generates the same level of excitement for the brain as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate. So keeping a small smile during your phone interview can help you be more relaxed, happier, and even more approachable as the speaker will likely feel your positive vibes!
8. Try the Perspective-Taking Approach
The biggest issue with phone interviews is that it’s harder to be likable over a cord. You can’t gauge the other person’s facial expressions and other non-verbal cues to adjust your behavior. What you can do, though, to appear more likable during the conversation is to try and position yourself as someone ‘who gets them’. The gist of perspective-taking is to emphasize with the other party and attempt to see the world through their eyes during the conversation.
In fact, saying a simple phrase such as “I can really put myself in your shoes” has been scientifically proven to make the other person more empathetic towards the speaker.
So during the next phone interview, try to emphasize more with the interviewer and understand where their questions and concerns are coming from. Then tailor your answers to show that you share their perspective too.
9. Listen Carefully
OK, this may seem obvious because you are on the telephone, but many people having telephone interviews make the mistake of not listening carefully enough. They do this because they allow their minds to race ahead of themselves and think up questions or things to say without actually paying full attention to what the interviewer is actually asking.
So rather than keeping that brain of yours constantly occupied with your next response, do the following:
- Briefly note the HRs questions and key points
- Incorporate those tidbits into your answers
- Use them to pose additional questions at the end of the interview
Doing so will make you look like you are detailed-oriented and a good listener — these are two prized interpersonal skills among employers.
10. Don’t Talk Too Much
You have to admit that with a real-life, face-to-face interview you are in a better position to read facial expressions and body language. You can take in visual clues about when to stop talking and allow the interview to move on. This is much harder to interpret over the phone, so the best thing you can do is to try to answer any questions concisely without talking too much. It is very easy to ramble on and on about a subject, especially if the interviewer is asking you about your hobbies and personal interests.
While bonding with an interviewer is important, it should not come at the expense of addressing your key qualifications. Phone interviews are for screening out candidates. If the HR fails to capture some important info from you because you’ve run out of time, they’ll just move on to the next person on the list.
So keep your initial answers short, sweet, and valuable. Elaborate when being asked.
11. Speak Up If You Cannot Hear Well
Should you have difficulty hearing your interviewer, don’t be afraid to speak up. You may have an interviewer with a very soft or quiet voice that makes it hard for you to hear the questions being asked clearly. It’s perfectly OK to ask them to speak a bit louder or repeat the question. It is better to politely ask them to speak up rather than go through the interview misunderstanding questions because you cannot hear them properly.
If you are unlucky enough to experience a bad connection, then explain the issue to the other person and ask them if you can disconnect and try again. This is a much better approach than trying to struggle through the interview unable to hear clearly.
12. And Speak Slower If You Need To
The courtesy of speaking distinctively goes both ways. So if you are excited or a natural rapid-fire speaker, try to tune down a bit on your excitement as the other party can be struggling to keep up with the convo.
If the interviewer is asking you several times to repeat things, try to adjust your delivery pace, tone, and speed. After all, your goal isn’t to deliver as many words as possible within the set timeframe but to clearly convey what makes you a strong candidate for the job at hand.
An increasing number of companies are now relying on phone interviews to pre-screen candidates and eliminate some targets, especially for competitive positions. Passing the phone interview, however, is almost always a certain guarantee of being called in for the next round.
So don’t mess it up! After all, you know a bunch of phone screening interview tips that can help you leave the best impression with the employer!
This post has been originally published on May 1, 2017 and has been extensively revised and updated on July 22, 2020.