You caught the hiring manager’s attention, but you still need to pass a crucial part of the initial screening process: the phone interview. The job interview process can vary from company to company, but when there is a highly competitive job posting, employers will usually start with a phone interview to rule out unqualified applicants.
Even though you’re starting with a phone call, interview etiquette still applies. You might not have the opportunity to impress potential employers face-to-face if you fumble the phone interview and let the line go dead.
Practice these nine tips to ace your phone interview and ensure you’ll be invited for a follow-up.
9 Tips for Phone Interviews
1. Take care of the basics.
Nix any disruptions or distractions that could compete for your attention during the call. Conduct the phone interview in a quiet space, void of barking dogs, inquisitive roommates, cappuccino makers, and any other background noise. Also, make sure you have cell service—even using a landline, if possible. You would hate for the call to drop just when you have the hiring manager convinced you are the ideal candidate for the job.
2. Be prepared.
Before sitting down for the call, make sure you have all reference materials nearby, including your resumé and the job description, which you should have already dissected word-for-word. By understanding the details of the job, you will be able to effectively explain why you are a fit for the position. During your call, highlight how the skills on your resumé align with the responsibilities listed in the job description.
Be sure to avoid sounding like you are reading notes verbatim, however. While it may be tempting to have a laptop in front of you, it can be a distraction. Memorization is your best bet for any personal or professional details.
3. Create a cheat sheet.
One of the benchmarks of a good potential employee is a genuine interest in the position. Your cheat sheet shouldn’t just have details about your professional accomplishments, it should also have questions about the company, atmosphere, and specific elements of the role. You should tailor your questions just as you do in a cover letter. Be specific.
The questions you ask can help an interviewer make inferences about your personality and work habits. Asking questions about the company environment or atmosphere shows a potential employer that you’re a team player.
4. Proceed slowly.
So much time and effort goes into preparing for an interview. Naturally, you want to make sure you hit all of your touchpoints. But be cautious; your eagerness to prove yourself may cause you to rush through answers and jumble many details into a single response. Take a moment to compose yourself before the call, and remind yourself that an interview should be a conversation, not a presentation.
A free-flowing dialogue will be remembered by your potential employers and can leave a lasting impression that goes beyond your resumé.
5. Take notes.
Despite your preparation, it’s wise to take notes during the interview, jotting down the types of questions being asked and flagging any patterns. If the hiring manager continues to emphasize a particular skill set or aspect of the job, it’s a strong indication of what he or she will be asking you about during an in-person interview. Having this information will make it easier for you to predict and rehearse your responses ahead of a follow-up meeting.
It’s also a good idea to write down questions that arise during your call. If the interviewer asks something you want more clarity on, jot it down and come back to it later. Sometimes, it’s better to not disrupt the flow of the conversation and revisit a question at the end.
6. Keep answers concise.
Know the difference between a lull in conversation and customary silence—a mere pause isn’t an invitation to ramble. After you answer a question, give the hiring manager time to respond with a comment or follow-up inquiry; you don’t want to overwhelm him or her with details.
Listen to what is being asked and give yourself time to think before responding. You want to show you are strategic, which you won’t do by blurting out answers. And to be safe, limit your responses to two minutes per question. If you need a second to think about your response, a good tactic to use is to say “That’s a good question, I would say…” This gives you an extra second to think about your answer instead of saying “Umm…”
7. Forget you’re on the phone.
If you look the part, you will act the part. Dress as professionally as you would for an in-person interview, so you exude that same confidence in your responses.
When you’re talking, make sure you smile and speak with enthusiasm. Employers hire for cultural fit, and this is your first opportunity to show off your personality. As pointed out by The Muse, the number one mistake you can make during a phone interview “is sounding tired, bored, or disengaged.” Convey energy and passion for the position. If you need to, stand like you’re giving a speech to keep your energy high and focus zeroed in.
8. Actively listen to what they have to say.
Interviews provoke anxiety in many, and it’s easy to become distracted by nerves during your call. You may be worried so much about how you answered the previous question that you’re not actively listening to the next one. Remain present in the conversation and do your best to stay engaged. The time to analyze your interview is after you’ve hung up the phone.
9. Follow up.
Before you hang up the phone, reiterate your interest in the position, ask about next steps, and find out an approximate timeline for when you can expect them. After the call, send an email to the hiring manager within 24 hours thanking him or her for taking the time to speak with you. Within 48 hours, send a handwritten note—this might sound outdated, but it will show you go beyond what’s expected and set you apart from your competitors.
Acing Your Interview
If you want an in-person interview, you need to master the phone interview first. Unless your potential employer has a hard date by which they need to hire someone, you may not know when you’ll hear back from them. It’s important to stay prepared. After hanging up, review any new information you learned about the company and position, and continue to research and prepare for the next possible step while the phone interview is fresh in your mind.
Make sure to rehearse some of the more generic questions you know they will ask, but use the tips above to stay ready for curveballs.
For additional interview tips, explore our other posts from our career advice archives, including “Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Next Job Interview” and “How to Explain the Gaps on Your Resumé.”