8 phone interview tips for career success

by Apr 13, 2022

Originally published by Career Success Australia

The next step after applying for a job is preparing for the initial interview you will have with a recruiter, which is usually conducted over the phone. So, no doubt you’ll be looking for phone interview tips to make you feel nothing short of confident.

It’s a stage of the recruitment process where the recruiter will be analysing the way you converse and thus communicate who you are as a person and potential employee. This means getting across your value is important during this stage.

Sometimes, phone interviews are more difficult than face-to-face interviews. Why is that?

They are more difficult because we rely on reading people’s body language. Clearly we can’t do this during a phone interview! This makes it hard to gauge if your answer is on the right track. However, you can listen out for cues. 

If the interviewer uses words like “great” or “excellent” after your answer, it generally means you’ve done well. Though, there are some recruiters and HR managers that will use these words even if your answer was not what they were after. In this case, you can always ask, “Did that answer your question?”

There are two types of telephone interviews:

Job interview screening calls

Interview screening calls take about five minutes. HR managers and recruiters conduct job interview screening calls to check:

(a) Your PR status

(b) Your communication skills. Do you have a thick accent or poor communication skills? This may count against you if the job you applied for requires good English skills. They’ll usually test your speaking skills by asking, “Can you tell me about yourself?”

(c) Details in your Resume. Some interview screening calls will test your Resume knowledge. They will try and catch you out by asking something specific such as, “Tell me more about how you reduced costs by 18% at IBM?” If you can’t answer…you’re in trouble!

Formal phone interviews

A formal phone interview can take between 20 – 40 minutes. This is where they will call and say, “You presented a strong application and I’d like to arrange a phone interview with you”. If they ask if you’re available now, it’s better to say, “I’m just about to go into an appointment, can I call you back in an hour?” This gives you precious time to prepare!

Formal phone interviews are similar to face-to-face interviews in that you will have to answer a mix of technical and behavioural interview questions. It’s critical to prepare for this interview in the same way you would for a face-to-face job interview.

Here are eight phone interview tips to sell yourself exceptionally:


1. Prepare first

The best thing about taking a phone interview is that you can use a “cheat sheet” if you want. This sheet can include a list of key terms from the job application and note all the things you want to say and questions you would like to ask. 

Be prepared to answer the first question, “Can you tell me a bit about yourself?” This is your 30-second elevator pitch to summarise your skills, background and expertise, which will quickly sell you to the recruiter. Keep it handy on your cheat sheet! It should explain what type of asset you would be for a company and the value you can bring to it.

If you’ve managed to buy time and return the interviewer’s call at a later time, make sure you have your Resume and the job ad in front of you when you call back so you can refer to them.


2. Go somewhere quiet

No one likes to hear noise during a phone conversation because it distracts each person from the matter at hand. Remove yourself from any areas that are distracting, noisy or just plain loud. Try taking the phone call indoors and somewhere where you can be on your own to make sure you are giving the conversation your full attention.

Never answer your phone in a shopping centre or where it sounds ‘unprofessional’. Driving is OK as long as you have hands-free. Taking the call while driving is a good way to buy time. You can say, “I’m just driving home now, can I call you in a half an hour?”

Also, it helps if the room you are in is clean and tidy, as this helps you to relax and not get distracted by any mess.


3. Set the mood

Although a phone interview does not require you to dress up, it can be a good idea to dress professionally for the phone interview as your appearance may just give you the confidence boost needed to win over the recruiter.


4. Make sure your phone is charged and working

If you are taking the interview on your mobile phone, the last thing you want is for its battery to go flat or for its network signal to lag. Make sure your phone is charged and that you are in a place where the network signal is strong. Always do a test run first, especially if you are expecting a video call.


5. Be aware of how you sound

You can tell when someone is excited or smiling on the other end of the line. Smile and be positive when you’re talking to a recruiter or employer. Your voice will sound warmer and friendlier if you smile, as smiling is proven to improve your own mood and attitude. 

Another helpful tip is to stand up during your phone interview as standing when talking will actually make your voice clearer and sound more confident.


6. Never interrupt

A challenge in taking a phone interview is not knowing when to start or stop talking. By inserting longer pauses between your sentences and letting the interviewer finish what they have to say before you reply, you will ensure a smooth conversation.

It’s important not to interrupt the interviewer and listen carefully to their questions. I find it useful to take notes when they are asking a question. For example, if they ask, “Can you tell me a time where you had to performance manage a staff member?” I’d write down the keywords “performance manage” and “staff member”. 

It’s normal to forget the question during your answer! By writing down these keywords – you can remind yourself.


7. Ask questions

Take note of what the recruiter is asking about you and jot down any follow-up questions to ask after you give your first lot of answers. For example, one good follow up question is, “How will my work performance be evaluated?” or “What’s the culture like there?” These will help you to appear interested and engaged with the conversation and the job.


8. Follow up

You must make sure to schedule yourself some time to send a “thank you for your time” email after the interview. Keep it short and simple. Doing this can help you stand out from the rest of the candidates and show that you are enthusiastic about landing the job.


Other phone interview tips to remember:

Answering the call: If you don’t recognise the number, always answer your phone in a professional manner, such as, “Hello, Naren speaking.”

Voicemail: Set up a professional voicemail in case the interviewer can’t reach you e.g. “Hi, you’ve called Naren. Sorry, I can’t take your call right now. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you soon.”

Find out more: It’s rare that you apply for one job and get a phone interview request for that one job. Often, you’ve applied for 50 jobs! So when you get a call – how do you know which job it is? Before responding to any questions, it’s important to know which job it is. You must find out which company/job it is. You can simply say “Sorry, could you tell me again which position this is regarding as I applied for several roles during the week and just wanted to double-check – thanks”.

Answer structure: This is the most important part. Every answer you give should be structured. Here’s how you can structure your interview answers:

  • Introduction:  Start by acknowledging the question “Sure, there are a few examples that I can think of when I’ve had to troubleshoot a problem/help clients/resolve a technical issue.”
  • Example: “One example is when I was working as an A at company B on project C. I was working on D when we realised the E was happening. I took F action which resulted in G.”
  • Conclude: “This is one example I have working as an A where I performed/resolved/managed X, Y and Z.”


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash