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How to Ace the Dreaded Phone Interview

By Jeff Lipschultz

How to Ace the Dreaded Phone Interview

You’ve worked hard to network to a company of interest and potential job you would love. And finally, you get the good news and bad news. You have received a request to interview with the hiring manager!

But, the first step in their hiring process is an interview over the phone. No dressing up. No big smiles and firm handshakes.

Phone Interview Success Secrets

You are going to have to impress the company over the telephone lines.

This can seem like a strong barrier to overcome.

Actually, with the right approach, phone interviews can be seen as an advantage to interviewees.

Consider these ideas to make you stand out amongst the others in the same boat.


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Start Strong

When meeting an interviewer in person, you are able to give a firm handshake, smile, and start with a pleasant greeting. On the phone, you need to make a great first impression without body language.

Make sure you show your enthusiasm for the job by immediately saying,

"Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today. I've been looking forward to this call."

The tone of your voice should be upbeat and sound genuine about the statement.

Maintain a Conversational Tone

Many candidates start strong during the interview and then fade before the end.

Your tone should stay upbeat and friendly. I often tell candidates that interviewers can practically “hear your smile” over the phone. Consider how you sound when you talk about something exciting with one of your friends.

  • Do not give answers that are too short or non-descriptive. The interviewer is trying to gauge your interest and cultural fit with the company by how you sound. With this in mind, you shouldn't come across as too cocky (confident is fine -- overly confident turns people off).
  • Speaking too fast makes you sound nervous. If you have a strong accent, talking quickly can make you hard to understand. Maintain a nice and easy pace. A conversational tone will convey that you are at ease speaking with the interviewers, too.
  • Humor can be tough over the phone, and sarcasm is a no-no. It's hard to convey humor when you cannot wink or smile. Of course, if the interviewer says something clearly intended to be funny, you should laugh a bit.

If you are comfortable standing while talking, you can fill your lungs better and project (which makes you sound confident). Just make sure you don't start pacing -- the extra movement may become a distraction.

Be Sure to Listen

Many people I know feel they are great communicators. However, most think of this only as delivering a message.

Half (or more) of good communication is listening.

During the interview, it is important to help the process go smoothly (usually there is a limited amount of time).

  • Making interviewers repeat the question can be a little annoying.
  • If you don't listen to the questions carefully and end up answering the “wrong question,” you are conveying you're a bad listener. Hiring managers often feel that bad listeners tend to not follow directions well.
  • It is also very important to not interrupt. Make sure the interviewer has finished their sentence before answering (wait for a pause). If you do start talking over each other, you be the one to stop, and let them reset the conversation.

Eliminate Distractions

Make sure you are in a quiet place where you will not have background noise.

  • It is preferable to use a landline phone and not your cell phone (which could have poor reception, drop the call unexpectedly, or have battery issues).
  • Speaker phones or Bluetooth devices are not a good idea as they tend to distort your voice or make you harder to hear.
  • Have a glass of water handy in case you need it.

You should also eat a light snack an hour before the call so you are not distracted by your stomach growling.

Don't Overdo It

When interviewing in person, you can watch the interviewer taking notes and see if they are engaged in your answers. When they stop writing, you've probably said enough in answering the question.

"Blindfolded" on the phone, you cannot do this. Instead, you have two choices.

  1. You can pause when you think you've said enough, and see if they jump in with the next question.
  2. Alternatively, you can simply ask, "Did I provide you with enough insight/examples or would you like more information?"

Take Advantage of Being Unseen

There are several advantages of being unseen:

  • You can wear comfortable clothes.
  • You should have your resume/notes/questions strategically spread across the desk so you can reference key answers to questions you know you'll be asked.
  • Plus, you can have one little page of reminders taken from this article to make sure you don't slip into bad habits.

In some ways, being unseen takes some of the pressure off. You don’t have to be aware of your posture, eye contact, or facial expressions. But don’t let this aspect lull you into a false sense of security. You still have to remain on top of your game the whole time.


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Interview Them

Although a phone interview can be less formal than an on-site one, you should still be equally prepared to ask questions of the interviewer. Asking good questions about the company vision, challenges, or products can help convey your interest in the opportunity (and provide you with more insight on whether you want the job).

You should anticipate that you may run out of time towards the end, so prioritize your questions. If they do have to stop the interview, you can ask for their e-mail address and permission to send a few more questions to them (which is also a great opportunity to thank them for their time and reiterate your strong interest in the position).

Read Do You Have Any Questions? -- with 50+ good questions for you to ask them.

A Note on Video Conferencing

Skype and its equivalents have become more popular in the interviewing process. This adds a little more complexity. I recommend practicing with a friend before the interview. You need to get used to looking at your camera so you’re “looking at your interviewer.” You should look professional, but don’t put on a suit/tie.

For more about succeeding with Skype and other video interviews, read 5 Tips for Acing Your Skype Interview, 10 Keys to Success in One-Way Video Interviews, and Ace Your Video Interview.

End on a High Note

Make sure to state that you are, "Looking forward to next steps, and meeting [them] in person."

Ask them about the possible timing of the next steps, and let them know you will make every effort to accommodate their schedules to have the on-site visit. It’s important to share that you’ve learned enough through what they’ve shared and asked that you’ve solidified your interest in this position.

More from Jeff about job interviews: Smart Answers to Common Job Interview Questions plus his free ebook Successful Job Interviewing: What Job Candidates Need to Know

More About Job Interviews:


About the author...

Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter with Lean Engineering experience and a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter (@JLipschultz) and on GooglePlus.


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