So, you’ve applied for a job and you have an interview. Good news, right?
Except that it’s a phone interview.
And you hate talking on the phone.
Interviews are scary enough when they’re face-to-face, but they’re almost worse when they’re over the phone. It’s more difficult to get your personality across when the interviewer can’t see your expressions and body language. You can’t tell what they’re thinking, either.
How do you ace the interview, make yourself memorable, and not lose your cool while you’re at it?
We’ve got three main tips on how to do phone interviews well, some common phone interview questions so you can prepare yourself for when they inevitably come up, and a couple notes on how to close up the interview and make yourself stick in the interviewer’s brain.
So, take a deep breath, and let’s get started:
Phone interviews kind of suck, but take it from someone who has chronic phone anxiety and has to do this all the time for work: there are some ways to make them suck less.
1. Come Prepared
Just like a regular job interview, you want to do everything in your power to come as prepared as possible. Unlike a regular interview, though, you’re totally allowed to have some tricks up your sleeve.
First thing’s first: the basics. Don’t forget any essential supplies you might need:
- Have a notepad and pen on you in case you need to write something down (like an address, for instance).
- Also, be sure to have a glass of water on hand. There’s nothing worse than getting a tickle in your throat mid-interview and subjecting your potential employer to a legendary coughing fit.
And now, for your secret weapon: notes.
Look, in a regular interview, you can’t exactly come in with a big stack of notes on the company, the position, and even yourself. You can’t google things mid-interview to make sure you know what you’re talking about, either. In a phone interview, though, there’s nothing stopping you from doing just that.
Use it to your advantage.
Here’s a list of things you should have in front of you:
- The cover letter you wrote for the company (both to make sure that you’re consistent, and that you don’t repeat yourself)
- Your resume
- Your talking points, like that time you programmed an app or TA’d for your professor at school
- Any important info about the company. This includes, but isn’t limited to: their values, statement of purpose, company website, who the CEO is, how many employees they have, and the job posting you applied to
This changes the game. Your notes help you sound like you’re super on top of it, even if you’re actually nervous and stumbling over your thoughts.
There’s no reason to make your brain do all the heavy lifting. Let yourself focus on the interview itself, and leave everything else up to the information you gathered beforehand.
The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to be successful. Full stop.
2. Be Professional
This should go without saying…but I’ve done so many phone interviews in my life and let me tell you: the temptation to forgo pants “just because they’ll never know” is real.
Don’t give in to it.
You’ll be way so distracted by the thought of “haha, I didn’t even get dressed for this!” that you won’t be at the top of your game. Don’t do that to yourself. You (and the interviewer) deserve better.
Instead, wear clothes that make you feel professional and confident. It doesn’t have to be a power suit, unless that’s your thing. If you feel comfortable and confident in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, then wear that.
Science tells us the clothes you wear affect your attitude, and your attitude is everything. Especially over the phone. You’re going to have to put in 200% to make sure that you sound engaged, competent, and bright.
- Smile. This is the simplest thing you can do. People can actually tell when you’re smiling. Your voice sounds different when you are. Dale Carnegie actually says this on page 68 in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It “comes through” in your voice
- Wear headphones. It helps eliminate echo, lets you walk around, and leaves your hands free for gestures. And when you’re hands are free to gesture, you’ll feel more engaged and, subsequently, sound more engaged
- Watch yourself in the mirror if you have to. Pay attention to your own body language.
- Over-emote with your voice. You’re going to have to inject a little more enthusiasm into your voice than you would normally
- Don’t interrupt, and listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying. Repeat questions back to them in your own words to make sure that you understand them before answering. Ask for clarification if you need it
- Slow down, and speak clearly
Oh, and one more thing: if you have roommates or family living with you, let them know what you’ll be doing so they don’t interrupt you to ask where their keys are or what you want for dinner. If you have pets, it’s probably best to shut them out of the room. I know they’re cute, but they’re also terribly distracting.
3. Take a Lot of Notes
We covered pre-prepared notes earlier, but you should also be taking notes during the interview. Remember that pen and paper? Use them.
I’m terrible with names. I usually forget them the second someone introduces themselves to me. During phone conversations, I’ll write down the name and company of the person I’m talking to so I don’t blank on that information mid-sentence. Remembering someone’s name makes them feel special. There’s no sound quite so nice as the sound of one’s own name. So if you’re like me and you’re bad with them, write them down right away.
This applies for other things, too. Write down questions as you think of them, so you can ask them later. Write down important values or responsibilities as your interviewer brings them up. Your pen is your secret to sounding way smarter and more put-together than you would be with your brain alone.
The most important, best thing you can do for yourself is to come as prepared as possible. That’s why this next section is so important:
It’s helpful to practice interviewing as often as you can. It helps you get comfortable with doing it. Ask your friends and family to help you. See if you can get a parent to pretend to be hiring you for their particular workplace. What sort of questions will they ask? How will they respond to yours?
In case you need a little inspiration, here’s a list of common phone interview questions. If you want even more fodder, check out this list of common interview questions that might come up, too. Try to think of good answers to these ahead of time, so you’re not tripping over yourself in surprise when they come up.
The great part about phone interviews is that you have those secret weapons: your notepad, and Google. Remember to keep the interviewer’s company website open so that you can refer back to it, and keep notes on the names of who you’re talking to, the company’s CEO, and any other important information. It’ll come in really handy later.
1. Tell me about yourself.
Strategy: This might be one of the most daunting questions they can possibly ask you. It also is one of the most important. A good strategy is to think about what will make you memorable to them while still being concise.
Answer in chronological order, starting with how you got into your line of work (or why you studied your major in college), and talk about key accomplishments along the way. Include any promotions you’ve received. Finish up by describing what you’re looking for now, and why.
2. Why are you applying for this position?
Strategy: You need to have two key pieces for this answer.
First, cover what you’re looking for in your job search in general (a job that interests you and is meaningful, for instance).
Then, connect that to something you noticed about their company. Maybe they really care about the planet, or you’re looking to be challenged at work and you saw in the job description something that’s both challenging and interesting. Be creative.
3. Do you have any questions for us?
Strategy: It’s helpful to think about questions you have for them during the interview. More likely than not, they’ll want to take some time to tell you a little about the company and the position. Write down 1-2 questions then. Or, if you want to be extra on-top-of-it, try to write down a question or two based on the job description before the interview even starts.
It’s good to ask about the company’s values, their management system, current problems they have that need solving, or for more detail on what might be expected of you.
Don’t ask about your salary, working hours, benefits, or dress code. You can do that later, when you actually get the job.
4. How do you plan to tackle (company problem) based on your experience?
Strategy: If you’ve gotten this far, the CEO or HR manager probably wants to test out your critical thinking skills, work ethic, and how you’d fit into the company. This question is a great chance to shine.
They’ll often give you a scenario, like a problem with a coworker or a difficult customer. Make sure that your answer is organized, logical, and aligns with the company’s values. Here’s a good example:
“Your supervisor asks you to do something that might be against company policy. How would you handle this situation?”
A good answer to this question would discuss how you’d get clarification from the supervisor, rather than jumping to the conclusion that they’re totally wrong. If it turns out that what they’re asking you to do isn’t illegal or unethical, the company wants to know that you’ll do what’s asked of you.
5. What do you know about our company?
Strategy: Employers are looking for someone who shows initiative and takes the time to learn about the company they’re applying to work for. That’s why they ask this question.
Make sure you know the name of their CEO, and how many employees they have (check for both of these on LinkedIn). If they have a mission statement or values, you ought to be able to say what they are (write these down in your notes, so you don’t forget them!).
Who is their audience or typical customer, and who are their biggest competitors? Make sure to say, “I took a look at your website”, or, “I did some reading.” They’re looking for these kinds of statements that show you’re putting in due effort.
6. What are your salary expectations?
Strategy: Don’t give a number. You don’t want to scare them off if it’s too high, and if it’s too low you run the risk of hurting your ability to negotiate later. The best thing to do is, if you’re applying for a regular job, to say you don’t have a number in mind yet. That way they can’t pressure you for answers.
If you’re interviewing for a freelance or contract position, politely tell them that you don’t discuss pricing over the phone and promise to send a follow-up email when you know more about the project details (and then do!).
7. When can you start?
Strategy: In a face-to-face interview, this usually means that it’s going well. However, in a phone interview, they’re genuinely just trying to get a feel for your availability. If you’re currently employed, make sure you allow for a 2-weeks notice. Don’t feel as if you need to say you’re available any sooner.
In fact, even if you’re not employed, two weeks is still a good rule of thumb.
Make sure that you’re ready to start within the month, though. Most companies don’t want to wait any longer than that to fill a position.
8. Tell me more about _____ (a specific item or talking point on your resume).
Strategy: This is another moment where they’re giving you an opportunity to stand out. You want to be concise, but also give them a chance to understand exactly what your experience entails.
Tell them about relevant experience like a time when you resolved conflict, or how you were responsible for reaching out to company brands, sending out marketing emails, or fixed a software problem.
There are tons of other possible questions. You can’t prepare for every scenario, but this should get you started. If anything, practicing with these questions will get you more comfortable talking about yourself in a professional capacity, making your interviews go more smoothly.
Talking on the phone sucks. Interviews are nerve-wracking enough without adding the phone in the mix. For some people, it’s no big deal. For the rest of us, though, it’s awful. You repeat what you’re going to say over and over a million times. Your chest hurts when the phone rings. You forget everything you were going to say the minute you pick it up.
Why Phone Calls Seem So Scary
Part of why it’s so awful is that most of communication is nonverbal. Unfortunately, over the phone, you can’t see the other person’s facial expressions, gestures, or body language. That makes it really hard to tell if the interview is going well or poorly, or if they’re completely bored or lost. It’s also really hard to communicate your personality and whether or not you’re listening.
Not only that, but talking on the phone can be downright confusing. An experiment conducted by Lauren Emberson, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, found that students had a harder time concentrating over the phone than they did with a face-to-face conversation.
So how do you combat this?
How to Conquer Phone Anxiety: My Four Tips
From a professed phone-phobic person who has to talk on the phone all the time for work, here are my tips:
1. Remind yourself that they’re not expecting you to be flawless.
It often feels like you have to construct the “perfect” answer during a phone interview. You don’t. They’re certainly not expecting you to know the answer to everything.
The best strategy I’ve found for this is to say, “I don’t know, but I’m good at finding out answers, and I love learning new things.” This shows the interviewer that you’re teachable and that you’re not a know-it-all who might cause problems for them later.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
There’s a reason therapists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help with phobias and anxiety. It works.
The biggest thing that helped me get over my phone anxiety was having to make calls on a daily basis. The more I did it, the more it became a normal part of my routine, rather than a big scary event I had to psych myself up for.
Practice the interview questions as often as you can, and ask for help. Hold mock interviews often. You’ll get there eventually.
3. Your notes are your safety blanket.
It’s impossible to blank on someone’s name if you’ve written it down. Use your notes religiously. Don’t expect your brain to remember everything.
Jotting down notes or doodling during the interview can also help keep your brain focused on what the other person is saying, so that you don’t forget what you’re talking about mid-conversation.
4. Relax beforehand.
Don’t psych yourself out. Make yourself a cup of tea beforehand. Wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Try visualizing the person beforehand and imagine that they’re nervous, too.
Remember they probably hate the phone almost as much as you do. Breathe deeply and maybe even meditate for five or ten minutes. Come into the interview relaxed, with a clear head.
When the interview is coming to a close, make sure to thank the interviewer for their time, and mention that you look forward to hearing back from them. Wrap up with confidence.
Within the next 2-3 days, be sure to send a follow-up email, thanking them again for their time. This is huge. In some cases, the follow-up email can determine whether or not you get the job. It makes you stand out more to the employer, and shows that you care about the job and you take initiative. Here’s a good template:
Dear (CEO, HR manager, whoever interviewed you):
Thank you so much for your time on (date of interview). It was a pleasure to learn more about your company and (upcoming challenges / core values / etc.). I believe this would be a position I’d really enjoy, and one where I could make a valuable contribution to your company with my skills and experience.
I look forward to meeting with you in person and discussing working with you further. I’ve attached my resume and cover letter with detailed work experience.
Try to keep the email short and sweet. Don’t send it too soon after the interview. Usually, 3-24 hours later is best. Don’t wait any longer than that!
With any luck, you should receive an email or a call back. For now, pat yourself on the back. You did good, champ.
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