How to tackle a phone interview

There's more to it than just speaking clearly!

How to tackle a phone interview

Landed a phone chat with a potential employer? Time to make a great impression. "Phone interviews are often used to screen candidates in order to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews," explains Rubina Azizdin, Career Services Associate at Central Penn College. "They are also used as a way to minimize the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates," she adds. Whether you've secured the call already or perhaps you're just looking to be prepared, you've come to the right place.

1. First and foremost, pick the right spot

"Be in a quiet place alone—turn off the radio, television and any other background noise that might be distracting," advises Azizdin. (Keyword here: "alone!" Ask your roommates if you could have the room to yourself for awhile.)

2. Check your connection

No landline in your dorm? "If you're using a cell phone, make sure you have full reception. Interviewers will get easily annoyed if they can't hear you clearly," says David Burnett, CEO of Prept, an online mock interview service that helps job seekers perfect their interview skills. Better still, use a headset. Burnett says it improves the sound quality and allows you to take notes during the interview.

3. Get organized

Have a copy of your resume and any other documents that you have submitted to them in front of you, adds Burnett. "This will make it easier for you when they ask you to talk through your previous experiences."

4. Stand up for the interview

Standing helps you sound more energetic, the tone of your voice will be more appealing, and you are likely to breathe more deeply--both for sound quality and relaxation, explains Milo Shapiro, speaking coach and author of Public Speaking: Get A's, Not Zzzzzz's!. "Also, since you’re likely to be nervous, it gives you a little more freedom for movement to let that out."

5. Smile. Really!

"No, they won’t see it," says Shapiro, "but we can hear a smile in someone’s voice. You’re also more likely to say positive things if you’re smiling." 

6. Handle hard questions with honesty

Blindsided by a question you didn't expect? Rather than slip into an awkward silence while you try to dig up an answer, just acknowledge it. Shapiro suggests saying something like this: "That’s an interesting question. I have to admit, it’s the kind of question I think I could answer well with time to prepare and do a little research. If that could be acceptable, I'd be open to getting back to you on it. For now, the best I can say about it is….”

7. Be ready to ask questions

"At the end of the interview, they will almost always ask you if you have any questions for them," says Burnett. "Prepare a list of questions before the interview and have them with you. They can't see you, so use your prepared list as a cheat sheet to ask intelligent questions."


8. And lastly, remember these don'ts, from Azizdin. Don't:

  • Smoke, eat or chew gum or candy during the interview.
  • Ramble—make sure that your answers are direct and to the point.
  • Interrupt the interviewer when he or she is speaking.
  • Provide too much information—keep your answers short and to the point; however, make sure to fully answer the questions.
  • Bad-mouth former employers.


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