Making the Most of a Phone Interview

On February 10, 2009, in job search, by Barbara Nixon

telephone dial by Leo Reynolds.In these days of travel budgets being slashed to bare bones, many companies are doing more phone interviews than ever. One of my PRCA 2330 students was just invited to a phone interview for an internship. She asked for some tips specific to phone interviews. Here’s some of my best advice:

  • Know the details of the interview. For example, do you call the interviewer? Or does he or she call you? Be prepared at least 15 minutes ahead of time, and be aware of time-zone differences.
  • If possible, make or take the call from a landline telephone, rather than a cell phone. You don’t want to have to worry about your call being dropped part-way through. If you must use a cell phone, be sure you’re in an area with exceptionally good coverage.
  • If the interviewer calls you on your cell phone, be sure that he or she hears a “regular” phone ringing, rather than a snippet of your favorite song. Call tones (or ring tones, depending on the lexicon of your phone provider) are sometimes confusing to callers who expect to hear just a ring.
  • Whether it’s a cell phone or a landline phone, check to see that the battery is fully charged before you begin to speak.
  • Do your best to be in a quiet place, away from chatty roommates, barking dogs, etc.
  • Prepare your interview area carefully. Be seated at a clean desk, and have a copy of your resume in front of you. Also have information about the company printed and available for you to refer to if you need it.
  • Have a cup of water with a straw nearby. It’s best to have no ice. 
  • No gum chewing. Though I love to chew gum, I know how awful it sounds to others at times.
  • Dress professionally, even though you know the interviewer cannot see you through the phone. We tend to act more professional when we appear more professional.
  • Avoid typing while talking, especially if you have long nails like I do. The sound of typing may make it sound like you’re not interested enough in the discussion to give it full attention.
  • Take notes as needed during the interview.
  • If the interview is done via Skype (or other) video chat, check your equipment with a friend ahead of time to ensure you know how to make or answer the video call. Make eye contact with the camera just as though you were talking face-to-face with the interviewer. Practice this with a friend! It feels quite awkward the first time you try it.
  • Immediately after the phone interview, send a short (yet professional) thank you e-mail to the interviewer. Then follow up that e-mail, the same day if possible, with a hand-written thank you note.

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17 Responses to Making the Most of a Phone Interview

  1. […] Nixon recently sent me a post from her site which outlined how to Make the Most of a Phone Interview. Phone interviews are becoming more common as a screening tool for employers looking to hire New […]

  2. […] Making the Most of a Phone Interview (posted 10 February 2009) […]

  3. […] @jennilewis Here are some tips on Making the Most of a Phone Interview [link to post] (be sure to read great comments, […]

  4. […] @BarbaraNixon This was awesome! Everyone check out [link to post] for phone interview […]

  5. Thank you for the valuable tips…there may be two additional items that a candidate can initiate to better prepare for the interview. (1) I always suggest that a candidate make notes on a resume that list 3 successful accomplishments and one challenge they were able to overcome for each position listed on their resume. It is much easier to “provide examples” that are freshly noted rather than trying to come up with them on-the-fly. If the candidate is a new college graduate, I suggest he same strategy although using leadership situations they experienced in school through either personal or professional settings. (2) Advance the process!!! Ask for the opportunity to advance to the next step and what is the process for you (the candidate) to get scheduled for a F2F? It does not matter what type of position you are interviewing for…ABC…Always Be Closing for the next step!!!

  6. Ziv says:

    Great tips and a very good blog post.
    I would add another point – never miss a good chance to listen carefully before answering. to figure out what the interviewer want to get from your answer.
    As sometimes, because it is not a face to face interview, you miss a good chance to understand the meaning of a certain question.
    P.S. I have wrote a post on the same subject on –

  7. Don’t forget to smile. When you smile, it can be heard through your voice over the phone. It just might make the difference when you can’t make eye contact.

  8. Thanks for the wonderful tips on phone interviews. I often struggle to make myself “shine” on the phone. It’s true that phone interviews are becoming more common. I’ve encountered many people who just aren’t happy with their phone interviewing skills. These tips are great and I’ll be sure to pass them on.

  9. Marla Federman says:

    Great advice. I am graduating this spring and because of the bad economy I assume that many of my classmates and I will be doing a lot of phone interviews for jobs and internships. I think that phone interviews are very scary and this advice puts me a little more at ease.

  10. […] @ledoty1 For some additional tips on phone interviews, see [link to post] . . . I just blogged about it 2 weeks ago, too. Good […]

  11. […] Many of my friends have encountered the dreaded phone interview and most of them also had the same response once the interview was finished: “That sucked!” How do employers expect me to stand out over the phone? Barbara Nixon recently posted great advice about making the most of a phone interview. […]

  12. Teresa says:

    Phone interviews are extremely difficult. I agree that they are harder than face-to-face interviews. During face-to-face interviews, facial expressions and gestures are able to aid the speaker in conveying their message. Selling yourself through the telephone only uses the voice and therefore eliminates the ability to read gestures and make eye contact. Eye contact is a crucial tactic during an interview because it enables you to read the reaction of the employer.
    Just like face-to-face interviews, phone interviews take practice. A suggestion would be to have a colleague ask you mock interview questions on the phone and then rate your answers compared to what they would rate your answers face-to-face. By using this strategy, you can see where you need to improve throughout the phone interview.

  13. I think phone interviews are probably harder than face-to -face interviewing. Although, I’m biased because I’ve yet to experience a phone interview, many friends have told me it is somewhat difficult. You are basically trying to sell/market yourself via telephone. Many paople can barely do that while in person. Communication is key. I think if you have somewhat of a charismatic personality you should be fine. If you work on how you present yourself, working up from the least-greatest attribute to the greatest, then your chances will increase of getting the job. The main thing is just having a way with words without sounding cocky or hot-headed. Too much can be overdoing it. Nevertheless, if you can master the phone interview, then a face-to-face should be a breeze.

  14. Meredith Wise says:

    Great advice! I landed the job I’m at now through a phone interview. It was actually a lot easier for me because I get really nervous during interviews, but being able to be in a place I felt comfortable made me a lot more relaxed.

    The only thing I would add is going to sound rather odd, but I promise it’s true. Even though your interviewer may not be looking at you, they can tell whether you are smiling or frowning by the tone of your voice. Pretend like you are in the room with them the whole time. Try to avoid sounding overly enthusiastic, but at least speak with a smile on your face like you would in a face-to-face interview.

    You don’t want them to think you are uninterested just by the tone of your voice, especially if you really are!

  15. E. Kinsky says:


    There are times when there will be more than one person who conducts the interview. I would suggest asking ahead of time who else might be on the line — that way you can do a bit of research.

    I also followed the advice of a colleague who suggested that I print out pictures of the interviewers and have them in front of me on the table/desk (next to the resume). Thought this was a great idea. It humanizes it a bit more, can help you connect a voice with a face, and can help you keep track of the interviewers (in case there’s more than one).


  16. Barbara,

    Great advice! One thing I’d add is that be prepared to answer some tough questions. Just because you’re interviewer isn’t staring you in the face doesn’t mean you won’t receive a curve ball or two.

    Ok, I guess I’d add a second thing. Don’t forget to ask a question or two when given the chance!

    Glad you pointed out that candidates should follow-up even phone interviews with e-mail (and then handwritten) thank you notes. So many students and recent graduates forget that step!