How to prepare for a phone interview

Everything You Need to Know to Succeed at Phone Interviews

by Dana Zaruba

After you’ve hit SEND on a job application, get ready for the interview.

Telephone interviewing is becoming increasingly popular as an additional screening tool prior to inviting candidates for an in-person interview, and companies expect that you’re ready to talk business as soon as you’ve applied. 

Some companies deliberately call at inconvenient times to catch you off guard and see how you respond. It’s even possible that they will cross you off the list of potential candidates if you’re not available when they call. Others are more accommodating and will agree to set a time to chat. 

Successfully handling a phone interview takes just as much preparation as an in-person interview. Below are some tips for preparing, so you’ll impress when your dream employer rings.  

Before the interview

  • Create a professional voicemail message and always answer your phone politely, regardless of the time of day.
  • If the interview is scheduled, give yourself plenty of time before and after the interview to prepare. 
  • Arrange for no distractions by creating a quiet place to talk, informing the people you live with and turning off all electronic notifications.
  • Be sure of having good cell reception or use a landline.
  • Have a calendar available to check your availability for an in-person interview.
  • Prepare and practice answers to common and behavioural interview questions using bullet points for reference.
  • Practice with a friend, record the conversation and review it for clarity of speech, for um’s, uh’s or like, enunciation, volume, and your tone and attitude.
  • Put a copy of your resumé next to you, prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask them, have a pen, notepad and glass of water nearby.
  • Post a note nearby that says, "SMILE! Breathe! Relax your shoulders!"
  • Have the company's website on your phone or browser, just in case.
  • Dress like you would for an in-person interview. Dressing up helps to get you in the right frame of mind. Don’t wear jewellery that can create noise on the phone.
  • Save the company’s number into your phone so you’re able to mentally prepare before answering.
  • If you’re called while outside, find a quiet place to sit.
  • If you’re on a hands-free device while driving, inform the interviewer that you need to pull over and stop before you continue the conversation.
  • For a minute before the interview, stand up if you can, raise your arms up in a victory stance, look up and smile, laugh, breathe deeply and say, “I can do this! I’m ready for this challenge!”

During the Interview

  • Be completely focused on the interviewer and their questions. Set the intention in your mind that you are going to do your best to show them why hiring you would benefit their company. 
  • Answer the phone saying “Hello, [your full name] speaking”, in a cheerful, professional manner with rising intonation. Remember, they cannot see you so be cheerful, speak clearly and slowly.
  • Avoid eating, smoking or chewing gum during the interview.
  • Sit up straight, breathe naturally and smile!
  • Always address the interviewer using their title unless invited to use their first name. 
  • Speak slowly, as clearly as possible and take your time answering questions. It’s OK to pause for a moment to consider the question before speaking.
  • Allow the interviewer to finish speaking before you answer in complete sentences. If you have a question, jot it down to ask them when it’s your turn to speak.
  • Refer to your talking points, but don’t read from a script. 
  • Thank the interviewer, express your enthusiasm and let them know you would be pleased to meet them in person.
  • Ask them what happens next in the process and if, by chance, you don’t happen to hear from them, would it be ok for you to contact them and how.
  • If you’re invited for a second interview, confirm the location and time, ask if there is anything you need to prepare in advance for the interview.
  • Send a brief thank you email after the interview.

The telephone interview is designed to minimize costs and increase hiring efficiency for the company. Always have a copy of your resumé, a pen, your prepared interview questions and company notes with you when you’re out so you’re ready anytime. This might be the difference that impresses them and lands you an interview in person.

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