Phone Interview Tips for Talking Your Way to the Job You Want
Expert tips to sound more enthusiastic, intelligent, and thoughtful.
Looking for a new job can sometimes feel like you’re on some sort of bizarre reality TV show where you have to jump through countless hoops to make it to the next round. It’s tough, to say the least. And for most jobs, the circus begins with a phone interview.
The phone interview is the first chance you get during the hiring process to make a good impression. And because the interviewer can’t see you, these screenings require a whole different set of skills than in-person interviews. To help you nail them, we asked hiring managers, recruiters, and career coaches for their expert phone interview tips. And if you need more advice for the big interview ahead, take a look at the 25 Surefire Ways to Make a Good First Impression.
Take care of your voice for at least 24-hours beforehand.
With no way to use body language or clothing to make a strong first impression, your voice is the only tool you’ve got. “Do some vocal warm-up exercises to clear your throat and warm up your vocal cords,” says Katherine Kirkinis, a career coach and the head of career assessment at Wanderlust Careers. “You will sound much more confident.” Kirkinis also recommends avoiding dairy the day before, as it can cause phlegm, and keeping a glass of water nearby in case your throat gets dry.
Try some deep-belly breathing to calm down.
Staying calm is easier said than done in a high-stress situation. Fortunately, Kirkinis has a trick: Do five to 10 minutes of deep-belly breathing before the call to get your central nervous system relaxed. Doing so will help clear your mind and mitigate the effects of nervous energy on your voice.
Or try a meditation.
If you’re unable to get into the rhythm of deep-belly breathing on your own, try a guided meditation. Kirkinis recommends Rosie Moreton’s ‘The Art of Non Attachment’ (10 minutes) or Meredith Rom’s ‘Manifestation Meditation’ (6 minutes).”
Answer the call with confidence.
One of the most nerve-wracking parts of a phone interview can be the act of answering the phone. When you pick up, make sure you sound prepared. “Answer the phone call promptly and refrain from acting surprised that a recruiter or hiring manager has called you at the scheduled time,” says Megan Bays, a talent acquisition specialist at Restaurant365. “You wouldn’t believe how many people I talk to leave it until the last ring or answer with, ‘Hello? Oh, hi…'” Don’t be that person.
Be prepared without sounding rehearsed.
“Confidence really does come across over the phone,” says Alexandra Finkel, editorial operations director at the website Bustle. And the best way to sound confident? Be prepared. “I don’t necessarily recommend practicing your answers to common questions because you don’t want to sound rehearsed, but try to go into the interview with a few goals, whether that’s sharing a particular past experience or explaining why you’d be perfect for the role you are applying for.”
Treat the phone interview just like an in-person interview.
Even if your phone interview is just a screening, you’ll want to pull out all the stops. “Have your resume accessible so you can quickly address anything on it,” says Finkel. “I even recommend opening a few tabs on your computer, including the role you applied for, the person you are interviewing with, and the company so all can be referred to during the call.”
Make sure you can take the call in a quiet place.
This phone interview tip should go without saying, but don’t take your call in a noisy space. “I know it’s tempting to take a call outside or in a public place, especially if you are interviewing during work hours, but try your best to find a quiet place you can be comfortable to take the call,” says Finkel. Doing so will minimize distractions for both you and the interviewer.
Stand up or walk around the room while you talk.
Just because your phone interview is a business call doesn’t mean you’ve got to be chained to your desk. In fact, moving around could make you sound more energetic, says Kirkinis. Make sure to tidy up the room beforehand so you don’t trip or bump into anything that could make a loud noise.
Include these key phrases.
Being polite is important, but being polite and enthusiastic is even better. “Using phrases like, ‘thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me’ or ‘thank you for considering me for this role, I’m excited to hear more about it’ are great,” says Bays.
Go in knowing what you want.
Before you take the call, you should know exactly what you hope to get out of it. “Know what job you want and what you want out of the job. The hours you want, the pay, the culture, etc,” says Shacottha Fields, Founder of Impower Improv. “By knowing what you want you can confidently answer questions because you are not making it up as you go in the interview.”
Dress like you would for a regular interview.
“Clothing can impact your subconscious and make you ‘feel’ more professional, which inherently will make you sound more professional,” says Kirkinis. Conducting an interview in your sweatpants on the couch can contribute to a lethargic energy that can come across over the phone.
Use this trick to ask thoughtful questions.
You already know it’s important to ask your interviewer questions, but the quality of your questions also counts. “Your questions reflect your critical thinking skills,” says Megan Doherty, director of people operations at Colossal Media. “Ask questions that evoke responses that will give you strategic insight into the company.” Use the fact that you’re on the phone to your advantage by jotting down any questions that come up as you and the interviewer chat.
Try not to speak over the interviewer.
“Since you can’t see the other person, it’s important to make sure they’re done with their question before you start speaking,” says Karina Mikhli, chief operating officer at Clublender and Jester Development. A three-second pause between their question and your answer should do the trick.
Avoid filling awkward silences with even more awkward statements.
A natural lull in conversation is perfectly normal, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to fill that time with the first thing that comes to mind. “Don’t ramble or overshare,” says Mikhli. “And make sure to not fill in the blanks with ‘ums’ or other such filler words. That undermines everything else you have to say.”
Mirror your interviewer.
“If they are serious and all business, go with that and reflect the same style,” says Kirkinis. “If they are bubbly, pull out this part of yourself and show it to them. Mimicking a person’s tone is a key way to make them like you.”
Make sure you understand the question.
“It’s OK to ask clarifying questions (‘am I right in understanding you’d like to know more about…?’),” says Tracey Gordon, head of human resources at Lingo Live. “In fact, companies are looking for more inquisitive minds and asking questions can highlight that trait.”
Beware of uptalk and vocal fry.
“For women especially, make sure that the last word in your sentence isn’t raised up to sound like a question (unless it is a question!),” says Gordon. “Also, avoid vocal fry. It makes one sound uninterested and unprofessional.” A friend or mentor could help you identify whether these are habits you need to beware of.
Avoid filler words by keeping a steady pace.
The simplest way to sound confident is to avoid filler words like um, uh, like, and uh. Cutting them from your speech could be as simple as slowing down. “Speak at a steady pace and don’t be afraid to pause,” says Emily Miethner, founder and chief executive officer of findspark.com. “Pauses will make you sound even more confident and can be used to emphasize points.”