I Have a Phone Interview for a Job. What Should I Talk About?

Oh yeah, the phone interview! Time to celebrate! You don't even have to leave your house, at least not yet! Not too bad, right? So, what's the first thing you need to know about interviewing on the phone? Your body language isn't really important. They can't see you, so you could be sitting there in your underwear eating cheerios, for all the interviewer knows. Actually, don't eat cheerios, because your interviewer can probably hear the eating noises. But feel free to have some quieter alternatives, such as butterscotch pudding.


Phone interviews are mostly used for narrowing down the pool of candidates for in-person interviews; it is oftentimes less hassle to take a simple 10 minute phone call than it is to schedule a meeting. Also, companies use this as a way of minimizing expenses that come with out-of-town interviewees.

There is a chance that your direct boss may be the one interviewing you (once you get to the in-person interview, that is), as well. The more valuable the time of the in-person interviewer's, the less likely they will want to waste his or her time with unqualified candidates. In other words, if you get the phone interview and get an in-person interview follow-up, then you may be in for a bigger opportunity than you expect with the initial (in person) interview.


Preparing for a phone interview is similar to preparing for a normal, in-person interview, but more weight is placed upon organization and written information. This way, if you have your answers written down on paper or printed, you can simply view them while you are on the phone with your potential employer. You'll need a list of your strengths, weaknesses, references, skills, a list of common interview questions, a little information about each company you are applying with, and your resume. Your over-the-phone interviewer may also ask you about your background and experience, so be prepared with your explanation and references. Your resume should always be on top of everything else, so that you can simply glance at it quickly to answer an interviewer's question. Make sure that you send detailed information to the company you are applying to so that they will definitely be able to reach you by phone.

One great thing about phone interviews is the fact that you can have papers lined up in front of you telling you things like what might be asked or answer guidelines. It's not really cheating, it's just taking advantage of the options available to you. It is also helpful if you, for some reason or another, have a brilliantly friendly telemarketer-style way of speaking on the phone.

Time Isn't Right.

Even though it is a good idea to prepare for an interviewer to call at any time, some times are just plain inconvenient. If you have a screaming child throwing a tantrum or a wild party going on, you should probably ask to reschedule. Suggest two alternative times and dates: this will increase the chance that you will get a call back.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Interview Skills course?

Also, if you ask your interviewer for a moment, you can clear the room of children or loud music--it is your house, after all! Be sure you grab your resume and all of your other materials - a list of your accomplishments, your answer guide, a list of your strengths and weaknesses, and your references.

In a Phone Interview.

There are a few things you should avoid during a phone interview, such as:

  • Chewing gum, eating, smoking, drinking (alcohol--water is perfectly acceptable!)
  • Interrupt the interviewer
  • Take too long to answer
  • Giving long, drawn-out answers

In-person conversations and over-the-phone conversations are quite different. Since you can't see the other person, you can't read their body language and therefore short, precise and to-the-point answers are ideal. Remember, the main reason this person is calling you is to save time, and make sure you are worthy of an in-person interview.

There are a few things that you should do during a phone interview as well:

  • Smile. You can hear a smile!
  • Speak slowly and watch your pronunciation
  • Thank the interviewer for their time
  • Ask for a second interview
Phone interviews are the preliminaries to in-person meetings with people who have the authority to hire you. Remember that while you are expecting a phone interview, but don't let the initial adrenaline rush get you. There's nothing worse than stumbling on words and mixing up vocabulary because of something as silly as nervousness. While it can be a powerful feeling, there are a lot of things you can do to help yourself be less intimidated by the prospect of an over-the-phone interview. You could have a friend or family member call you with a list of questions prepared, just so you get the feel of interviewing over the phone.

Mock Phone Interviews

Mock phone interviews are effective and easy to set up. All you really have to do is give your friend a set of questions to ask you seriously. Just because the two of you are friends doesn't mean you are to engage in chit-chat, however. Keep all the talk business related, since this is supposed to be an imitation of an actual over-the-phone interview.

Phone Interview Tips

There are quite a few unorthodox techniques you can use to help yourself sound more professional in an over-the-phone interview.
1. Wear business attire, if possible. This will put your mind into business mode and keep you from becoming distracted with other things.

2. Remove any distractions from the room if you know when your phone interview will be. Make an arrangement with children, roommates, husbands, wives, or anyone else who may be answering your phone for any reason. Let them know that you have an important business call, and they will need to leave the room or accommodate you in some way. Also, make sure your housemates are prepared to take detailed messages for you, in case you miss the call.

3. Stand up and walk around a little. This will also help get your mind into business mode; whilst slouching on a couch may be comfy, it also tends to make you sound more relaxed.i.e., less powerful on the phone. The more professional you sound, the better. People will want to know that you're somewhat normal and professional so that they won't be wasting the higher-paid people's time (company money).

4. Be friendly. Being charming and personable on the phone is a big YES in the job world, especially since the main focus of the phone interview is to check your 1)qualifications and 2)personality. Your personality will be evaluated further once you get into the interviewing room, so keep this in mind. If you make a smashing impression on the phone, you will most certainly get a follow-up offer, and have more confidence to boot.

5. Be well prepared. I can't say this enough, have all your papers together and be mentally prepared as well. The better you prepare, the better your performance will be and the more likely a chance you will get the follow-up interview that you seek.

6. Make sure you know what positions you've applied to before they call. The last thing a phone interviewer wants to hear is some lame thing like, "Um, so what was the position? I've done so many applications," it downplays the importance of their company, and makes you seem both unorganized and uninterested in the company, which is not something you want.

7. Remember, the sole focus of the phone interview is getting the in-person interview with someone who can actually hire you. Keep this in mind and stay focused throughout the interview. This may also alleviate your nerves; this isn't the person who will be in charge of hiring you. The only thing they are looking for are qualifications and any major personality flaws. If you can let them know that you're completely qualified and you have a shining personality to boot, you'll have a far higher chance of getting an interview than someone who came off as standoffish on the phone, but had the same qualifications.

Phone interviews can be a challenge to prepare for, but they are rewarding in their own way. There is nothing quite like that positive feeling you will feel after you have successfully completed a phone interview. You will feel proud of yourself and your accomplishments if you do well--and doing well is simply a matter of being prepared. Don't let yourself be caught unprepared, and if you are, reschedule for a different time and look over all your information again. Don't let yourself become anxious; just let things come and go while you prepare to your best ability.
Talking on the phone is different than talking in person in a number of ways. The first and foremost is body language; you won't have to worry about what you are communicating to your interviewer. This can be a good thing, but it could also be somewhat of a downer to those who are comfortable with using body language. You also will not be able to see your interviewer, so it will add a new air of anonymity to the whole thing. Keep this in mind: stay prepared, and good luck scoring that job interview!