career advice

10 Phone Interview Tips to Make a Lasting Impression

Photo: Duane Michals/Conde Nast via Getty Images

Phone interviews can seem intimidating because you can’t see how job interviewers react: Do they look happy with your answer? Did they smile when you cracked a joke? Despite their unnerving air, “phone interviews actually give the interviewee a lot of benefits,” says Jennifer Dziura, the founder and writer of Bullish, a feminist career and life advice website. “You can have notes in front of you, and no one can see that you’re looking at them as long as you sound natural.” Her work has appeared in publications including The Muse, TheGloss, and The Grindstone, and Bullish hosts an annual work conference for young women around the country. She shares her best phone interview tips below.

1. If it’s been awhile since your last phone interview: Call a former co-worker or boss to rehearse.

“Maybe you have a co-worker or a manager from an old job who’s casually in your list of contacts, and you could say something like: ‘Hi, we haven’t spoken in some time, but I have a phone interview for an exciting new position on Tuesday at noon. Would it be okay to give you a 10-minute call earlier in the day so I can run over some of my experiences from when we worked together?’ It’s a great opportunity to get back in touch, and who knows what could come from it?”

2. Print out a photo of your interviewer beforehand.

“Very few people have extremely intimidating faces — not even the Rock, and he has a very nice one. So find a stock photo or LinkedIn photo of the person you think you’re talking to, or you wish you were talking to — it can help you sound more natural.”

3. Interviewers will judge you if you’re in a noisy place during the phone interview.

“One of the things interviewers are evaluating you on in a phone interview is whether you could get your shit together enough to find a quiet place to have it. If you show up to a regular [in-person] job interview, you’re being judged on whether you’re on time, if you’ve managed to wear matching shoes, if you’ve brought a copy of your résumé — essentially, if you have your act together. With a phone call, the most basic sign of having your act together is being in an appropriate place with no distractions or noisy interruptions.”

4. The best place to sit during a phone interview is anywhere you don’t usually work. 

“I recommend some place where your usual distractions are not. Don’t sit at your desk, and certainly not at your computer. Just bring a notepad and a pencil.”

5. Think about the stories you want to tell.

“You should have some talking points — and I don’t mean generalities like, ‘I am good at Excel.’ I mean little stories about yourself: experiences that happened to you, projects that you spearheaded in your last job, things that you really want to get across.”

6. Before the call, ask yourself: What are the top three things you want your interviewer to know about you?

“Your notes are what you should be looking at, if anything in particular, but you should have them really well memorized and rehearsed ahead of time. Five minutes ahead of the interview, you should be able to answer the question: what are the top three things you want your interviewer to know about you? And you’re going to express those three things no matter what.”

7. When you answer the phone, say “Hello” and state your full name.

“When they call you, you want to sound like you were expecting it. Don’t make it sound like a question, like, “Hello, this is Jennifer?” That wouldn’t be good. Practice how you’ll sound, and wait for [the interviewer] to respond after you pick up — it would be awkward if you launched into your whole pitch and you weren’t totally sure it wasn’t the cable company.”

8. You can say “um” and “like” — to a certain extent. But speak slowly.

“If you don’t say any ‘uhs,’ ‘ums,’ or ‘likes,’ at all, you can sound very rehearsed. Part of the reason people want to talk to you on the phone is to see if they like you and to form a bit of a relationship with you. If you don’t talk like a human being, then it’s really hard for them to do that. … Slowing your speech in formal situations allows you to speak more deliberately — it gives you more time to think and be articulate.”

9. If an interviewer interrupts you, let them — it means you’re not getting at what they want you to.

“If you’ve started to give a long answer and the interviewer tries to jump back in, then there’s no point in trying to keep talking because they’re probably not paying attention. It can be frustrating because you’re probably telling them something you really want to get across. Let them interrupt and see what they really want to get at, and maybe you can start that story again at a different point.”

10. At the end, ask questions about the interviewer.

“People like to know that you’re interested.
Sometimes the interviewer does interviews all day long, and sometimes they’re new and kind of winging it with a list of questions from Google.  Instead [being like], “Woah, we’re not done, I want to grill you about the company now,” a really polite way to start the conversation and show some more interest is to ask about your interviewer: ‘How long have you been working for the company? How did you come to work for it?’ You’ll get more information about the company, and you’re possibly opening up a wider discussion where you could then ask more questions.”

10 Phone Interview Tips to Make a Lasting Impression