How to prepare for and conduct a successful phone interview

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

After applying for a job, an employer might invite you to phone interview. Employers typically use these calls to discuss the job opportunity with you and ask some questions to check if you're a suitable candidate. As a job applicant, an employer or recruiter may ask you to do an interview over the phone at short notice, so it's important to prepare. In this article, we discuss what to expect from a telephone interview, how to prepare and some tips to increase your chances of passing this round of the interview process.

What is a phone interview?

A phone interview is usually the first stage of the interviewing process. An employer may choose to use these calls to screen candidates and ensure that only the most qualified and suitable make it through to the in-person interviews. An employer is then usually in a better position to decide on a shortlist of candidates to invite for an in-depth interview, potentially saving them time and money.

A recruiter or employer typically arranges the interview in advance, though they can schedule them at short notice. The interviewer may call you, or they may ask you to call a number at a scheduled time, especially if the interviewer is using a telephone conference platform with several people attending the call. The interview itself may not take long to complete, as the recruiter may only ask a few questions to clarify points on your CV or application and assess your suitability for the role.

Related: A guide on how to ace an interview (with tips and examples)

Preparing for the interview

Treating the phone interview as if it's a regular in-person interview can help you to prepare for any questions that may arise and ensure you feel confident going into the call. These tips on preparing for your interview may help you to feel ready when it's time for the call:

Do some research on the company

Spending some time researching the company can help you to feel prepared for your interview. Try to gain a better understanding of their company structure, the people working in senior positions, the type of work the company does and any clients they've worked for. Pay particular attention to any examples or descriptions of work they've done in the past.

Make sure you know your CV

In contrast to an in-person, in-depth interview, an interview over the phone is more likely to focus on the details of your CV. Employers often use a telephone interview to assess your suitability for the job by focusing on your qualifications and previous work experience. Make sure you're ready to answer questions on these topics and explain any gaps in your CV, including periods when you weren't working or in education.

Focus on your strengths and weaknesses

Making a list of your strengths and weaknesses can help you to feel prepared for any question the interviewer may ask you about yourself. Be honest when you write your list. Experienced interviewers can spot a contrived or dishonest answer.

Review a set of common interview questions

Take some time to familiarise yourself with some of the most frequently asked interview questions. You may choose not to prepare word-for-word answers to each question, but having an idea of what questions may arise can help to avoid any surprises during the interview. Having an exact answer may lead you to sound robotic when answering, whereas general points to discuss can make you sound more conversational.

Read more: 10 Common telephone interview questions (with example answers)

Getting ready for the call

Once you've spent some time preparing for the interview, there are several things you can do to make final preparations for the call. Take a look at these tips to help you feel confident and comfortable in the lead up to the interview:

Have the job materials ready for reference

If you can, print out your CV or job application before the interview. Gather any documents from the job application pack, such as job descriptions and person specifications. If the company has a website with useful information on it, you might like to make sure you're in front of a computer with the company's website open for your reference.

Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer

The interviewer may ask if you have any questions for them before ending the interview. Having some questions to ask the interviewer can show that you're keen and interested in learning more about the role and the company. It can also be valuable for filling any gaps in your knowledge.

Read more: Questions to ask at an interview

Practice your interview technique

Taking part in an interview over the phone is different to an in-person interview. It can be helpful to practice and refine your phone technique. You may wish to ask a friend or family member to call you and carry out a mock interview. Ask them for feedback at the end, so you can work on improving your telephone style and etiquette. Recording the mock interview and listening back to it later can help you spot any verbal tics and identify ways to improve your speaking, such as enunciating more clearly or speaking faster or more slowly.

Find a quiet place without interruptions

Try to find a quiet room without distractions. Before the interview, clear the room to prevent interruptions. An interruption can make you appear less professional or distract you.

Ensure you have a reliable phone line

If you're using a mobile phone for the interview, charge the battery and check the reception in the room where you're planning to take the call. If you have one, a landline telephone may be more reliable to use. If your phone disconnects during the interview for any reason, don't panic. Call back and apologise for the interruption before resuming the interview.

Related: 5 Steps to take if your phone interview is late (plus FAQs)

Phone interview tips and technique

There are numerous things you can do to improve your chances of passing the telephone interview stage of the recruitment process. This list can help you to work on the process of the call itself and make sure the interview goes as smoothly as possible:

Answer the phone personally and professionally

Let family or anyone else you live with know that you're expecting a call, so you can answer it personally. Work on your greeting, and answer by confirming your name. For example, ‘hello, Emma speaking' or ‘hello, this is Emma Smith'. Address the interviewer by their title and surname unless they ask you to use their first name.

Listen attentively to the interviewer

Listen to the interviewer so that you don't miss any details they provide during the interview. The interviewer may wish to engage in some small talk before commencing the interview, or they may prefer to get straight to the interview questions. Either way, listen carefully so you can follow the interviewer's lead.

Let the interviewer finish before answering

The interviewer leads the call, so let them finish before you start talking. You may want to sound enthusiastic and eager to answer, but it's polite to make sure the interviewer has finished. It also means you can hear and fully understand any questions before answering.

Related: Phone interview tips to get you to the next round

Don't rush to answer a question

If you're not certain how to respond to a question, don't rush into an answer. Instead, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts and work out how you'd like to respond. Don't be afraid to ask for a few seconds to think before giving your answer. If you don't fully understand or didn't hear the question properly, ask the interviewer to repeat the question or clarify.

Be ready to take notes

Some people find that taking notes helps them to listen and remember information given during the interview. Work on your note-taking technique in advance and be ready to note down any information that could be useful further along in the interview process. If note-taking doesn't suit you, don't feel pressured to take them; instead, concentrate on listening as best you can during the interview.

Keep a glass of water to hand

It's not unusual for your mouth to feel dry during an interview, especially if you're doing a lot of talking. Keep a glass of water nearby in case you need it. A glass of water can also help if you get a cough or tickle in your throat during the interview.

Smile as you speak

Smiling while you speak changes the tone of your voice. It can help to project a positive image and convey a sense of enthusiasm to the interviewer. It may also help to stand up during the interview, as this can help you to sound more energetic.

Follow up after the interview

Try to finish the call by addressing the interviewer once more by their name, as this can help to leave a positive impression. Once the interview has finished, it might be useful to follow up with an email. Here, you can thank the interviewer for taking the time to call you and emphasise your enthusiasm for the role. If you don't have an email address to contact them by, ask the interviewer for one before ending the call.

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