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Tips for Surviving—and Acing—Your Phone Interview

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businesswoman on phone call

So you applied for your dream job, and someone called you back! How exciting. Just as your anticipation starts building for the next steps, though, you hear the words “phone interview.”

This means you won’t have the opportunity to arrive early, demonstrate your keen fashion sense and come prepared with multiple copies of your resume on fancy paper. All you have to do to sell yourself is answer a few questions. That’s all there is to it, right? Wrong!

I can’t tell you how many phone interviews I’ve conducted where the person was saying all the right things, but the distractions on their end were enough to drive me bonkers. I’ve often found myself wondering, “What’s wrong with this person? Why do they think this is okay?”

Below are some of the crazy experiences I’ve had with inconsiderate phone interviewees:

  • Me: “Is now still a good time to talk?” Candidate: “Absolutely, I’m just on my treadmill.” WHAT?!?! In between the heavy breathing, this candidate was saying all the right things, but I couldn’t get past her panting in my ear. I’m really glad she told me what she was doing before my imagination ran away with me.
  • Candidate: “I hope you don’t mind that I eat my lunch while we talk.” True story. A candidate actually explained to me that she just had to eat lunch while we were talking. To make matters worse, I think she was eating chips, because all I heard while we were talking was “CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH.” I couldn’t hear anything she was saying, nor did I bother to take notes during that interview. I couldn’t concentrate, and by the time we were done, all I knew was that I wanted some Munchos.
  • Candidate: “Can I put you on hold for a minute? I’m at work and need to take this call.” Thanks for giving me a realistic performance preview. It’s nice to know that you’re really open about performing personal tasks while on the company dime. While we all take care of personal business while at work, you don’t need to advertise that to your recruiter.
  • Me: “I’m sorry, your phone is breaking up.” Candidate: “Yeah, my calls always drop when I’m on this road.” So you know your calls always drop, yet you continued to drive down the road. Wait, why are you driving and not paying attention to me? Also, can you turn down your radio? I’m not really interested in hearing One Direction blaring in the background.

In all of these examples, the candidates looked ah-maz-ing on paper. I can’t begin to describe how disappointed I felt when it was clear I wasn’t their focus for the brief time our interview was scheduled.

Recruiters are busy, and I’m busy, but no matter what I have going on, I make it a point to make sure you are my main focus in the brief time we get to talk. If you can’t pull it together for a quick phone call with me, then I’m not going to waste my time or my hiring manager’s time to schedule an in-person interview with you.

I get it. Phone interviews are hard. It’s really difficult to establish a rapport and make the same connections with your recruiter as you would in person.

But take it from someone who’s done a lot of phone interviews, as both the candidate and the recruiter: phone interviews don’t have to be scary. Here are a few recommendations on how you can take control of your phone interview:

Pay attention to the information about the interview

Who will you be talking to? What is the position? What is the company? Take that information and run with it. Look me up on LinkedIn to possibly find someone I’m connected with who has the same job title you’re interviewing for.

Visit my company’s website and check out the job posting to refresh your memory on what you applied for. While you’re at our wonderful website, take a look around and do some research. Look for clues to the company’s culture, values and mission.

Don’t be afraid when I pause

I know you’d like to think you’re the only qualified candidate, but I do talk to a lot of people on an ongoing basis, and I need to take notes to remember all of the interesting things that you say. Pauses on my end are usually for me to catch up on what you said. Don’t feel the need to bust out a strange story to entertain me while I type.

Use a landline

Okay, I know I’m showing my age, but if possible, use a landline when we talk. Nothing is more frustrating than having a good interview only to have the call dropped. If don’t have access to a landline, make sure you’re someplace where you have excellent service.

Dress for success

Yes, I know it’s only a phone interview. But trust me, you’ll feel more confident if you’re dressed professionally versus wearing your PJs and Sponge Bob Square Pants slippers. Also, make sure you smile during our conversation. Your smile will project in your speech and you will sound confident when we talk. I like confidence.

Location, location, location

It’s important that you are someplace where neither of us will be distracted. Find someplace where you can sit with your notes that will allow you to give 100 percent of your attention to the interview. Also, please don’t eat or chew gum during our discussion. No matter how quiet you think you’re chewing, I can hear you.

Ask thoughtful questions

Prepare to ask questions that are relevant to our conversation, my organization and what I like about my job. I need to hear that you are engaged and interested in learning more about the wonderful opportunities we have in store for you!

Jennifer Mack, SPHR is the HR Manager McKinley, Inc., President of the EMU MSHROD Alumni Chapter and has over 10 years’ experience in recruitment, development and employee relations. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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  • Catherine Porter

    Great tips! I can definitely relate.

  • http://twitter.com/kulls2 kulls

    Ms Jennifer .. that’s a brilliant article by you. I am saving it. This will help me to get more fluent in my phone interview
    Thank you Madam
    http://www.letsnurture.com

  • Cindy

    As a Recruiter with a staffing company, I recently had a candidate tell me that she would rewrite her resume when she had a “real” interview. They don’t understand that if they don’t pass our “fake” interview, there will be no real one!

    • Over It

      Now, why the heck would we waste our time for you when 99% of hiring entities can’t be bothered to give as much of a call when we’ve attended not only phone interviews but 3 IN PERSON interviews. Get a grip, dear. The unprofessional, rude, and flippant behavior of people like you is noted far and wide these days. If you don’t have the skill set (or courage) to tell a candidate thank you, we appreciate your time, but we’re going in a different direction….perhaps it’s time for YOU to consider a new career path.

  • srikanth

    I still remember my first phone interview, I was successful but i got rejected in the HR Round interview . :(
    I hope you write a nice post to success in HR interview in future.

    http://www.pukatkamaal.com