Interview techniques: Phone interview tips and advice

Dealing with phone interviews

With more and more candidates applying for the same position, many employers now look to phone interviews as a quick and easy method of screening applicants or as a precursor to one-on-one interviews.  This form of interviewing also has numerous practical advantages, particularly for candidates applying from abroad or from other parts of the country.

Phone interviews, however, are not as straightforward as they seem.  Researchers believe that 80% of jobs are won or lost during the first five minutes of the conversation. Given these circumstances, it is essential to prepare thoroughly for the interview and to master the relevant techniques.

Ensure that your contact information is accurate

When filling in your application form, it is essential that you provide prospective employers with accurate contact information. No employer wants to waste time trying to contact you if you have changed your phone number or have moved to a new address. Most employers will reject those candidates who provide inaccurate contact information.

Keep things professional

If you aren’t available when the employer calls, he or she is likely to leave a message for you on your answering machine.  Make sure that your answer phone greeting is professional – an overly long or silly message is never endearing.


Phone interviews can often be quite intimidating. Practice with a friend – have them ring you up and ask you interview-style questions.  This will also provide you with the opportunity to assess your style.  Because you are being interviewed over the phone, you might feel tempted to adopt a more colloquial tone when answering questions. However, doing so could damage your chances of obtaining the job.  Instead, try to sound confident and professional.

Alternatively, use a cassette recorder to record yourself giving answers to mock questions.  Are you prone to stuttering?  Are your answers interrupted by multiple ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’? Taping yourself speaking can help highlight these problem areas. Employers generally want to hire someone who can communicate confidently and comfortably.

Get comfortable

Some people prefer to stand when being interviewed over the phone.  Researchers have found that people tend to sound more professional when standing upright compared to when they are lying curled up in an armchair.  However, other interviewees claim to find the experience less stressful when sitting. Either way, make sure this isn't an issue before the interview itself.Obviously there’s no reason to wear a business suit for an interview that’s being conducted over the phone.  Remember, however, that it is always harder to sound professional if you are answering interview questions dressed in an old bathrobe and slippers.

Don’t forget memory aids

Use flash cards to provide you with an outline of the things you want to mention during the course of the interview.  However, it is essential that your responses don’t sound memorised.  Keep a copy of your CV at hand if you are liable to forget details of past employment, training or work experience.

There’s no need to fill the all the silences

If you have finished answering a question, but the interviewer has failed to ask you another one, don’t try to fill the gap with garbled chatter.  Wait patiently for the interviewer – he or she might want to discuss something with his colleagues or co-interviewers. Alternatively, you could always ask the interviewer a related question about the job.

Other practicalities

At the start of the phone interview, confirm the caller’s name and organisation and take down their telephone number. You could always create a phone interview log.  This is a useful way of recording calls from potential employees.  A sample log may be found here.

Try not to cough or sneeze during the interview.  If it’s unavoidable, say ‘excuse me’ after the interruption.  Needless to say, don’t chew or munch during the interview.  Noiselessly sip water if you need it. If you are being interviewed over your landline, switch off your mobile phone.  Also, disable the call-waiting feature on your telephone and never place the interviewer on speaker-phone.

If you have a cordless phone, move to an area free of distractions and ensure that its batteries are fully charged. If you choose to take the phone interview over a mobile phone, make certain that the reception from your present location is good. Never take the phone interview when outside, particularly if it is windy. Wind noise can make it harder for the interviewer to hear your answers and for you to answer his or her questions.

If you are hearing impaired…

If you find phone interview situations difficult to handle on account of a hearing impairment, email the employer beforehand.  It is likely that the interviewers will be more than willing to make alternate arrangements to accommodate your condition.


Don’t forget to thank the interviewer once the interview is complete.  It’s always a good idea to follow up with a thank you note to the employer, as this helps to emphasise your interest in the job.


By following these simple instructions, you will be able to master the techniques necessary to successfully complete a phone interview.  Remember to stay calm during the actual interview – your hard work and preparation are sure to pay off in the end.