how to prepare for a phone interview

I’m always amazed by how often I can tell that a candidate hasn’t really prepared for a phone interview. Laziness aside, preparing takes a lot of the stress out of the experience and lets you answer the phone feeling confident and possibly even excited.

Here’s what I recommend you do to prepare. Ideally, you’d do this the night before.

1. Go to the employer’s Web site. At a minimum, read the “about us” section. Better yet, read enough to get a good feel for their clients, work, and general approach. Don’t leave the Web site until you can answer these questions: What does this organization do? What are they all about? What makes them different from their competition?

2. Go through the job description line by line. Think about how your experience and skills fit with each line. Don’t be alarmed if you’re not a perfect fit; people get hired all the time without being a line-for-line match. The point here is just to get your brain thinking about how you are a match, so that those thoughts are easily retrievable and can be turned into answers in your phone interview.

3. Think about the questions that you’re likely to be asked, and write out your answers to each of them. At a minimum, cover these basics: Why are you thinking about leaving your current job? What interests you about this opening? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What experience do you have doing ___? (Fill in each of the major responsibilities of the job.)

4. Think about how you’ll answer questions about salary history or expectations, so you’re prepared with an answer when it comes up.

5. Come up with two to four questions of your own, because you’ll be asked what questions you have at the end of the conversation. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself and open-ended questions about the office culture. You’ll also want to ask what their next steps are and their timeline for getting back to you.

That’s it. Then, 15 minutes before the call, review your notes from all of the above steps.

If you’re not preparing for phone interviews this way, try it next time. I promise you at least a 50% reduction in stress.

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike*

    I'm surprised that people don't do this much. It seems pretty minimal if you're really interested in the job.

    In terms of physical preparation, I clear out a space on the counter and set out a glass of water and something to write with. I also dress nicely like it's a real interview, to get me in the right mindset.

  2. Anonymous*

    another excellent post. and so helpful. i used to be intimidated by phone interviews — i was worried my "charm" wouldn't come across. but now i love them because you can so easily refer to your notes. i even pull together "message" sentences or phrases — i use them like sound bites to drive home an impression about me (in a subtle way of course). so far, when i've prepared for a phone interview in this way, i've made it to the next round.

  3. sara*

    Great advice! Recently I've had a slew of phone interviews and a tip that works for me is to write out 3-5 accomplishments that are relevant to the position and ones that are not on my resume. I follow the PAR method (problem, action, result… I think there is another version of STAR) what this allows me to do is to have a very brief story to tell, and I usually bring it up as an example when answering a question.

  4. Anonymous*

    Unless they call out of the blue and start asking you questions for a job that you can't even remember if you applied for it or not.

  5. Heather R. Huhman*


    This is a wonderful post! You hit all the major points, and I definitely stand by your well thought out list.

    There are a few tips I'd also like to add from my experience interviewing candidates for my organization to your already thorough list.

    Here they are:

    1. Have your r�sum� and portfolio in front of you.
    2. If possible, use a landline phone.
    3. Make sure you're in a quiet environment: Be respectful to your interviewee. Honking your car horn will interviewing is NOT acceptable.
    4. Ask good questions: Thought provoking questions definitely are an indication of time spent researching the company.
    5. Send a thank-you note: Candidates will differentiate themselves from others with a hand-written note.
    6. Have water handy. :)

    Great post, Alison!

    Heather R. Huhman
    Founder & President, Come Recommended

  6. Sabrina*

    Anon@8:04: Yep I've had that happen before. Once while I was in my car on the interstate on my way to another interview. Didn't even ask if now was a good time just launched into the phone screen. Just the first in a long line of red flags that I should never have taken that job.

  7. Rebecca*

    Wow, I do all the things Mike does when I have a phone interview. I also have my resume and cover letter in front of me, so I know what they're looking at.

  8. Anonymous*

    All great tips. I also do what Mike and Rebecca do, so I'd like to think I'm doing pretty well with my phone interviews (though there's always room for improvement). Additionally, I like to put up post-it notes at my desk as little reminders of things I want to be sure to mention, or even just little pick me ups. "Stay calm, it's okay!" and "remember to mention your __fill-in-the-blank__ skills!" are notes that sort of help keep me focused and bring me back down to earth if I start getting nervous or forget what I want to say.

  9. Brian*

    In addition to all the other good advice here, I like to use a headset on a cordless phone when doing a phone interview – it really is nice to be able to move around freely and use your hands. It also helps when the interview goes long to not have to hold the phone up you your ear the whole time. (I had one phone interview that went an hour and a half!)

  10. TheLabRat*

    I've never had a phone interview with a job that even had a website. Just throwing that out there.

  11. Anonymous*

    I did what Mike did except the phone call was about 1/2 hour early, and was only 80% ready, and you don`t want to keep them waiting on the line, that`s very important. I had copied all the info and had my resume and cover(like Rebecca), in the other room at my computer, so it went real bad.
    I got a negative e-mail back later on, so my point is take notes from this page and be ready for the call, at least ONE hour early.

  12. Steven Rothberg*

    The comment about making sure that you're in a quiet environment is really important. It is amazing how barking dogs and screaming kids will turn off any employer. Also, make sure that your answering machine or voice mail have professional messages in case the recruiter happens to call you when you're not available.

  13. RecruitWhiz*

    Great post! I hear this from our hiring managers sometimes too. I don't coach our candidates on what to say from a hiring manager, but I do encourage them to prepare appropriately. Good tips!

  14. Anonymous*

    One additional thing on phones: give them two numbers a landline and a cell number.

    Cheers, good post.

  15. Mike Koontz*

    I also reduced stress by doing a phone interview at the beach :-) Long story. Probably not a strategy I would use again, but I got the job!

    I did try to find a quiet section of adjacent forest to keep wave crashing noise to a minimum– it was for a natural resource management job though, so maybe that was an inadvertent plus.

  16. Piet*

    Phone interview are a bit tricky but im now familiar with them as im a professional voice over artist and some of the clients prefer to interview me through the phone

Comments are closed.