10 Ways to Ace a Phone Interview

Here's how to rock that phone conversation so you advance to the next round of interviews.

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Alison Green

More and more employers are using phone interviews as screens to narrow down their applicant pool before deciding who to interview in person. These conversations range from short and perfunctory to lengthy and in-depth, and job candidates don’t always know in advance which type it’s going to be.

Here are 10 ways to ace your next phone interview.

1. Be prepared. Before the call, go to the employer’s website and, at a minimum, read their “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?

[See What to Look for When Researching Your Interviewer.]

2. Know the job description. As part of your preparation, go through the job description line by line and 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.

6. Use a landline if at all possible. If you have the option, it’s better to get the sound quality and reliability of a landline.

7. Pay attention to your tone of voice. The interviewer can't see your body language or gestures; all they have is your voice, so tone matters more than ever. You want to sound upbeat, interested, and engaged—not sluggish, distracted, or unenthused. And let your personality come through—a major reason for the phone interview is to get a sense of what you're all about.

[See 10 Job-Interview Mistakes You Should Avoid.]

8. While you shouldn't sound stiff, don't use the same tone you'd use to talk about your date last night. I've phone-interviewed candidates who I'm pretty sure were watching the game with the sound down and snacking while we talked.

9. Remember that a great benefit of phone interviews is that you can have notes in front of you. Just make sure you don't sound like you're reading a script.

10. Don't do a phone interview while you're driving. You won’t be able to fully concentrate, and if the interviewer realizes you’re driving, it will come across really badly—because of safety and because it looks like you’re not treating the conversation as a priority.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.