How to Get Past the Phone Interview

Dear, Anita,

It seems like more HR departments are starting with phone interviews these days, which is tricky because I am currently employed. I’ve had a few phone interviews recently that haven’t led to an invitation for an in-person interview. How can I make a better impression on the telephone?

Woman_Cell_Phone_iStock_000000292386_SmallDear, Can You Hear Me Now?,

Phone screening of candidates is definitely becoming more common. With so many applications submitted for each position, hiring managers don’t have the time to meet every applicant in person.

First things first. While you are job hunting, be sure to answer your cell phone professionally at all times. Check out Careerealism’s blog What To Say When An Interviewer Calls You At A Bad Time. It is a delicate undertaking to convene a phone interview while you are on the clock at your current employer. Try to schedule the pre-interview during your usual lunch time. If the hiring manager is unavailable in the middle of the day, you may need to ask your boss for time off for a vague “appointment” (you’ll want to save other personal days for on-site interviews).

Right before the scheduled time, close your office door, if you have one. If you’re part of a cubicle farm, find a private place with five-bar cell phone reception. You may have to take the call in your vehicle. Don’t just go outside and interview on the sidewalk; background street noise can be very distracting. Side note to unemployed job seekers: do not conduct a phone interview in your pajamas while lying on the sofa. Get up, get dressed, and sit up straight! (How’s that for tough love?) It’s amazing how attitude can be subtly transmitted through a telephone call.

Some people may shine during phone interviews, feeling less nervous than they would in person. (After all, the hiring manager can’t see that you are sweating through your jacket!) However, not everyone has great phone charisma. Just like actors in live theater have to over-emote to reach the audience in the balcony, you may have to pump up the enthusiasm in your voice when the interviewer can’t see your forward-leaning body language and the energetic gleam in your eye.

The interviewer may ask some basic pre-screening questions, or he or she may jump into the deep end with the “big” questions. Ready yourself for a phone interview just as you would for a face-to-face meeting – be prepared for anything.

Businessman on the beachIf you are asked to interview via Skype or video conference, additional groundwork is required. You’ll want to dress exactly as if you were going to a “real” interview, so make sure your outfit is pressed and ready. Find the best vantage point to set up your web cam, tablet, or phone to have the least distracting background possible. You don’t want the interviewer to see your messy desk or a stack of unwashed dishes in your kitchen sink. Get opinions from friends or trusted colleagues on your backdrop, and ask them for feedback on your posture, facial expression, and speech patterns.

At the end of the phone interview, or an in-person interview for that matter, be sure you understand what to expect next and the timeframe you may hear back from the company.  Just like you send a thank you for a face-to-face interview, you should follow up with this same courtesy for a virtual interview.

Readers: How often are you asked for phone pre-interviews? Have you ever had an embarrassing interruption while on a phone interview?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

Landing a Job Long Distance
Take Stock with a Mock Interview

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rosalinda Fuentes
    Feb 07, 2016 @ 19:41:05

    im looking for a job 1st shift 40 hrs a wk or more… monday – friday


  2. Gustavo Morales Lopez
    Apr 29, 2015 @ 19:16:34

    How does this work .. i mean I signed for an employment agency named Select Staffing Recruitment Team and i got an email telling me to sign up to this blog ..


    • anitaclew
      May 01, 2015 @ 09:19:52

      Gustavo, You should hear back from your application in about a week or so. If you do not, follow up by phone or email with the branch to which you applied. The “Job Talk with Anita Clew” blog offers advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers/supervisors. We hope the tips and words of wisdom will shorten your job search.


  3. Dale Johnson
    Apr 29, 2015 @ 08:28:26

    I’m 61 and graying. I get job interviews because I have a great resume, I do everything right, I am usually the most qualified with years of experience and training. However, I do not get hired. I believe it is my age. I try to emphasize my energy and work ethic. I make it a point to tell them I go to the gym regularly and I’m a triathlete. I still don’t get the job. What can I do? I’ve even tried coloring my hair!


    • anitaclew
      May 01, 2015 @ 09:17:40

      Dale, It could be that you are being overlooked because of your age. A younger person with less experience may also be willing to take a lesser salary. Check out my past blog: I know you’ve already tried some of the suggestions, but keep at it. You’ll eventually find a company that will treasure your unique combination of experience and vitality! P.S. Leave a little grey at the temples; you don’t want to appear that you’re trying too hard to hide your age.


  4. Tiffany Lieu
    Apr 28, 2015 @ 13:56:16

    You just never know when the interviewers call. I have received calls during a time when the TV noises, music, kitchen/bathroom noises, and others talking occurred. I just don’t know how to time it better to receive the calls. When the surrounding noises get too loud, I usually like to indicate to my family members to tone down. They usually understand seeing you are on a phone. I like to make do through conversing on. Also, I have had people call in when I had the flu/cold too. Best way is to sound as clear as possible. My phone interviews weren’t always that successful getting the in-person interviews at times.


    • anitaclew
      May 01, 2015 @ 09:02:51

      Tiffany, if you are in “job search” mode and receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, try to go to a quieter room in the house before answering. If you are sick when taking a call, give a short explanation for your scratchy throat or congestion, especially if the job for which you are applying requires superior phone skills.


Leave a Reply to Tiffany Lieu Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
%d bloggers like this: