Ask Amber: Phone interview tips

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

With employers receiving numerous applications for a single vacant position, it is incredibly important to be impressive at every step of the application process. For a young professional, the idea of a phone interview may seem foreign, but I assure you that these are a common practice not to be taken lightly. This week I will help you get more comfortable with the concept of interviewing by phone. 

Question: How do I prepare for a phone interview?

Preparing for a phone interview is much like preparing for a face-to-face interview; many of the same rules apply:

First, have a copy of the job description, your resume, cover letter and any other application materials handy. Keeping these items close saves you time digging through files when a question arises about your application or the job that you can’t recall, and it  also spares the interviewer time spent listening to you awkwardly sifting through papers and mumbling about how you just saw that document a moment ago.

Remain calm and collected. Even if you do misplace something or panic on how to answer a question, you must keep it together in order to avoid seeming “scattered” (or other unflattering ways of saying unprepared/irresponsible). If you do need to step away from the phone for a moment make it brief and be honest about what you are looking for or what’s distracting you.

That being said, if you are prepared, you should not need to use the previous advice. You should have everything handy, including paper and a pen to take notes or write questions that arise for you during the conversation, and you should also have freed yourself from anything that could potentially steal your attention away from the phone call. If at all possible, go someplace where you can be alone. If you find that the place you pick is not as quiet as you originally thought, you may need to ask the interviewer to hold questions for a moment so that you can find someplace quiet (do so right away at the beginning of the conversation, be polite when you ask and remember to be gracious when they agree to hold). Also, make sure you have turned off anything that might make noise during the phone call, and push other thoughts out of your mind. Now is the not the time to be making a mental grocery list or contemplate a font change on your resume.

For some, focusing so intently combined with the nervous energy that is common in interviews can come through in your voice. In order to avoid speaking quickly in a shaky voice or speaking in a slow monotone, try sitting up straight and smiling when you give answers. Though at first this may seem irrelevant to the issue at hand, studies have shown that posture and facial expressions affect your tone of voice. An article from Good Morning America suggests that the person on the other end of the phone call may even try to imitate your conversation style. If you are smiling, relaxed and professional, the person on the other line will pick up on this energy and relay the same attitude back to you. Some have even suggested that when making important calls it’s best to stand, so that your voice comes through more professional and authoritative. Monster claims that this may be due to the frame of mind you get from standing that exudes confidence.

Thinking ahead to what questions might be asked can also help you to prepare answers and therefore feel more comfortable when tough questions arise. Challenging questions could include the following that JVA staffers have seen or even asked before:

  • Why are you applying? What do you know about the organization?
  • Name three things you never want to do again in a work situation.
  • Give an example that shows your ability to handle conflict.
  • Tell me a little about yourself.

This last conversation starter may seem harmless, but how you answer is crucial! You never want to draw a blank or ramble about insignificant details such as your favorite color or why you chose the name you did for your dog. In times like these it’s great to have an “elevator speech” prepared that demonstrates your related work skills and qualifications. Click here for tips on how to craft an elevator speech.

Most importantly, don’t ever, ever, EVER be rushed or rude on a phone interview. If you know you absolutely cannot follow through with the phone call due to prior commitments or just a bad day, explain patiently to the interviewer that you are unable to do the interview at that moment but you will be free X day, or X afternoon. This should be a last resort because hopefully you are expecting the call and can put any issues aside for a moment. After all, this person is calling about a potential job offer—that’s good!

Phone interviews are the gate you must pass through in order to get a face-to-face interview. If you do a great job in this initial step you advance to the next round of interviews and are that much closer to hearing those magic words: “when can you start?”

Send your questions to and you could see them in my next Ask Amber blog!


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