Ace the Phone Interview

Julie Barnes

written by Julie Barnes, PHR®

This article provides key information to help job seekers ace the phone interview.  To begin, I want to provide some insight as to what the initial process looks like upon submitting an application.  Every company may have a slightly different version but the basic steps are usually the same or similar.

First, you submit an on-line application to the position and company of your choice. A recruiter or equivalent company representative manages the job requisition for the specific position and will review incoming applications.  In some cases, companies automate the initial screening of candidates through their applicant tracking system (ATS).  A score is tied to the applicant’s record. This score is calculated by weightings assigned to certain questions in the application and/or based on the matching of keywords between the job description and the resume.  In those cases, the recruiter will only see a % of applications with the highest job match score.  In other organizations, recruiters review every resume.  When a recruiter first takes a look at an application, usually, the resume is reviewed first.  The recruiter will spend about 10 seconds reviewing the resume while almost instantaneously making the decision on whether or not to take a deeper look at the applicant.

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If the recruiter decides to review the entire application, he/she will spend another minute or so, making a determination to move forward or not to the interview process. At this stage, you would expect to receive contact from a recruiter or other company rep.  Typically, this is where you will be contacted about conducting a phone interview.

So, what does this mean for you?  When you get contacted about a phone interview, the contact may come by phone or email.  If you are actively searching for a job, make sure you are doing the following:

  1. Have a professional email address. If needed, set up an alias email address tied to your primary.  Check and respond to emails daily.
  2. Have a professional voicemail that states your name.  Ex: “Hello, you have reached “First Name, Last Name”.  I am unavailable at the moment.  Please leave your name and phone number. I will get back with you as soon as possible”.  Check and respond to voicemails daily.
  3. Be ready for an impromptu phone call.  Be polite and professional. State your name when you answer your phone. Ex: “This is “First Name”.  This sounds professional,  confirms to the recruiter they have reached the correct person and confirms the pronunciation of your name.   If the company representative asks to do an on the spot phone interview, I recommend you request to schedule a time. This provides you adequate time to prepare.
  4. Do research on the company prior to the call. At a minimum, review the website and company mission.  Have your questions written down.  Wait to ask questions until you are asked.
  5. At the scheduled call time, be in a quiet place where you can concentrate and take notes.
  6. Have a 1-2 minute introduction prepared about yourself and your professional background.
  7. Know your salary requirements.
  8. Be energetic!
  9. Listen closely to questions.
  10. Have an understanding of how your strengths will help you be successful in this new position.

I recently conducted a phone interview with a young lady who we’ll call Stephanie.   She is in the process of retiring from the Army after 20 years of active duty service. She was well prepared and energetic. At the beginning of our conversation, she told me she was really nervous because this was the first phone interview she had done.  She did great!  Here are  a couple of things that set her apart.  She had a clear understanding of the position and how her personal and professional goals aligned.  Her passion for her career choice helped her communicate that message effectively.  When I asked her a question, she not only answered the question but would expand on the why behind her answer or provide me with an example or a story to substantiate her response.  At the end of the interview, she asked for feedback on how she did.  I absolutely loved that she asked for feedback.  It showed me insight into her openness for growth and development and a desire to continue bettering herself.

Don’t be shy to ask for feedback. Feedback helps each of us see how others view us, builds self-awareness and will help you ace that phone interview!

Julie Barnes is a speaker and expert resource for Transition Assistance Programs in the United States. She currently serves as the Director of Recruiting for First Command and is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR®) with more than 12 years of experience in talent acquisition and human resources.


About the Author

This article was written by Liz Wheeler