9 tips for the phone interview in this new world

Though phone interviews have always been part of the recruiting and hiring process, in the past two months, they’ve gone from uncommon to the norm. Whether you’re dialing-in for audio-only or hopping on a video, your ability to master a digital conversation can make or break the opportunity. Particularly in a time when the competition is higher than ever, showing off your A-game will make you a more attractive candidate to employers.

The biggest hurdle of trying to snag a job outside of an office is allowing your expertise and personality to shine through. Here, career coaches and experts provide their best advice for nailing the new normal of virtual interviews.

Don’t just be on time, be early

Even if you’re the unofficial tech support of your household, hiccups happen to everyone. It might not matter for a family movie night, but if it causes you to be five minutes late to an interview, it could cost you the gig. That’s why chief brand and engagement officer at EHE Health Joy Altimare suggests logging on five to ten minutes early to test the equipment. Dependent on the company, you may have to download new software to join in. It’s better to be sitting on the line, waiting for the interviewer rather than the other way around.

Keep your eye on the computer’s camera lens

Think about the last time you FaceTimed with your friends or your family. Did you find it tricky to know where to look? If so, you’re not the only one. In fact, Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner, and workplace expert, says most people tend to fidget, look down or look away when someone is not directly in front of us. That’s why it’s best to strive to keep your eye directly in the camera, so the person on the other endnotes your level of attention and participation. “You may want to practice with a friend or loved one before the interview to see how you come across on video. Then, you will know how to shift your body’s positioning and gaze to make the best impression,” she adds.

Clean up your space

During these unsettling times, your mind may feel scattered. Your attention span may be short, to say the very least. And your motivation to tidy up the kitchen? Or the living room? Meh, not so much. But when you’re prepping for an interview via video, Kristin Lockhart, the vice president of recruiting services at Adams Keegan, says it’s important to tidy up your area. And not only in terms of what’s visible to the interviewer, but also the table or desk in front of you, as well as the sounds in your home. “You should plan to be in a place that is quiet, with no background noise or other distractions, like children, dogs, birds, and so on,” she continues. “If you are using your mobile phone, turn off your messaging and other alerts on your phone, because that can easily disrupt your thoughts. A speakerphone is ideal as it frees your hands for taking notes, and it stays stationary.”

Dress for the part you wish to play

You know how the saying goes, so, um, you should probably put on pants already. Though many people are enjoying the freedom to dress comfortably while quarantined at home, an interview is a reason enough to freshen up your wardrobe. “Wear clothing appropriate to the industry and err on the side of being overdressed instead of underdressed,” Hakim suggests. “You should do this even if the recruiter says that you need not get dressed up. Think ‘smart casual’ as a guiding look.”

Do your homework

As with any interview, Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, the CEO of EnrichHER, says it’s essential to do your homework and research what makes the company you’re interviewing with unique. You should research everything from culture and mission to core values, and then brainstorm examples that prove your fit. Then, make sure you can weave those instances into the conversation. “If you are on the phone, mention that you’ve read their latest blog article or the press release about their recent team volunteering effort, and be sure to note a specific fact you discovered about it. This will show effort and attention to detail,” she recommends.

Use this list of the most common phone interview questions to make sure that you are prepared for anything they ask you.

Listen and take notes

Though this may seem like a no-brainer, many people are so nervous during an interview; they have trouble listening to what the interviewer is saying. Instead, they listen to their anxious thoughts and then lose track of the course of the discussion. A way to prevent this from happening, according to Lockhart, is by taking notes. Particularly during a phone interview, when you aren’t forced to pay attention in the same way, scribbling down key points will keep you on track. “It is difficult to read the interviewer with no facial expressions, so you must listen carefully and clarify the questions before you respond,” she shares. “You can also refer back to thoughts or questions you may have without disrupting the interview.”


Did you know that smiling can lift your own spirits? And when you grin, your voice changes, and your demeanor is calmer. When you’re on a video call, career expert for TopInterview, Amanda Augustine says flashing those pearly whites will cause others to perceive you as more friendly, energetic, and positive. And believe it or not, the same is true when you aren’t face-to-face. “While the interviewer can’t see you are smiling through the phone, research proves that they can detect when you’re smiling based only on the changes in your tone of voice,” she notes.

How can you get ready? Augustine suggests a pre-interview ritual that lifts your energy levels. “Whether that involves push-ups, meditation, or a jam session on your guitar, find something to boost your endorphins,” she adds.

Pause before you respond

Sometimes, Lockhard says phone interviews become awkward when people are speaking over one another. To avoid this, always put the interviewer first and allow them to direct the conversation. An easy way to ensure you’re doing this, according to Lockhart, is to stop and breathe before you begin your response in case there are additional points to the question. “Speak clearly and carefully and confirm that you have answered the question. Keep your answers short, or you can lose your audience if you speak for too long,” she urges.

Pay attention to the interviewer’s surroundings

As with any interview, following-up is a smart practice. You want to not only illustrate your appreciation for the opportunity but reiterate your excitement for possible next steps. Dr. Novellus says video interviews actually offer an advantage to make your ‘thank you’ note more impactful and personal. If you can, she recommends finding something about your interviewers’ surroundings that you like. For example, you might mention that their garden seems like a lovely place to recharge during a lunch break if you can see it from your interviewer’s window. “This will let them know you were really paying attention,” she adds.