How to prep for the most common phone interview questions in 10 minutes

For most career opportunities, a phone interview is a very first step in the process. Sometimes it’s a recruiter, other times someone from the human resources team at the company and rarely, the hiring manager him or herself. If you run out of time to review all of the details and you need to prep stat, don’t sweat it. A hot second before the phone rings, gather yourself mentally and go through this action list that’ll have you ready to ace any behavioral interview question or common phone interview questions they throw your way.

From setting up your space to be mindful and distraction-free to going through a rapid-fire audit of your social networks, here’s how to set yourself up for success with our guide in preparing for a phone interview in 10 minutes, flat:

Set up shop and get comfortable

While this may seem obvious, a cluttered desk won’t do anything to maintain a professional train of thought. That’s why executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson says step one is ensuring the space around you is clean, tidy and ready for anything that might be thrown your way. Rather than choosing a random coffee shop, your car or a side office at your current employer isn’t acceptable. It’s better to take the call from home—if you can—or at least somewhere you won’t be disturbured. 

To go a step even further, she suggests printing your resume and having it in front of you, as well as your LinkedIn profile in near sight. Many common phone interview questions will ask you to expand on parts of your career scoresheet, and having it within view is an easy way to dive right in. “Have a notebook or at least three pages of paper and a pen ready to take notes on key phrases, insights, or job details the interviewer gives,” she adds.

Review the company’s website so that you are prepared for the common phone interview questions

If you’ve interviewed candidates in your current position, you know how frustrating it is to chat with someone who knows little-to-nothing about your brand. Many of the common phone interview questions will require you to know about the company. That’s why reading over the company’s website before your phone interview is an important step. Leadership development and career expert Elizabeth Whittaker-Walker suggests going over the mission statement, vision and core values at a bare minimum. “If you’re in a pinch, you likely won’t remember everything verbatim, but at the very least prepare to speak to why you’re drawn to the role and how that fits within the larger scope of the mission, vision and so on,” she explains. “You may be asked why you chose to apply for the position and this will help you answer the question clearly. Because you’ll be on the phone, it’s important for your passion for the opportunity to translate verbally.”

Practice deep breathing exercises

Even if you know you have all of the skills necessary to excel in the position you’re in the running for, everyone gets anxiety during the interview process. Self-confidence can take a backseat when your nerves run rapidly, which is why Pearson suggests going through a few deep breathing exercises to locate your zen. “The American Institute of Stress explains that deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brains and promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help us feel a one with our bodies—which brings awareness away from our worries about the interview and quiets our minds,” she explains.

What’s great about this tip is that you can do it anywhere—all you need is a little patience and attention. Here, Pearson instructs:

  1. Sit up straight in your chair or stand up nice and tall with your arms at your sides.
  2. Place your hand over your diaphragm.
  3. Breathe in deeply through your nose while counting to ten.
  4. Hold your breath for five counts.
  5. Exhale slowly through your mouth while counting to 10.
  6. Repeat as necessary.

Read your resume so you can answer the common phone interview questions

Yep, that’s right: it’s simple. You wrote the thing (or you hired a professional to do it for you), so it’s vital to know what it says! All too often, people miss this step and then are stumped when a recruiters asks about a specific bullet. Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D., an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert urges interviewees to go line-by-line so they’re familiar with every last nugget of information. “The recruiter will likely ask specific questions about your work history, education, and experience. Think of easy examples that highlight your skill sets to share as you discuss your most recent jobs,” she stresses. “Take quick notes that you may use to jog your memory while on the call.”

Prep for small talk when it comes to common phone interview questions

You may not really care about how they’re day is going. Or to discuss the fact you both went to the same graduate school. But small talk is one of those necessary evils that can actually work in your favor. How come? People want to hire people, and this little bit of chit-chat can make a difference in how you’re perceived by the interviewer, according to Pearson. “Look them up on LinkedIn and request to connect as soon as you are given their name before the call. Find out where they went to school, where they live, or if they volunteer anywhere,” she recommends. “Then when you’re asked about the weather wherever you are, you can respond with an answer and a follow up like, ‘It’s 60 degrees and sunny here, Rachel. How is it up in Philly?’ Be sure to say their name to deepen the authentic connection.”

 Connect skills alignment through your answers to the common phone interview questions

Set a timer for three minutes and focus solely on the job description of the gig you’re hoping to secure. For each of the bullets, write down a note or an example of how you meet the requirement. Whittaker-Walker says this will be an all-too-essential piece of paper to reference when you’re answering common interview questions. “This list will be helpful if you’re asked why you think you’re a good fit, or if you’re asked to share general examples of your leadership abilities,” she continues. “It will also help the interviewer see alignment between your background and the role, which is a big part of early-round phone screens.”

 Search your social and professional networks

Hopefully, if you’re in the market for a new opportunity or you’re working diligently to shift your career, you’ve already given your social media profiles a facelift. Just in case you missed something, Whittaker-Walker suggests taking the time to scan LinkedIn, Facebook and so on before the phone call comes in. If you have minutes to spare, consider looking to see if you have any connections to the company in question. Having a few people you know is a smart way to name drop during the conversation. Or better yet, provide a resource for you to reach out to post-interview, to gain insights about the culture—and if they’d speak up about you. “A good word from a valued colleague can go a long way and can set you apart from other applicants,” she notes.

The 15 most common phone interview questions

1. Can you tell me about yourself?

2. Why do you want to leave your current role?

3. Why are you applying for this position?

4. How does your experience line up with this position?

5. What interests you about this role?

6. What interests you about this company?

7. What are you passionate about?

8. Tell me more about your role at [company]?

9. This job calls for X, do you think you will be able to do that?

10. What are your salary expectations?

11. Do you have a preferred management style?

13. Are you currently interviewing with any other companies?

14. When would you be able to start in this role?

15. Do you have any questions for me?