The Only Way to Ace the Phone Interview is to Embrace it

If you’re not a fan of conversations with strangers, the phone interview might be your least favorite part of the interview process—but it’s also likely the one you’ll have to experience the most. For better or for worse, phone interviews are also often the first live point of contact you’ll have with a recruiter or hiring manager, so it’s well worth getting over any fears you might have and embracing this quick screen as a way of putting your best foot forward—and a valuable tool for learning more about the company and role.

Your best self in 30 minutes

Love it or hate it, teams use the phone screen to decide whether or not to move forward with a candidate, so performing well—regardless of your technical abilities—is a key piece of landing your next job.

Know your audience

First, take into account who you’re speaking with. While recruiters often take phone screens on behalf of the team, there’s always a chance your first conversation is with the hiring manager—particularly if it’s a smaller company. To tailor your preparation, put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes. If you were a technical recruiter, for example, what would you be hearing from other candidates, and what might urge you to pass one candidate along to the team for further consideration over another? If you were leading a technical team and looking for your next hire, on the other hand, which attributes would you be looking for in potential new team members?

Perfect your story

Regardless of who you’re speaking with, spend time figuring out how you want to tell your professional story. Chances are, the first question in your interview will be related to your experience and background, so it’s worth nailing it and moving on to more interesting things. Practicing telling your story can help you to avoid rambling, and ensures that your key achievements don’t get lost in a long narrative.

Know how you fit

You’ll likely also be asked about your motivations for applying to the company and role, so do your research on both. It can be helpful to pull some key phrases or points from the job description that you can reference as you’re speaking, which both shows that you’re actually interested in the role, and that you’re aware of the challenges ahead if you were to join. In addition, it goes without saying that you should be familiar with the company’s business and products, but go the extra mile by researching recent news and asking relevant questions if the opportunity arises.

Wow them with questions

Lastly, prepare a few impactful, pithy questions before your call, as even the questions are a chance to show your interviewer that you’re interested—and interesting. There is usually only time for one or two enquiries from the candidate’s end, so doing this can help to ensure you don’t resort to generic questions. Try to choose questions that show you’ve done your research, but which can also help you better prepare for further in-person interviews.

After the call

If your interviewer doesn’t give you a clear idea of next steps, a thank you email can be a good way of gently nudging for further information. Use your best judgement as to whether or not to send an email right away, but it’s generally best practice to send a quick thank you note, and usually can’t hurt.

In addition, take some time to reflect on your call—what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d like to improve for the next one. Some interviewers will even give feedback, either on the call or after the fact, which can be even more helpful as you think about how to hone your phone interview skills. Eventually, these quick screens will feel like nothing more than what they really are—brief conversations for both you and the company to evaluate whether it’s worth spending more time together.

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