Art-a-Month April

How to Prepare for a Phone Interview


It seems that everyone can agree - phone interviews are no fun. Interviews are nerve-wracking already but it’s even harder when you can’t see the person interviewing you. But if you're applying for a job phone interviews are nearly unavoidable. I've had several over the years, starting when I applied to internships and graduate programs in college and as I've applied for jobs since graduate school. Despite having gone through the process several times I still don't look forward to phone interviews. BUT I do know how to prepare for them. I'd love to share my process and tips in case you find yourself preparing for a phone interview!

  • Read through the job description thoroughly and highlight or make note of the important skills that a candidate should have (whether stated or implied). These might be managing a team of people, working under deadlines, completing tasks without supervision, etc. This gives you clues about what you should highlight about yourself to show that you are a great fit for the job.
  • Go to the company's website and read all you can about the type of work they do and current projects, if the information is available. If you know the name of the person you'll be interviewing with, do a Google search for their name. The more I know the better I feel.
  • Write (or type) out typical interview questions and write your answer. This is how I liked to study in college too. Writing out an answer helps me remember it and then I can re-read the questions and answers several times. In my responses I try to work in examples of the key skills I identified by reading the job description and researching the company. 
  • If you didn't include them in the step above, write out the really hard interview questions - these are the ones you're hoping won't be asked. Don't shy away from them - prepare! Here are some interview questions that I consider "difficult"; some of these I was asked during my recent interviews! 

- Tell me something that's not on your resume.

- What do you avoid at the workplace?

- If you're researching a topic, how do you know when to stop?

- Tell me about a time when something at work didn't work out the way you planned and what you did.

- What are your weaknesses?

- What are three words a former colleague would use to describe you?

- What is your proudest accomplishment at work?

- What do you do with down time at work?

- Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult colleague. How did you handle the situation?

I get a bit stressed just writing those! But if you face them head-on before they're asked you have time to come up with a well-crafted answer and having a strong answer to a tough question will be impressive. When I was interviewing for an internship in college I was waiting before the interview and spontaneously I thought, "Oh, I should think of three words to describe myself in case they ask." And wouldn't you know, they totally asked that question! I felt like a million bucks because they said, "We know it's a tough question so you can take a minute to think about it." But I was able to answer right away and I ended up getting the internship.

  • List a few of your work accomplishments and make a note of what skills were used - managing a team, meeting a tight deadline, adapting to a changing situation, etc. This is kind of like answering the questions above in reverse, like Jeopardy! I like to do it though because so many interview questions are situational questions, "Tell me about a time when..." and having a handful of experiences to quickly call upon is so so helpful. So for example, I rehearsed providing details about a project that I worked on last year that was an update of a technical manual. I practiced providing an overview of the project and then gave examples of how I coordinated a team of people, dealt with a changing schedule, had to learn lots of new materials quickly, and worked extra hours to meet deadlines. When I was asked, "Can you tell me about a time when you worked in a team?" I was able to easily provide this example as well as highlight some other skills.
  • Before the interview, decide where to take the call. For my most recent phone interview, I took time off from work so that I could take the call at home. I didn't feel comfortable taking the call anywhere at work since it was such an open space and the alternative was going out to my car to take the call. I didn't think I'd feel very comfortable or confident in that scenario and that could translate to a bad interview. In hindsight I'm really glad I took the time off. Even though I was still really nervous before (and during!) the call, being at home helped me to be as relaxed as possible.

Before the call, set up your phone interview landscape. Mine included:

  • My resume to remind me of relevant work experience as needed.
  • The pages of written/typed questions and answers that I had been reviewing.
  • The job description, to remind me of the key skills and experiences required for the job.
  • A computer with different tabs showing the company/organization website, any other important webpages associated with the company/organization, and a webpage that included a short bio and picture of the person interviewing me. I read that it can make you feel more at ease if you are able to look at a photo of the person you're talking with and I thought it turned out to be a good tip.
  • Paper and a pen to take notes.
  • A glass of water.
  • Your phone! (I turned off the call waiting on mine. That way, if I got a call during the interview I wouldn’t be distracted by the beeping.)

My good friend Jamie gave me two great tips before my phone interview and they helped a lot. They are:

Keep your answers to the point, if they want to know more, they'll ask. This is such a great tip! On the phone, when you can't read someone's facial cues and when there are silences the tendency might be to ramble on. Then it's easy to lose your train of thought and suddenly, "Why am I talking about my summer vacation plans???" The best way to do this is to practice saying your (succinct) answers out loud.

This is related to the first but: Silences are OK, don't rush to fill them. The interviewer will be taking notes so there will likely be silences after you speak because they're writing something. This really helped me to not feel that a silence was awkward, I just reminded myself that the interviewer was writing notes. It helped to keep the pace of our conversation natural and it gives the interviewer time to write down your impressive answers!

Best of luck!!