A Quick Guide to Ace Your Next Phone Interview

Phone Interview Image

Phone interviews are deceptive. They may seem like a breeze because you can reference your notes and you don’t need to be concerned with making eye contact, sweaty palms, or interview dress. However, thinking a phone interview is a “light” version of an in-person interview means you are probably not putting your best foot forward. Phone interviews require just as much preparation, but the preparation is nuanced.

“The two things every job hunter needs to succeed: planning and preparation. ” –Julia Holian

The goal of any phone interview is to land an in-person meeting. However, demonstrating that you are the right candidate for the job is a challenge over the phone because body language and nonverbal cues are not available. We rely heavily on non-verbal communication. Scientists have discovered that 60-90% of our communication does not depend on the words we say, but on how we say them as well as our posture, eye contact, and facial expressions.

To increase your chances of landing the in-person interview, here are a few tips on acing the phone interview:

Your Voice:

Your voice represents you. Your personal brand, usually comprised of your style of dress, body language, and facial expressions is now pared down when on the phone. So how do you make a great first impression with your voice?

It’s important to be aware of your voice quality; this includes resonance, relaxation, pacing, and rhythm. Voice quality can be perceived as rushed, harsh, soft, or shrill, and anything in between. Aim to have your voice sound calm and confident. To achieve this, try making these adjustments.

Back Straight: A straight spine can be heard over the phone. When your back is straight, you enunciate more clearly and sound more resolute. Your neck and throat are wide open and your words carry a more composed and fearless tone. I advise clients to get a high-back chair for the interview so they naturally sit up straight. You can also stand if that feels more comfortable, but don’t pace or walk. It will distract the interviewer from what you are saying.

Smile: Smiling when you talk gives your voice a warm, welcoming tone. It also puts you in a more positive state of mind, which is always helpful in an interview.

Be Enthusiastic: Over the phone, no one can see your eyes light up when you talk about your proudest accomplishments. Your voice has to do it for you. Make sure to put a little more enthusiasm in your voice with every answer, so the interviewer knows you are excited and engaged in the conversation.

Your Words:

Create Flow: The conversation in a phone interview should flow smoothly, with each person taking turns to speak. Talking over the interviewer, or getting tangled up in crosstalk can hold you back from the next round of interviews.

Listen fully to the other person and allow them to complete their thought before jumping in. This may be hard at first because we rely so heavily on sight cues in person, but with practice you will be able to “read” the conversation and have a feel for when the person has concluded their thought.

Silence is Golden: A sliver of silence while you quickly pause to gather your thoughts is a sign of confidence. You may feel more comfortable saying, “Let me gather my thoughts about that,” and take a few seconds (no longer than X) to reflect on the question.

Avoid Filler Words: Words like um, like, so, and you know are “crutch words” you lean on to help you get to the next thought. Get out of the habit of using them by practicing. You can video or even voice record yourself to realize when you say them and track your progress.

Eliminating filler words will help the interviewer focus on what you are saying and not how you are saying it. Your experience and poise will stand out.

Your Environment:

Find Quiet: A room in your house or conference room is ideal when taking the call. Any chance of being disturbed is going to take away from your ability to concentrate and you won’t do your best.

No Interruptions: Barking dogs, leaf blowers, announcements over the intercom at work, or incoming phone calls can ambush your train of thought. Make sure your time with the interviewer is free from distractions.

Headset: Use a headset if you can. It will keep you loose and expressive. Many people talk with their hands, so freeing them up will help your speech and cadence flow freely.

Use a landline if possible: The connection will be clearer and you’ll have more confidence the call won’t be dropped.

On your desk: Have a pen, paper, and your resume in front of you. You can also have an outline of your interview answers, but make sure you don’t read off the paper. The interviewer will sense when you are reading, so just glance at your notes to make sure you are staying on track. Remember to focus on the interviewer first, papers second. Be well prepared to answer the basic types of questions so answers easily roll off your tongue.

Mastering the phone interview is easier if you have a plan: know how you want to come across and which pieces of information are most important for the interviewer to know. With these strategies and tips, you’ll be a confident and competent candidate and land the next step: the in-person interview.


Julia Holian of Holian Associates is a Career Strategist and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals pinpoint what that want to do with their career, then showcase their talents in order to move up in their chosen field or re-enter the job market. Julia leverages her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients navigate the nuances of asking for new projects or a promotion, networking, interviewing, creating a job search plan, negotiating compensation, and successfully assimilating into a new role. Learn more about Julia on our website and at  www.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian.