The last phone interview I did was for my job at the Boston Globe. And let me just confess that I wasn’t that great in the interview, and I stressed a lot afterwards about not getting the job. But, of course, I did get the job, which I think might be evidence that I write so much about career advice that I am becoming way too hard on myself.

At any rate, I have done tons of phone interviews—on both sides of the hiring equation—so when Sia asked me to write a post on how to do a phone interview, I was surprised that I hadn’t written one already. (Although I have written a bunch about interviews.)

So, here are five tips for doing well in a phone interview:

1. Attend to your surroundings.
If you have an interview scheduled, take precautions beforehand to get in a good spot physically.

Don’t take the interview when you are at your desk and can’t talk freely. Don’t take the call when there is too much noise in the background. And don’t walk from one place to another because the breathlessness that comes from walking and talking at the same time subconsciously conveys lack of authority to someone who doesn’t know you.

If you did not schedule it beforehand, feel free to ask the interviewer if you can call back at a better time. You will not sound disinterested, but rather, you will sound concerned for managing your life by organizing your commitments.

2. Dress for the part.
Consider getting dressed up for your interview, even though no one will see you.

The emails you write to a hiring manager are different than your emails to your friends. You can’t talk to an interviewer the same way you talk with your friends. You know this, but the shift is difficult without practice. And if you are not practiced at talking about business on the phone, it’s hard to get into business mode for the call.

A way to compensate for this is to dress for an interview even though the interviewer can’t see you. In the 90s when people debated the virtues of dumping suits at the workplace in favor of business casual, there was a fair amount of research to show that people took their work more seriously when they were in a suit. That makes sense. Girls act more like a princess when they’re in a prom dress than when they’re in running shorts, and the same happens with people in work clothes.

I’m not saying you should wear a suit all the time. I’m saying that when there’s a risk of sounding too casual or unprofessional on the phone, dressing up a little can actually change how you sound.

3. Stand up.
No kidding. You’ll sound more self confident and dynamic if you stand while you speak than if you sit. Walking around a bit, but not too much, also keeps the call going smoothly. If your body is confined, your speech sounds different than if you have run of the room. It’s one reason that the best speakers walk around instead of standing in one place at the podium.

Using hand gestures is very natural for talking, so allow yourself to use them, even though you’re on the phone. You don’t have to force it. They will just come, as long as your hands are free. And you want to sound natural on the phone because authentic is more likeable. So walking around a room with a headset will actually give you the freedom to be more yourself on the call.

4. Prepare for the most obvious questions.
A resume is to get someone to pay attention to you. An in-person interview is to see if people like you. Somewhere in between those two events, people need to make sure you are qualified and you don’t have any huge red flags. So in a phone interview you can expect people to focus on those two concerns.

You will probably get questions asking you to show that you actually have the skills to accomplish the goals for the open position. Be prepared to give organized, rehearsed examples of how you have performed at work in the past in order to show your skill set.

Also, be ready for a question about the most obvious problem on your resume—often frequent job changes or big gaps in work. These are answers you should practice. Even if your answer isn’t great, a good delivery can make the difference between getting through a phone screen or not.

5. Don’t forget to close.
An interview is about selling yourself, and the best salespeople are closers. Your goal for a phone interview is to get an in-person interview. So don’t get off the phone until you have made some efforts to get to that step. Ask what the process is for deciding who to interview face-to-face. Ask for decision-making timelines, and try to find out who is making the decisions. Don’t barrage the interviewer with questions in this regard, but the more information you have, the more able you will be to get yourself to the next step.

And don’t forget a key component of a successful close—even for a phone interview–is a thank you note to followup.

Finally, after you get done with a phone interview, send out a few more resumes, or go fill out a few more job applications. Hopefully, you won’t need to keep hunting because the phone interview will clinch the job. But it will make you crazy to just sit and wait for the interviewer to take action. If you keep job hunting you are taking action yourself which will make you feel more in control over your situation.

The best way to ace an interview is to be interviewing for your dream job. It’s so easy to sell yourself when you are a perfect fit for a job you’re dying to have. But it’s really hard to identify what that dream job is. And then, of course, you need a path to get to that job. Here’s a course helps you identify the best job for you and shows you how to get it: Get Your Dream Job Now!

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115 replies
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  1. Paul McCartney
    Paul McCartney says:

    I am really enjoying the theme/design of your website.
    Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems?
    A handful of my blog visitors have complained about my site not working correctly in
    Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any solutions to help fix this issue?

  2. Beverly
    Beverly says:

    Completely agree with getting dressed for an interview, even if you can’t be seen. Doing an interview in a dressing gown is rather tricky if you want to get in the ‘zone’ of getting a job successfully.

  3. TP
    TP says:

    I have 2 gaps in my resume for 4 and 10 months respectively, spaced every 2 years. Both times were for overseas travel. I am now looking for another job again, almost exactly 2 years later…

    How do you recommend I phrase this without it looking like every 2 years I become bored with my job and ditch it? I know it is definitely something a recruiter will pick up on.

  4. Jared Williams
    Jared Williams says:

    I have been interviewing a lot lately, well… far more than a lot being a front-end developer. That’s why I’ve had more phone screens, phone interviews, code tests and collaborative coding phone calls, and problem solving questions during phone call interviews than anyone could imagine really.

    I’m wondering what I should think when I am told at the end of the 2nd phone live coding interview that the next step would be to fly out to meet in-person, and then told a week later when following up they would like to do another phone interview, and again same thing for a fourth.

    I would like to respond with my availability to do a 4th call, but also somehow inquire about how well I am doing thus far in the process, and if I’m in a good place or not as far as what they’re looking for in potential candidates they’re interviewing.

    Any tips/feedback/other that might be helpful regarding this type of situation you may have would be greatly appreciated. :)

  5. John
    John says:

    Dressing up for phone interviews is one of the best pieces of counterintuitive advice I’ve ever received. Just wrote an article about it on my blog, and came across this article wheile searching for other people who’d written the same advice.

    I also do most of the other stuff, but number 1 is new to me- almost wish I was job hunting so I could try it out.

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