Critical Tips for Phone Interviews

By Lindsey Novak

September 12, 2019 5 min read

You may not like phone interviews, but the human resources department loves them. One job posting may receive more than 100 resumes of qualified candidates, and no HR department has the time to bring in that many people. The task of narrowing the number may be handled by a software program, but once ill-suited candidates are eliminated, the HR staff steps in to complete the process. Hence the phone interview.

Jean Juchnowicz, owner, CEO and interim HR manager of Human Resources Simplified in Sarasota, Florida, uses the phone interview to screen candidates as a way to save everyone time. "If a person doesn't come across well on the phone, whether it's due to poorly answered questions, odd verbal behavior, or inappropriate questions asked, the phone interview allows me to rule out people who are not a good fit for the job and the company," she says.

She also appreciates the convenience phone interviews allow, as she can conduct them while traveling, between meetings, clustered together or spread throughout the week. Interviews can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the level of questioning needed to select the best candidates for in-person interviews. In her role as an interim HR manager, Juchnowicz has asked up to 15 questions per interview to develop a feel for each candidate's personality. She listens closely to grammar, tone, verbal clarity and overall communication skills, also noting if a person spends most of the time selling himself or herself, asks petty and superfluous questions or seems bossy and pushy.

Phone interviews are here to stay, so job hunters must understand that a phone interview can make or break them. If you want the job, preparation is mandatory, even if you only have a few days' notice. This is not a conversation to have on the run or in your pajamas while slurping your morning coffee. Juchnowicz says, "Turn on your computer and pull up company information you might need. Have a hard copy of your resume, your cover letter, the job description, and a list of potential questions and answers in front of you."

Do not reiterate information on the resume. If you think your current job skills can transfer to this new job, be ready to explain how. When asked why you want to leave your job, present all the requirements of the new position that appeal to you. Show why your background and experience will be a good fit for the job and the company culture. When interviewing, adopt the attitude in President John F. Kennedy's quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." The company is hiring you to contribute to it in all ways possible. It's not hiring you because you need more money and a full benefits package (even if that comes with the employment).

If asked to reveal a past difficulty with a boss or dislike of one of your jobs, don't choose the most dramatic experience you've had in your career. That may show utter honesty, but it also shows your lack of discernment. Common sense is always a major factor when deciding on the best candidate. Keep your answers to one to three sentences. This shows you can think clearly and concisely and not waste the interviewer's time on irrelevant details.

To prepare yourself immediately before the phone call, walk for a few minutes to expend any nervous energy you may have; drink a glass of water; do some deep breathing; or sit quietly to calm yourself. Nervousness can lead you to overtalking and oversharing, which will kill your interview.

Juchnowicz says to ask these five questions at the end of every phone interview:

— Why did the last person in this job leave?

— Can you describe a typical workday?

— What is the supervisor's job title?

— How long has the supervisor worked for the company?

— What are next steps in the interview process?

Take notes. Don't ask for further details. And thank the interviewer.

Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit, and for past columns, see

Photo credit: niekverlaan at Pixabay

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