Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: How to stand out in a job interview

Phone interview tips: How to land a second interview

Companies rely on phone interviews to screen candidates. These phone interview tips will help you land a second interview.

How should you prepare for a phone interview? What are the most common phone interview questions? And how can you stand out during a phone interview? Our phone interview tips walk you through the steps to take before, during, and after a phone interview to help you move on to the next stage of the interview process.

Why do companies have phone interviews?

Companies often use phone interviews to screen applicants and decide which candidates to meet in person. Phone interviews save the time and expense of arranging in-person interviews as the first step in a job search. 

During a phone interview, companies want to learn about the applicants' experience, qualifications, and if he/she is a good fit for the position. Candidates who make a strong impression land a second interview.

What to expect during a phone interview

Most companies use phone interviews to screen applicants in the early stages of the interview process. As a result, candidates should prepare to answer questions about their work history and all the duties they have performed in their previous jobs. Interviewers might also ask about the candidate's career goals and knowledge of the company. 

Salary might come up during a phone interview, particularly when speaking with a recruiter. The interviewer may ask about salary expectations or provide the salary range for the role. Phone interviews might last as little as 15 minutes to as long as an hour.

Common phone interview questions

  • "Tell me about yourself."
  • "What makes you a good fit for this role?"
  • "What interests you about this role?"
  • "What do you know about our company?"
  • "What are some of your strengths?"
  • "What are some of your weaknesses?"
  • "Why do you want to work for our company?"
  • "Why are you looking for a new job?"
  • "What are your salary expectations?"
  • "What type of work environment do you prefer?"
  • "What type of management style do you prefer?"
  • "How would you describe your management style?"
  • "Do you have any questions for us?"

Start prepping as early as possible

It's important to start preparing for a phone interview as early as possible. When scheduling the interview, consider blocking off time to prepare. Use that time to learn more about the company, practice your answers to common phone interview questions, and prepare questions for the interviewer.

Get the details down

You've scheduled a phone interview for 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday. But what time zone? Is it a true phone interview or a video call? Who should place the call, you or the interviewer? Make sure you know the details or reach out to the company for clarification. While getting the details down, make sure they have both your phone number and email. If the call is on Zoom, make sure you have the link and test it 10 minutes before your call.

Research the company

During the phone interview, you'll want to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position. Researching the company — and determining why you want to work for them — will go a long way toward landing a second interview. Learn about the company, its values, and its goals. Reach out to anyone in your network who's worked for the company to get an insider perspective.

Make an accomplishments cheat sheet

The interviewer will want to know why they should hire you. Make a cheat sheet of your experiences, skills, and accomplishments. Read the job posting again and write down specific qualifications that the employer is looking for. Make sure you talk about these qualifications in your interview. Use the cheat sheet during the interview when they ask you to provide specific examples of your accomplishments. 

Practice answering common questions

Many phone interviews start with an open-ended question like "tell me about yourself." Practice a concise, focused answer to that question and other common questions. Practice speaking about your strengths and your professional accomplishments. Planning these answers will help you relax and sound confident during the interview.

Plan out your salary answer

Salary expectations might come up during a phone interview. Research the salary range for the role in your area to avoid undervaluing yourself. In fact, you might want to ask about the salary range to make sure the company's pay matches what you're looking for. Plan out how to answer the salary question without selling yourself short. For example, you can avoid saying an exact number but give a range. Or, you can ask the interviewer what the company's salary range is and base your answer off of their range.

Prep three questions for the interviewer

Almost every interview ends with, "do you have any questions for me?" Use your prep time to come up with three questions for the interviewer. Asking questions shows your interest in the role and demonstrates that you've done your research. You can ask about the day-to-day responsibilities, the company culture, or the metrics for success in the role.

Prep your interview materials

What materials will you need during the phone interview? Some people must have a hard copy of their resume at their side. Others want paper to take notes or look at a cheat sheet of their accomplishments. It's also a good idea to have notes about the company and a copy of the job posting. Make sure you prepare any materials well in advance of the interview time. If you are doing a virtual interview, you can pull your notes up on your computer screen for reference.

Do a practice round

You've practiced your answers in front of the mirror, but consider a mock interview to get even more practice. Ask a friend, family member, or someone you trust to practice with you. Provide a list of questions and answer them as you would during the interview. Ask for constructive feedback to improve your answers.

Get in the right mindset

Make a plan to get in the right mindset for your interview. Decide where to take the call — you should make sure you find a distraction-free place to interview. Charge your phone and take it off silent. And do something to calm your nerves immediately before the interview. For example, you might want to meditate, go for a walk, or repeat some affirmations to yourself.

During the phone interview: How to show you're a stand-out candidate

Treat it like an in-person interview

Your first impression goes a long way and approaching a phone interview professionally can help you make it to the second round of interviews. Take the phone interview seriously and make sure to use professional language while remaining conversational. If it is a video interview, you should show up five minutes ahead of time, as you would with an in-person interview.

Act professional and collegial

During a phone interview, the hiring manager evaluates how you would fit in with the team and the company. They want to know what you'd be like as a member of the team. So act professional and friendly. Show that you're an active listener and let small talk happen. Give off the energy of a great coworker and colleague.

Speak slowly and breathe

It's natural to feel nervous during a phone interview, and we tend to speak faster when we're nervous. Make sure to breathe while you speak. Focus on enunciating your words and speaking slowly. If it helps you relax, pretend you're in a mock interview with someone you know well.

Keep water (or coffee) nearby

Don't let a dry throat or cough interrupt your interview. Make sure to start the call with a glass of water close at hand. Or if you prefer, bring a cup of coffee or tea for a little caffeine boost. Similarly, make sure you're not hungry (or overly full) when you start the interview.

Ask follow-up questions

Feel free to ask follow-up questions throughout the call. Asking questions shows the interviewer that you're listening and interested in the role. If the interviewer asks an unclear question, don't hesitate to ask for clarification. It's better to make sure you understand the question than to muddle through with a subpar answer.

Bring examples from your professional experience

The interviewer wants to know if you're a good fit for the role, so make sure to use examples from your professional experience to demonstrate your accomplishments. Those examples serve as evidence of your qualifications and work history. Avoid using examples from your personal life — it's important to stay professional.

Show enthusiasm

Demonstrate enthusiasm during the call. Talk about why you're interested in the role and company, and show your excitement for the career opportunity. Some think speaking professionally requires a robotic demeanor, but that isn't always the case. It's okay to show emotion and energy during a job interview. In fact, doing so helps forge a connection between you and the interviewer.

End on a high note

What's the best way to end the interview on a high note? Make sure to thank the interviewer for their time and express your interest one last time. For example, consider ending the call with "I'm looking forward to the next steps." Your last impression should be one of enthusiasm for the hopeful next interview.

After the phone interview: Ending on a high note

Take notes after the interview

Once you hang up the phone, what's next? While it's fresh in your mind, jot down notes about the interview. Write down new information about the role or company. And take some notes on the main topics covered. These notes can help you prepare for a second interview.

Send a thank-you email

After the interview, make sure to send a thank-you email to the interviewer. The email can be brief. Consider something like "I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the role and company." Take the opportunity to express your enthusiasm for the next steps in the interview process.

Wait to reach out again

You've sent a thank you email and waited several days. When should you reach out again? Wait at least a week before contacting the interviewer again, particularly if they gave you an idea of their timeline. For example, if they said you'd hear back in a week, wait at least a few days after that date to contact them again.

Keep busy

You might feel tempted to replay the interview in your mind and come up with better answers to every question. But keep yourself occupied to avoid dwelling. Write your thoughts in a journal and then go for a walk or get some fresh air. Let a friend or family member know how the interview went, and then focus on your other responsibilities as you wait to hear about a second interview.

In conclusion

Landing a phone interview is a great step. It means that your resume stood out to the company. Sometimes, a phone interview can be the first step in finding a new job. Other times, the phone interview does not lead to a second interview. 

In either scenario, congratulate yourself for gaining confidence and experience by completing the phone interview. Make note of the phone interview tips that were the most useful — you can use them for your next phone interview.

This article was reviewed by Dana Alqaq

dana alqaq, a woman with long brown hair, smiles at the camera

Dana Alqaq comes from a diverse and well-rounded background focusing on IT, cybersecurity, and HR. She is a corporate recruiter in northern Virginia for a government sector and holds bachelor's degrees in cybersecurity and business management. Dana has an extensive background in higher education with over five years of experience, as well as 15 years of experience in customer service. She stays up to date on changes in the tech industry through educational courses and training programs.

Alqaq is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. 

Last reviewed Jan. 27, 2022.

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