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9 Phone Interview Questions and Tips To Get Your Foot In The Door

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Hiring managers are inundated with resumes. Doing in-person interviews takes a lot of time so many managers use phone interviews as a way to narrow down candidates. If you are facing that first hurdle, we have 9 phone interview questions and tips to get your foot in the door.

An entire generation of people doesn’t seem to use their phone for actual phone calls. We are becoming less accustomed to speaking to others in person, and much more comfortable with texting and emojis.

What do you mean I have to speak to a human? Like…on the phone? Gross!

Unfortunately for these people, when it comes to finding a job, a phone interview is increasingly becoming the first step in the hiring process. In fact, many companies don’t even ask for a resume anymore, they care way more about how you interact with others and your personality.

Phone interviews are becoming more common because the average corporate position is attracting some 250 applicants these days. Ya!

So, the phone interview plays a vital role in the hiring process, and it’s therefore critical that you learn to master this lost art form. You have to become smooth like Keanu when it comes to mastering phone interview questions.

A man holding a banana to his ear like a phone.

Let’s get started.

Top reasons to master phone interview questions

Phone calls are fast

Calling someone on the phone is an easy thing to do. It doesn’t require any traveling, and sometimes it doesn’t even require scheduling. Yes, there are such things as surprise phone interviews, but more on that later.

Phone calls are used to narrow down the list of candidates

Phone interview questions are a fast way to interview people, so recruiters increasingly use this method to narrow down their lists of candidates quickly.

Jorg Stegemann, a headhunter with Kennedy Executive Search & Outplacement, wrote in an article for Forbes, noting that

“I identify the 15 that interest me most, and call them. Based on my impressions during telephone screening interviews, I meet with five or seven of these people. Only three of them make the shortlist that I present to my client.”

How to prepare for phone interview questions

The same as you would prepare for an in-person interview. But it also depends on the type of an interview: it is already scheduled, or is it unscheduled?

Scheduled phone interview questions

The recruiter or HR has contacted you, now what? For this kind of phone interview, since you know it’s happening, you can be very ready. The Monster employment website has a list of things you should have ready and in front of you for the interview. These are your cover letter and resume, as well as some answers to expected interview questions.

We will dig into some common phone interview questions to consider a bit later, but according to the official Listen Money Matters Jobs Survey of 2017 (not a real thing!), the most common phone interview question is:

What is your favorite song from the 1990’s?

And, truthfully, the only correct answer to that question is Kriss Kross, Jump Jump. Right?

Unscheduled (or surprise) phone interview

This can get tricky. A recruiter may call you out of the blue. Remember, they are trying to narrow down a list of candidates quickly, and an easier way to do that is to call people when they aren’t necessarily ready.

Make sure you always answer your phone professionally. Make sure the answering machine on your phone plays a professional sounding message.

Jeff Gillis of The Interview Guys agrees. Jeff suggests the best thing to do is if you aren’t prepared then to let the call go to voicemail. However, if you do happen to answer it, Gillis emphasizes to “let the interviewer know that you aren’t able to speak freely and ask if you can schedule a time for the call. DON’T TRY AND WING IT!”

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Phone interview questions you should expect

Once you are past the formalities and greetings, the actual interview will start. This will be like any other interview, the recruiter will ask questions, you’ll answer, trying your best to compensate for the lack of nonverbal communication advantage you no longer have. Here is the list of some common phone interview questions you should expect:

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself. 

You may think that this is not even a question. But sometimes recruiters will ask open-ended questions like this one and you have no choice but to respond. The trick is to keep your answer brief, but extensive enough to cover a few major points in your career, and also it has to be relevant to the job you’re being considered for. 2

2. What interests you about this job?

Be specific answering this question. Gillis advises to “make sure to tailor the answer to fit the qualifications listed in the job posting, then loop them back to connect to your skills and experience. You want the employer to see you not only know about the job you’re interviewing for, but that you’re qualified and a good fit!”

3. Why are you leaving your current role?

The recruiter may use this question to find out if there are issues in your current company that also exist in theirs, and eliminate you as a candidate if so.

4. What experience do you have in…?

Martin Yate, CPC, author of Knock ’em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World writes for Screencast,

“Make any discussion of your experience relevant to the deliverables of this particular job, and reference the specific skills you possess that enable you to do it well.”

He adds that you should show you’re a problem solver and a problem preventer “by giving concrete examples of problem identification and solution.”

5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When it comes to your strengths, you want to make sure you connect them to the job requirements, whether it’s the technical know-how to do the job, or the flexibility to work in a team, etc.

And when it comes to weakness, Yate states that we all have an issue finding time to stay current with all of the new technology related to your job. However, he suggests ending your answer saying you’re already working on combating that deficiency.

And for goodness sakes, don’t ever say your weakness is that you’re too passionate. YUCK!

6. Are you willing to relocate for the job?

This question should not come as a surprise. Know your answer in advance and answer honestly.

7. Are you willing to travel for this job?

You should know this in advance, too. You read the job requirements, you know it requires traveling. Be honest about your flexibility.

8. What is your current and expected salary?

This question is one of the most common methods used to filter out the candidates. Better Team writes in their blog that they use this question in two ways.

If you’re already making more than they would offer, they know to eliminate you right away. They also get information about your seniority within your current company. How do you answer it?

By being ready. Alison Doyle writes for The Balance that the only way to beat salary questions is to do a lot of research beforehand. It will help you in the interview, and also in the salary negotiation stage of the process.

10. How soon can you start, if we hire you for this position?

Think about what the honest answer here is. It’s rarely a good idea to say “right now” because that makes you come off as desperate. And it may be used against you when you get to the salary negotiation.

If you already have a job somewhere else, you have to make sure to give enough notice. Really think about this question ahead of time and make sure to give the recruiter an honest answer, and to give yourself enough time.

There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Look, I want to be fair to my current employer and they require one month’s notice, and I don’t want to place a burden on my co-workers, so 6 weeks would be about right to make sure everything’s in order on my end.”

Phone interview questions YOU should ask

Asking the questions during your interview may be tricky. You should ask things you’re genuinely interested in, and try to avoid asking simple questions about the company, the job requirements, or selfish questions.

Like if you’re interview for something law enforcement related, it’s not cool for your first question to be: So, when do I get my gun?

It’s best to prepare your questions ahead of time, and have a couple ready to ask. Here are some questions to ask in a phone interview, when there is an opportunity:

1. Can you please describe a typical day, or a week for this position?

This is one of the most important questions to ask during a phone interview. By asking this you’re showing interest in the actual day-to-day work. You’re letting the recruiter know you’re trying to imagine what it is like actually being an employee at the company.

2. What do you view as the most challenging part of the job?

You’re asking for the recruiter’s personal opinion and their insight into the position. You may have the opportunity to respond to this, highlighting your own capabilities to overcome those challenges.  

3. How many people work in this office?

You’re showing interest in the day-to-day work environment, and could talk about how well you work independently, with a team, or just with activity around you.

4. What is the company culture?

You can know what to expect – and also state how well you would fit in with that type of culture.

5. Are there growth possibilities, and if so, what kind?

This shows that you’re interested in growing within the company, and that you’re thinking long term.

6. What do you like about working with the company?

Again, you’re able to get their personal opinion and connect with them on a different level. This won’t really work if you’re talking to an outside recruitment firm, so make sure you know.

7. If I am offered the job, when would you like me to start?

This is a common interview question and you want to make sure you’re ready.

8. Would you like a list of references?

If you already haven’t sent this over, it’s good to ask, because it establishes you have good references.

9. When can I expect to hear from you?

This is also a common question and also shows your confidence.

What is YOUR favorite song from the nineties?

If there answer is anything but Jump Jump by Kriss Kross, you better jump jump up on outta there!

Getting phone interview questions right can be challenging, but not if you’re prepared. Phone interviews are becoming more and more common as hiring managers have inundated with greater talent pools thanks to emerging technology platforms.

It’s more important than ever to stand out from the crowd, and if you prepare yourself with the above phone interview questions, you may just be able to jump into your next dream job.

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Glenn Carter - Contributor
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