Ace your telephone interviews


Telephone interviews are often the first point of contact you have with a future employer.  Whether defined as a prescreen, or an interview, they are usually short and to the point.  Just long enough to rule you ‘in’ or ‘out’.  It is important to remember that your end goal of this initial telephone call is always to secure an in-person interview.

Types of telephone interviews

There are two types of telephone interviews – scheduled and unscheduled. Often you will receive a message to schedule a time for an initial conversation, but just as often you may receive an unscheduled call. If you are applying for a new job, be prepared with every phone ring. Make sure you are answering the phone yourself, and have a professional voicemail message.


Unscheduled calls will often be the more difficult of the two. If you are not prepared, schedule another time to talk. Hiring managers are aware they could be calling you at your current job, or while you are out and about. Scheduling a time that works best for both of you is always an option. Try saying “Thank you so much for reaching out. Unfortunately, I am not in the best location to give this call my full attention right now. When is a good time for me to call you back?”   Even though the interviewer cannot see you, there is a lot they will be able to infer from your conversation. Getting prepared will make sure you come across as the professional you are


As with a face-to-face interview, you need to research any companies that might call you. Check out their website, competitors, relevant articles, and even employer review sites like Glassdoor. You should have an idea of their products and services, future projects, and current size. Knowing these details will help you answer their questions in a way that shows how you can support them.


Practise is always useful when preparing for any interview. If you have never had a telephone interview before, try having a friend call you and practise with them. They may not ask you the same questions as your interviewer will, but you will have the confidence of knowing what to expect when your interview happens.


Plan your answers for potential questions you may be asked. Consider your answers so that they highlight your experience. Keep your answers concise but with enough relevant details. If they need more information they will ask you for it. Have a cheat sheet of succinct details for projects you have worked on; it will help you answer any questions quickly around project specifics.

Dress the same for telephone interviews as you would for a face-to face one. What you wear has a psychological effect on how you feel and behave. In other words, wearing a power suit makes you feel more confident. That confidence will come across in your tone of voice during your call.

Smile when you answer the phone – people can hear the smile in your voice. Smiling, even when forced, will also cause you to physically relax. It will help diminish your stress so you can better focus.

Time limit

Know that initial telephone interviews are often only 15 minutes long, so you may feel rushed in your answers. Sometimes there is such a strict time limit that you may be stopped mid answer. Don’t be alarmed! This means that you have already answered their question with enough details for the interviewer to move on to the next question.

If you need to take a moment to gather your thoughts before answering, don’t be worried to do so. Even though time is limited, your interviewer will want the best answer you can give and will understand if you need a little time. Keep your answers succinct to convey everything you need to say. This is where your practise will come in handy.

Handling successful telephone interviews

1. Make sure you are in a suitable quiet location when you do any telephone interviews. Plan properly for where you will take the call. If you are in a loud, busy environment, you will struggle to hear what is asked of you, and the hiring manager may not hear your full reply either. Try being in a place that puts you in the right mindset. Sit at a computer desk, or the dining room table cleared of all distractions. Turn off the TV and radio, and make sure that no one will interrupt you

2. If you have arranged a specific time for your telephone interview, be ready and waiting 5 minutes early. Being late for telephone interviews is as bad as being late in person. Your interviewer has taken the time to call when it works for you, the least you can do is be ready to talk with them.

3. Your telephone interviews start the moment you answer the phone. It only ends once every question has been asked and you say goodbye. Every word in-between is part of your interview. Make sure to answer your phone in a professional manner and be engaging and enthusiastic during the call. It is important to impress at every stage.

4. As you are often told more about a company or job during telephone interviews, you will want to take note of this extra information. Have a pen and paper handy as these vital details will come in handy when you progress to the next stage of interviews.

5. Watch any slang words and the language you use. Even if your interviewer slips into more casual dialogue, be careful about doing the same. Also, don’t fill your answers with jargon you think you should use. It is safest to simply maintain a professional demeanour thought out the conversation.

6. Make sure your phone is charged! Or better yet, speak on a landline to avoid any interruptions to your signal. Put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode to avoid any notification noises disturbing your concentration.

Ending off telephone interviews

The last question of all telephone interviews will inevitably be asked if you have any questions. Make sure that any questions you do ask are ones not answered in the job posting or on their website. Ask insightful questions that give you more details on the role or company.

Unless they have already spoken with you about next steps, take the initiative and ask, “When will I be able to meet the hiring manager to talk about this role further?”

Your last step

Make sure you have the correct spelling of your interviewer’s name and email address. This enables you to follow up with a thank-you letter or email.


Telephone interviews are generally pretty straight forward. They are there to weed out weaker candidates rather than test strong ones. By being prepared you are setting yourself apart as a stronger candidate. Stay calm and confident. You’ve got this!