Tackling a Phone Interview

In a world where 50% of college graduates are jobless, working below their educational level, or outside their field, it’s not unreasonable to think that you may have to interview over the telephone for a faraway job at some point or another. Telephone interviews are strange beasts, because you can’t rely on many of the things that help a lot, like non-verbal communication and environmental clues.

Daunting as this may seem, there are lots of things you can do to make this not so painful. You could even make it work to your advantage! Below are some tried-and-true tips that help me when I’m getting ready for a phone interview, and when I’m in the thick of the interview itself.

Prep Yourself

Wear what you would wear to an interview. This makes you feel more professional!

Clearly write out all your answers ahead of time, and highlight important parts. It’s like an open-book interview!

An easy way to do this is to make a grid with three columns. In the first column, write out each qualification or responsibility listed in the job description. Then, in the second column, write crib notes about something you did that met each responsibility or qualification. In the third column, write what you learned from that experience or if there is anything you would have done differently.

Voila! Interview cheat sheet done and done! Keep this in front of you during the phone conversation to reference.

Prep Your Space

Find a place that is quiet where you won’t be disturbed. Then, make sure you get great reception there. If you live in a house that still has a landline (I hear they still exist), use that instead of your cell phone.

Put a mirror across from you. As long as you don’t get distracted by how strange your mouth looks or something, you’ll feel more like you are in a conversation.

Use speakerphone or a headset. If you talk with your hands like me, there is no chance of you flinging the phone across the room and needing to scramble to pick it up.

Be prepared to start your interview at least ten minutes early. Be in place. Sit at a clean table with no distractions. Have your notes and other supplies ready and set to go.

Have water handy, but not close enough for to you to knock over with a sweeping gesture.

Make sure to have some scratch paper handy so you don’t have to jump up and run to another room. The people on the other end of the line will hear, and you’ll feel uncomfortable for the rest of the conversation!

During the Interview

Smile while you speak: you’ll sound cheery and engaged, and you’ll feel better during the interview!

If you feel comfortable doing so, ask how many questions there will be, and figure out how much time you have per question so you can keep track, or ask about how much time you have for each question. This will help you pace yourself well, and avoid taking up too much of your interviewer’s time.

Write down the questions the interviewer asks you, especially if you are a visual learner or if each question has multiple parts. (Want to know more about your learning style? Here is a great quiz.) Jot down initial notes about what you’d like to say, if you can do so quickly. This will also come in handy in follow-up interviews, as you’ll know which stories you’ve already told and what you can elaborate on.

Be sure to end your questions well, so that your interviewers know what’s going on. It’s easy to ramble on about the time you started a new initiative at work. It’s better to be concise and clear than give every detail in an organized way.

Don’t feel bad if you doodle during the interview—as long as it helps you focus and doesn’t get distracting!

Biggest tip

Be yourself! People can tell when you are trying to play the part. More importantly, most interviews are about fit rather than qualifications: resumes are already there to make sure you meet the basic requirements. There is never an objectively best candidate, and you will never know what the interviewer is actually looking for.

Really, there is no advantage to trying to be someone you’re not. Worst-case scenario is that if you are acting like someone else, you may find yourself in a situation where neither you nor your employer is happy because you weren’t honest during the interview process. Plus, you’re a wonderful, hardworking person! Who wouldn’t love to hire you?


There is no doubt that this is a nerve-wracking process, especially with student loan debt possibly hanging over your head, the fear of losing or not getting health care, and the simple necessity of being able to feed yourself! Use the tips above to give yourself an edge, or at least some peace of mind, through the process of finding a job.

Don’t lose sight of your goal, and don’t give up!

Photo by Meaghan Morrison

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