Please Help Me Ace My Phone Interview!

Dear Work Coach,

I am looking for a new job and was wondering if you could provide me with hints on how to handle a phone interview. Unfortunately, since  we’re unable to see the recruiter, we can’t rely on visual cues.  I just had a phone interview 2 days ago (screening candidates) and felt things went well. This is an initial, first phase interview and successful candidates are then sent for an on-site interview. She did say at the end of the phone interview that she would certainly recommend me for an in-person interview and wished me good luck.

How long would it take (if I am selected for a 2nd interview) to receive a phone call?



Hi NB!

So glad you asked. This is the third phone interview question I’ve gotten this week. Must be in the air!

So How Soon Will You Hear Back from a Phone Interview?

Truth is…there is no absolute answer to your question about how soon to expect to hear from a phone interview. When I did phone interviews (and I’ve done a lot), I usually called people back for the in-person within a week or two. But it depended on how available internal folks were to interview as well as all kinds of other things.

In my own career when I interviewed for a job, I’ve gotten the call as soon as a day later or, in one case, THREE MONTHS LATER! Now the latter is not common, but my point is there is no absolute rule here. On average, it’s not unusual for it to take a week or two.

How to Tell How You Did on Your Phone Interview

The fact that you got good feedback during your phone interview is very hopeful. While not everyone gives you feedback, when I do phone interviews I try to give the person at least some sense of how they did. If there is absolutely no chance, I only thank them and wish them well. So at the very least, we can assume she’s passing you on with a big plus next to your name. It’s still up to the decision-makers as to whom they actually call in for an interview.

Other clues about how your phone interview went:

  • How long did it last? Longer is better but NOT the only clue. Sometimes if I find a candidate who sounds great from the git go, I end it quickly.
  • Did you get positive-sounding responses to your answers? (The interviewer’s tone often tells a lot.)
  • Did you hear a smile or excitement in the interviewer’s voice? Both good signs of course.
  • Did the interviewer ask follow-up questions based on what you said or did the questions sound somewhat scripted? (Following up on your responses at least shows they’re interested enough to dig deeper.)
  • As they closed the phone call, did they specifically say you could be expecting to hear from them or only discuss the interview process generally? Some people close the same way for all to keep it very “professional”, but I often only give a general statement if I know we probably aren’t interested.

OK. None of these are for-sure definitive as to whether you’ll get to the next interview. In-person body language makes it a little easier to assess how an interview went, but you can often walk away from a phone interview with at least a sense of how it went. And then give yourself credit for having done your best and – yes I know it’s hard – just wait.

I wish you luck with the job and hope the call comes quickly. Try to be patient. All kinds of things can be going on at the other side that you know nothing about and has nothing to do with you. In your case, sounds like you did your best and got a good review from the screener who knows what the company is looking for and whether there is a good chance of a good fit.

So how about some tips to handle phone interviews?

  • Listen very carefully (paying attention to vocal cues).
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand. (Really. It’s ok. But don’t ask just to talk. Only ask things that help you answer better and help them see who you are. )
  • Respond with good energy and sincerity. (Energy is VERY important. Some interview gurus even suggest standing up during the phone interview to increase your energy. I say do what feels best for you.)
  • Speak clearly and not too fast or too softly.  This is not the time to be shy – although a little nervous is to be expected.
  • Don’t go on and on – unless they prompt you to. But answer fully enough for them to get a good sense of who you are.
  • Have a few quick stories to choose from that highlight your resourcefulness, problem-solving ability, willingness to step up and get things done and/or some skill they’re looking for. (Only use if it feels right of course.)
  • Finally…just be yourself! Most phone screeners are simply looking for a nice person with positive energy who has the skills.  In-person interviews are meant to more finely hone the search process and find an all-around good match.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of phone interviews for any reason, remember the old joke:

Tourist: Excuse, me. How do I get to Carnegie Hall?

New Yorker: Practice. Practice. Practice.

And that goes for interviews too. Practice with a friend or even a tape recorder until it feels more natural. But whatever you do, try not to memorize an answer! That would only work against you.

Practice being natural and spontaneous. The interviewer knows what they’re looking for. So just let them see who you are. If you pretend to be something or someone you aren’t, not only will you come across phony, but you will just be wasting everyone’s time.

PLEASE Don’t Use Canned Answers for Phone Interviews

No matter what you may have heard, it is NOT a good career move to use exact answers you read somewhere. (Although researching ways to answer job interview questions can help you come up with your own.)

And don’t worry about sounding a little nervous. We get that all the time. It never stopped me from calling someone in for a face-to-face interview if I liked them. But hearing someone give me stock answers or go on and on bragging about how unbelievably great they are almost always leads to a BIG NO!

Tell about your successes with pleasant enthusiasm, but try not to sound overly full of yourself. There is a difference.

Last but not least…and I can’t say this enough…just be real. Listen carefully and speak clearly, imagining yourself as the person they really need and want. If you believe it, good chance they will!

Good luck!


Related posts:

Manage Your Nerves for a Successful Job Interview

Very Short Phone Interview – Ouch!

How to Tell If a Job Interview Went Well

=> Browse the Career Dictionary <=


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. To this great advice, let me add a couple of additional thoughts. When a screener from a potential employer calls, they usually ask if this is a good time. I suggest responding by asking if you can call back in 5-10 minutes. Use that little extra time to review the background you have on the employer and as a calming move to ensure you’re mood is upbeat and positive. It’s also a good idea to make that call standing up — a technique I believe helps enliven your phone personna.

  2. Interesting idea about standing up to get the energy flowing. Personally I happen to think better while sitting (plus it keeps me from falling over), but I think for some people this idea might be just what they need to get out of couch mode.

    As for asking for 5-10 minutes, I’m mixed. Again, if you think it would help you relax and prepare, it’s certainly something you can do. But for some, they will just get more nervous and the initial energy that comes out of an immediate conversation might actually be better – and more natural, which after all is the key. But if you really think the extra time would help, I think this is a very useful suggestion to keep in mind. Each person is different and no one size fits all.

    Nice to have other ideas, 40plusdc. Thanks for sharing.

    (By the way, 40plusdc – if you want to have a live link to your blog, you can put your URL in your profile on WordPress and then it will appear automatically when you comment.)

  3. I agree with your caveats. It’s always an individual choice as to what works best. And thanks for the tip to a blogging newbie.

  4. My pleasure. We were all there at one point.

    I think it’s cool what your doing in helping people in the DC area who are over 40. What for some businesses still seems to be a line of demarcation, for others is a blessing of skills and dedication – and just as much creativity as ever! (As we can both attest to. Ahem.)

  5. You got that right. BTW, the 40plus model exists in NYC, Philadelphia, and a few other outposts. The best part about 40plus is that it provides job seekers with an instant network of supporters — we’re all basically in the same boat — and gets you out of what can be debilitating isolation.

  6. Thanks for letting people know that. Also good for me to know because I will be aiming some of my own work in that direction. Hmmm…maybe a good topic for a future post. If I do that, I’ll be sure to mention your organization. All the best to you and 40plusdc!

  7. Theophilus Badger says:

    I liked what I read, the dos and donts especially.
    Hope this will go a long way to prepare me for my Phone interview tomorrow.
    Thank you.
    Kindly send your site to my e-mail

  8. Good luck on that phone interview, Theophilus Badger! Just listen carefully to what they ask, show good energy and be yourself! 😉

    Ronnie Ann

  9. dreamjobseeker says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I love the advice about high energy and just be yourself. We all put too much pressure on ourselves to say the right things and be the person we think they want. That creates so much stress. I also like the idea of having stories at the ready. I know it seems obvious, but I think too many of us assume we will remember whatever stories we need. For me, under the pressure of the interview, that has not been the case. I’m going to have a bullet point list of stories available — not memorized! Also, I tape my resume and the interviewer’s name on the wall in front of my phone area, just in case I blank under pressure.

  10. Great approach and great tips, dreamjobseeker. You’re so right that we put too much “pressure on ourselves to say the right things and be the person we think they want”.

    I wish you much luck. And please keep in touch. I’d love to know how your story turns out. 😉

    Ronnie Ann

  11. Tshamano Rendani Moss says:

    I liked everything about how to handle the phone interview, hope it also prepare me for tomorrows phone interview


  12. Good luck, Tshamano!

  13. I have a “preliminary phone interview” with a startup consulting firm on Friday, and was wondering if I should prep for those infamous case study interviews/questions. And if so, how should I?

    On one hand, their college intern is conducting the preliminary phone interview. Also, it’s not your traditional consulting firm; they are a consulting firm that advises solely on diversity practices (such as LGBTQ issues).

    On the other hand, they are a consulting firm.

    This is quite a jump career-wise for me, so I am unfamiliar with the consulting industry. Any advice/help would be appreciated!

    • chandlee says:


      Consulting firms do often use case-based interviewing. There’s a great book on how to prepare for them called “How to Crack the Case.” I am sure there are also many YouTube videos as well that you could look at.

      I would imagine that a consulting firm that is focused on diversity training would not likely use a case interview, but never say never!

      On the whole, they will want to see how you can approach problems and how you think — so if you can show that — it would be helpful.

      All the Best,

  14. It was about 20 minutes before I was expecting a phone interview and I had to go do something. I had my cellphone volume turned all the way up and it rang just fine for another phone interview I had earlier during the day. I missed the call because my phone didn’t ring. I called back the number about 5-10 minutes after the interview was scheduled when I noticed a missed call and spoke with my interviewer. She said she didn’t have time to do the complete interview since she had less than 30 minutes now. Should I take this as a loss and move on? She did ask me some detailed interview questions regarding the position and I answered as well as I could.

    • Hi Chuck,

      Call tomorrow and ask if there’s anyway you can reschedule the full interview. All you can do is to apologize for the technical difficulty. If she’s not interested in rescheduling, I’d ask yourself if you want to work for a company that isn’t able to adjust for candidates a bit as well…May not be the right fit for you.


  15. Last week, I had a phone interview. However, it wasn’t even scheduled. My phone rang and when I looked at the caller ID, it was from the company I sent my resume to. I didn’t answer becaus I wanted to quickly mentally prepare for any questions. I called her about 5 minutes later, and she asked if we could do a phone interview. It lasted about 10 minutes, and she asked me to come in for an in-person interview with her. The call was on a Tuesday, the in-person interview was on Thursday AM so I didn’t have much time. The interview went great, and she profusely thanked me for coming in on such short notice. I then mailed a thank you card. However, I noticed that today, the job posting is back up on their website (it was taken down the day before I had the phone interview). However, according to my profile on their site, I am still being considered for the position. I guess I’ll have to wait til after the holidays to hear something.

  16. Sir, i got the interview call from company and at the telephonic interview he asked me if i will select you then when you will join? and my interview taken by head of the department for 10 minutes. is there any chance for me getting job? please reply me

  17. Work coach, this site is gold!! Thank you for all the great advice.

    I had a phone screen about a week and a half ago on Friday. I sent a thank you note via email that afternoon. And then I sent out a follow up/check in the following week on Wednesday.

    Here comes the funny/possible screw up from me. I got a beep on my phone on the next Thursday notifying new voice mails. I heard the first one (new), and deleted it since it wasn’t of interest and then I heard the next one (which I genuinely thought it was new too) and it was from the recruiter. It turned out this was the voice mail she left to schedule the phone interview, but I didn’t realize it, because I got very excited!!!

    I called the recruiter on Thursday and left a voice mail. I waited on Friday for a call back until close to business. Then I decided to call back. The recruiter picked up the phone and I just explained I was calling back regarding her voice mail from the day before, to which she replied that she didnt’ leave a voice mail. So I said – I thought I had one from you saying that the hiring manager would like to schedule a phone interview?, and she said she usually doesn’t leave voice mails if that is the case. So I said – oh… maybe I messed up and listened to last week’s voice mail? and she said – yes, that’s probably what happened.

    I apologized (honest apology!!) to which she said “Ah, no worries, the hiring manager is on travel and hasn’t had a chance to look at the resumes yet, we’ll follow up next week”. I apologized again and I thank her, I also said I hope I hear positive feed back from the hiring manager. She said ok, have a great weekend and if you have questions feel free to call me.

    I hope I didn’t blow this opportunity, I really want (and need) the job!!

    I’m not emailing or calling again this week, or should I? I just read in your site that it is a big no-no to do weekly follow ups!!!

    Any thoughts?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Latven,

      Thank you for the kind words! We hope to help!

      Hard to tell what is going on, but I think you are wise not to call again this week. Back off for at least a week. You have shown you are very interested in the job, don’t demonstrate that you can also be annoying. If they are interested, they will get back in touch with you.

      Meanwhile, keep job hunting in case this one doesn’t work out.

      Good luck with your job hunt!

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