Smiling at the Wall and Other Phone Interviewing Tips

By Kristy Amburgey

Employers go to great lengths to identify and hire the best candidates for jobs, and a phone interview often begins this evaluation process.  A phone interview, though, can be a difficult environment for anyone to successfully maneuver, which is why we have put together some tips to help you shine during your phone interview.


Just like with any employer interaction, you must be prepared.  Research the company with which you are interviewing.  Understand how your achievements, background and experiences relate to the employer.  A phone interview needs to be treated exactly like an in-person interview; full preparation is required.

What to Bring to Your Kitchen Table

You should collect all documentation before your phone interview, and it should be placed in the location where you plan to talk.  The documentation should include the resume and cover letter versions you submitted to the company and a copy of the job description, and you can include transcripts, certifications, awards, lists of accomplishments, employment history, research done on the company and more.  It is also important to organize your documentation to ensure that you aren’t shuffling paper around where the interviewer can hear you.

Location, Location, Location

When you are doing your phone interview, you must be in a quiet location with a good phone connection and no distractions.  Use a land line when possible to conduct your interview, or make sure your cell phone reception is strong.  If you do share space with another person, face away from them so that you are not districted by their movements or reactions.

“Hey You”

As fun as it might seem to answer the phone with a charming “talk to me”, you need to have a professional and simple greeting ready when expecting (and even when you are not expecting) a call from an employer.  The best way to answer the phone, according to one of our employers who found this to be a lacking skill among many of the students they talked to, is to say, “Hello.  This is [insert your name].”  This greeting must be accompanied with an alert and ready-to-go tone of voice.  If you are asleep, driving, in class or otherwise distracted, please don’t answer the phone.  Allow the call to go to voicemail and then call the employer back when you are ready to make a positive impression.

Another recommendation is to ensure that anyone with access to your phone also be instructed to answer the phone appropriately.  Also, your outgoing voicemail message should be professional and clear.

Speak Slowly and Clearly

Part of making a great impression on the interviewer is to ensure that the person can understand what you are saying.  If you speak too fast or know you aren’t always understandable, slow down and take breathes between sentences or questions.  If you struggle to collect your thoughts, try to avoid phrases such as like, um or hmm while forming your ideas.  Enunciate clearly and speak with enthusiasm.

Smile at the Wall

Since an employer cannot see your facial expressions or body language, you must convey enthusiasm, passion and approachability with your tone of voice.  One of my favorite tips is a way to help you bring an up-beat tempo to the phone conversation.  As you talk with an employer, smile.  The smile automatically helps you sound interested in what they are saying and interesting for them to hear.

Don’t Chew Their Ears Off

This statement should go without saying, but please don’t eat, drink, smoke or chew gum while doing your phone interview.  And while we are on this subject, you do want to avoid taking total control of the conversation.  Always answer the question completely and with enough detail to where your answer is strong and supportable with evidence, but don’t talk just for the sake of filling silence.

Move Beyond Yes and No

As you answer the questions, you want to ensure that you expand on any answer you’re given with evidence of your abilities and accomplishments.  It is best to avoid answering with a quick yes or no, and this is especially important on a phone interview.  If you are asked a simple yes/no question, do your best to quantify or qualify your answer.

Don’t Assume What You Can’t See

Since you can’t see how the interviewer responds to your conversation, it is important not to get distracted by the what-ifs while on the phone.  If you hear silence, assume that they may be taking notes or ensuring that you are finished speaking.  If they don’t seem enthused during your interview, don’t automatically think you did a bad job.   You can reflect on the interview once you are done, so there is no need to attempt to evaluate the conversation and distract yourself while on the phone.

Making a lasting impression on a company can begin with a great phone interview.  Smile at the wall and use the other techniques to fly right through the phone interview to an in-person meeting, which puts you one step closer to your job.

Additional Resources:

Kristy Amburgey is the Associate Director of Career Services – Daytona Beach campus and currently manages marketing and employer relations for the department.  She has been with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for approximately 10 years and with Career Services for nine years.

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