How to be on your A-game during phone interviews, even if you're not wearing pants

A young woman talking on a phone interview
ByAly Semigran

If you’re one of the millions of people currently on the job hunt, you know that it can be a complicated process. Not too long ago, finding a job was as simple as filling out an application or sending in a resume before going in for an interview. Now, in addition to those steps, applicants also have to learn how to master a phone interview, which often occurs before an in-person meeting.

There's a reason it's become such a common requirement; according to, “companies are increasingly choosing to use a phone interview at the early stages of screening candidates” as a way to efficiently narrow down the pool early on. Additionally, as the site points out, these kinds of interviews are often done by recruiters who can “tap into remote talent and reduce the recruiting overhead for the hiring manager.”

Still, while phone interviews may indeed make the hiring process easier for employers, they can add to the already stressful job hunting experience for applicants. After all, you have to try to get your personality across over the phone while making sure you save some energy and information for a follow-up, in-person conversation — not an easy task.

That said, phone interviews aren't guaranteed disasters. There are some tried-and-true ways to win over potential employers on the phone and make yourself come across as a desirable candidate. Here's what experts advise:

Prepare. A lot.


Like with any interview — whether in-person or over the phone — you need to do your homework in advance. “Research as much as possible about the company, the role, and the person you’re meeting with,” says career coach Nicole Rae Drummond. She advises taking note of everything you find, from the location of the office to the company's mission statements.

Having this information at your disposal will help you during the phone call, says Drummond. For instance, if the interviewer asks why you're interested in working for the company, you can bring up how you've noticed they have excellent employee reviews, or that you like that they're an eco-friendly workplace.

Set up your space

Once you’ve collected all the information you need and it’s time for the interview, career coach Wendy Toth suggests setting up a space with your computer, your phone, and your notes. “Try to sit up in a chair with some support, rather than lounge. Have anything else you might need to talk, like water, tissues and cough drops,” she tells Mic.

Toth adds that roughly 15 minutes before your phoner, you should do something that calms or uplifts you, like putting on your favorite music or petting your dog.

Treat it like an in-person interview

Getting ready is one thing, but what about handling the call? In other words, how do you communicate that you're a hard-working, responsible, and organized person when the interviewer can’t see you?

The same way you would if you were sitting in a room together, says Toth. Just because the interviewer can’t tell that you're on your couch in pajamas, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be sharp and ready to go. She puts it simply: “How you show up, even to a phone interview — your energy, your tone, your confidence — all matter as much as what you say.”

Life and business coach Gretchen Hydo adds that, like with an in-person interview, you should have no distractions during the call. “While on the phone, be sure to silence your text messages, emails, and reminders," she tells Mic. "Set up 'do not disturb' so that you are not interrupted. Whatever you do, do not pick up another call.”

Keep smiling

All of the experts shared a common piece of advice: smile. “Smiling comes through in your voice, so smile, even if it feels forced,” Toth says, while Drummond notes that it’s especially important to smile when you’re telling specific stories about you and your background so that the interviewer can get a real feel for your personality.

“Imagine that you are in front of the person,” Hydo adds. “This will help you to behave the same way that you would in an in-person interview.”

Ask the interviewer questions

Alissa Kumarova/Shutterstock

In addition to having a positive attitude, engaging with the person you’re chatting with by asking them a few questions of your own can make a big difference, says Toth. When you allow an interviewer to talk about his or herself, it can give you important insights into their ability as a boss or the company culture.

“I’m always impressed when a candidate takes the time to review information about me and my career and comes prepared with questions," says Drummond, adding that she particularly likes getting questions about what drew her to the company or what traits she's noticed in her most successful employees.

This practice is especially beneficial for phone interviews, as you can use the time it takes for the interviewer to answer your questions to collect your thoughts, while still listening closely to what they have to say. Which leads us to...

Be a great listener

Even if you prep extensively, you still might hit an awkward bump during the conversation, but that’s totally normal — and completely salvageable. “Don’t be afraid of little silent pauses or pause words,” Toth assures, noting that these moments can allow both you and the interviewer to direct where the conversation goes next.

Instead of worrying about how often you're saying "um" or clearing your throat, focus on active listening and staying engaged, Hydo adds. “When you are thinking about what you are going to say, you have an agenda," she explains. "If you can set that aside, there is less interrupting and you then you can intelligently resend to the question or remark at hand without missing out on what the person has said or stepping on them.”

Watch the time

Although it's easy to ramble on a phone interview or get caught up on in an answer, avoid going over your allotted time. “Phoners are meant to simplify the hiring process and are usually scheduled with busy recruiters, HR reps, or managers. Keep an eye on the clock and keep your own responses to five minutes or less per question,” Toth says.

If you do realize you're running short on time and have more you'd like to say (or ask), take notes so that you can mention those things in a follow-up email. And on that subject:

Send a thank-you

When all is said and done and it’s time to wrap up the call, Drummond says to ask for a timeline regarding any next steps and to, of course, “thank them for their time and insight into the company and the role.” From there, you should send an email follow-up within 24 hours that thanks the interviewer again. In that email, you can also “mention something that stuck out to you of high importance and say you look forward to next steps," Drummond advises.

And be sure to include anything you forgot you wanted to discuss or didn't have enough time to ask the interviewer about during the phone call; the follow-up email is the perfect place to mention those things.

Remember, if you nail the phoner, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to going in for a second interview in-person. Hydo says when it’s time to meet with the potential employer face-to-face, “Approach it with enthusiasm and as if it is already your job.” Go ahead — you got this.