Your resume and application caught their eye, and now a hiring manager wants to get to know you on the phone. With only vocal tools at your disposal, how do you exude competence and charisma to win an in-person interview and (hopefully) a new job?
Use these questions and tips to prepare for the best phone interview of your career.
Top 20 Best Phone Interview Questions & How to Respond
Phone interviews are an opportunity to prove that you’re a qualified, worthwhile candidate for funneling into the next part of the interview process. Your answers ultimately determine if you’ll be selected for a face-to-face interview. Whether you’re talking with a hiring manager or CEO, here are the top 30 phone interview questions and how to prepare a stellar response.
#1 Tell me about yourself.
Oh, where to begin! This is one of the most common yet challenging phone interview questions.
Fortunately, you can nail your response with this simple formula:
Positive Qualifier + Unique Personal Label + Short Story
The positive qualifier is a fun, charismatic primer. It shows your personality and adds a positive, casual tone to the conversation. Just be sure you don’t go overboard, or you may risk sounding arrogant or cocky. Try saying:
- “Oh, where to begin? So many exciting things!”
- “Let’s see… I’ll skip to the best parts.”
Next, give yourself a label. Instead of saying what you do (e.g., “I currently work at Company X”), say who you are. Think of a simple label that makes you proud. For example:
- “I am a psychologist-turned-author.”
- “I help children find and develop their passions.”
- “I am a software developer transforming how people interact in online spaces.”
Lastly, tell a short story with a hook. Instead of listing facts about yourself, think of a relevant story, such as how you got started in this field of work. Use this chance to show off your passion and uniqueness. Just be sure to keep it relevant!
Example Answer: “Oh, where to begin! I am lucky enough to have had a super interesting career so far. I am a marketing manager specializing in retail store design. I have always loved unique styles and got my start as a teenager working in my favorite clothing store, which led me to attend FIDM in L.A. to study fashion marketing. During my internship, I started working with Company Y and fell into the exciting world of store design. I loved exploring how store layout and ambiance could cater to a specific clientele. Now, I am relocating to take my career to the next level!”
Here is an in-depth guide about How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in 3 Simple Steps.
#2 Can you walk me through your resume?
This question may sound broad, but the interviewer is looking for you to explain how your experience is relevant to the role you’re interviewing for. For people with a diverse background or seemingly random jobs, this is your chance to tie those threads together. Be ready for this question by sharing stories about your proud resume points. What was hard to explain in writing? Now you have the chance to explain it!
Don’t read your resume. Instead, mention a job skill or position and tell a story.
Example Answer: “I’ve been in the tech space for over five years, and I’ve had the privilege of working on several intriguing projects. After studying Business at University X, I entered the corporate sales world and quickly realized that I felt more at home behind a computer. I decided to pursue an internship in software design at Company Y. I worked my way up in the company and found that I enjoyed the SAAS space. Most recently, I worked as a Junior Software Engineer at Company Z to help develop XYZ’s new products. Now, I want to expand my experience across different industries, so I’m interested in joining an agency like yours.”
#3 Why did you leave your last job?
It’s important to answer this question honestly while remaining positive. Even if your past job ended on less-than-ideal terms, you don’t want to speak negatively about your previous employer. Instead, focus on the basic facts and honestly explain why the job wasn’t right for you.
Some appropriate responses may include the following:
- Lack of opportunity for advancement
- Wanting new challenges
- Changing careers or industries
- Laid off due to budget cuts
- Family responsibilities
- Scheduling conflicts
Example Answer: “I wanted to level up my career to lead more independent projects, but there were not many opportunities for advancement at my previous company.”
#4 Why do you want to work for our company?
When an interviewer asks the “why,” they want something unique. Anyone can say, “I heard it’s a great company to work for.” Spice things up with a passionate delivery and authentic reason. However, if you’re looking for a job that lets you work remotely with flexible hours to be with your kids, say so.
Try to speak to the company’s mission, values, or culture. This shows you have done your research and have thought through why this would be a good fit.
Example Answer: “Based on my research, your company is one of the top competitors in the industry. I want to be part of a fast-paced, exciting environment where I can grow with the organization.”
#5 Can you tell me about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle?
Everyone encounters obstacles in their career, but it can be hard to pinpoint an example. This question requires proper preparation to ensure you choose a story that paints you in a positive light. You want to show that you can humbly face challenges and use your problem-solving skills to find solutions.
Example Answer: “One time at my previous job, my boss gave me a deadline for an expense report, but I was unable to get the information needed from someone who was out-of-office. I was worried my boss would be upset, so I went to his office and explained the situation right away instead of waiting for him to come to me. My solution was to complete the report as much as possible until I could get the final data points the following day. I was pleasantly surprised that he appreciated my honesty and thanked me for coming to him first.”
Special Tip: Sometimes, it is nerve-wracking to talk about past difficulties. Be sure you answer this with vocal confidence. Check out our guide on how to speak with confidence and like the sound of your voice.
#6 Where do you see yourself in two years?
The interviewer wants to know if you know how your professional goals line up with the position you’re interviewed for. There is a better time to talk about your dream of getting married, having kids, and moving to Hawaii. Nor is it the time to say, “I want your job,” or, worse, “I don’t know.”
Focus on the skills you want to learn and realistic career goals. It’s OK to admit you don’t have it all figured out, but it’s best to demonstrate that you have an ambitious mindset.
Example Answer: “I see myself working my way up to a Senior Account Executive level and expanding my leadership skills so I can eventually manage a large team.”
#7 Do you have any experience with XYZ?
Many interviewers will ask about specific skills, software, and job experiences. But many interviewees make the mistake of answering with a bland “yes” or “no” that shuts down the conversation. Instead, elaborate on your answers to build more rapport. You can add examples, brief stories, or further explanations.
Example Answer: If an interviewer asks, “Do you have any experience in retail?” Respond with a detailed overview of your career, such as, “Yes, I have worked in retail for 8 years, including 2 years in Company X stores and 6 years in Company Y’s corporate office.”
If the answer is “no,” use the opportunity to promote relevant skill sets you’ve acquired in other fields. For example, “While I don’t have much experience in retail, I worked in the restaurant service industry for over five years as a General Manager for a major local restaurant. I led a team of 40 waiters and waitresses to deliver the highest quality customer service possible, which led to over one hundred 5-star Yelp reviews during my tenure.”
#8 What are your salary expectations?
Suppose a recruiter or hiring manager is screening several candidates. In that case, they may use salary as a quick way to filter candidates that expect more than the company’s budget for this role. Knowing what you deserve based on experience is a big green flag for a prospective employer.
The two keys to answering this question are:
- Research the average salary for this role.
- Provide a range that you feel comfortable with.
Example Answer: “After reviewing the salary data of similar positions, I’ve found that most professionals with my level of experience are earning between [low range] and [high range] a year. I am comfortable with a number in that range if there is also a strong benefits package.”
Here are 12 Ways to Negotiate A Salary in a variety of situations.
#9 What were the main duties in your last role?
This question helps the interviewer gain insight into your specific skills and gauge whether they are relevant to the job. Focus on duties and responsibilities that are directly relevant to the new position. Don’t be afraid to hype yourself up with any positive feedback you received in that position.
Example Answer: “In my last sales position, I was responsible for presenting and promoting marketing service packages, performing needs analyses for potential clients, developing relationships, answering questions, closing deals, and maintaining client accounts. I was praised for my timely responses, attention to detail, and courteous customer support.”
#10 What traits do you have to help you excel in this role?
Moving beyond hard skills, this question is about “soft skills” like people skills, communication, and critical thinking. The interviewer wants to understand how your unique personality traits can help you excel in the new job.
Example Answer: “I’ve found that my social skills have been the key driver behind my career success so far. I can talk to just about anyone and easily build rapport in various situations. I love learning about others and what makes them tick. This has helped me connect with customers, establish long-term professional relationships, and thrive in team-oriented environments.”
Here are 14 Social Skills to Help You Win in Life.
#11 What is your greatest strength?
The most significant mistake job prospects make when answering this question is forgetting to elaborate. You can respond with “time management,” but you may hear a long silence on the other end of the phone. It is crucial to nail down your proudest strength and explain why it will help you in the prospective position. Use examples to drive the point home.
The interviewer wants to know if you are self-aware and realistic about your strengths. They are also trying to determine if your strengths are relevant to the job.
Example Answer: “My greatest strength is my ability to perform under pressure. My previous role was extremely fast-paced and demanding. I had to be able to problem-solve and think on my feet to deliver a quick turnover for our clients. For example, our law firm once represented a public figure in a major lawsuit with much media coverage. After one particularly negative testimony, we had to gather more evidence and present a new angle within 24 hours. Both my client and my boss were amazed by my ability to jump into action and deliver results with such a tight turnaround. It was stressful but very rewarding. This is why I am interested in working for a fast-paced, innovative company like yours.”
#12 What is your greatest weakness?
Honesty and self-awareness are highly important in the workplace. How can you improve if you don’t know where you are lacking? Sounding overly confident can be a red flag:
The interviewer is looking for evidence of a growth mindset. It’s best to:
- Choose a weakness that won’t affect your ability to succeed in the new role.
- Choose a weakness that is viewed as a weakness (i.e., not “My biggest weakness is working too much.”)
- Provide a real-life example of how you’ve encountered this weakness and overcome it.
- Always end your answer positively by explaining how you are actively working to improve in this area.
Example Answer: “Sometimes, I spend too much time focusing on finer details, and I get absorbed in the nitty-gritty specifics of a project. I love perfecting all the small details, but I often have to step back to look at the overall objectives to stay on track. I’ve been working to check in with myself at different intervals by using timers and reminders to ensure I meet deadlines with my team. I really enjoy working with a manager or teammate who can bring my focus back to the big picture.”
#13 How can you help our company succeed?
In other words, “What do you bring to the table that will help us meet our bottom line?” Answer this question with concrete data about your past performance and how those skills can directly contribute to this company’s goals. Bonus points if you mention a few keywords from the company mission!
Example Answer: “I know your company strives to transform people’s lives through the power of nutrition. I can directly contribute to that mission with my unique ability to translate health jargon into plain language and deliver it excitingly and innovatively. In my last role as a social media content creator, I grew my company’s account by over 100,000 followers in 6 months, translating to a 30% uptick in e-commerce sales via click-throughs on my educational videos. Customers were raving about the new lifestyle hacks they were learning and their excitement to try our supplement. I’d love to bring similar results to your company.”
#14 Can you describe your ideal manager?
On paper, you may be a good fit for this role, but how will you fit into the team dynamic? The interviewer wants to know how you get work done and what management style is most productive for you.
First, we recommend taking this quiz on The 6 Work Styles and How to Find Yours (Using Science!) and this quiz on The Big 5 Personality Traits.
Then, cater your answer based on the type of manager who brings out the best qualities in you.
Example Answer: “I am a very extroverted person who loves to galvanize people into action. My ideal manager encourages me to work directly with our team and take the initiative on my projects. I am very self-motivated, so I excel in environments where I don’t feel like someone is hanging over my shoulder. Instead, I prefer casual weekly check-ins to get feedback about my performance.”
#15 What motivates you to do a good job?
Research shows that companies with actively motivated employees achieve, on average, 27% higher profits and 50% higher sales than those with unmotivated employees. This question helps the interviewer understand what drives you to do great work.
Are you intrinsically motivated (value-driven), extrinsically motivated (reward-driven), or both? Use an example to drive home your point.
Example Answer: “I am naturally competitive and highly motivated by my drive to work amongst the best people at the best companies. At my previous job, I won the annual sales award by signing over $100,000 in new contracts in one year. At the end of the contest, I received a free vacation to Costa Rica, which was amazing! But the biggest reward was challenging myself and beating my record with the help of my team and manager.”
#16 What is your ideal work environment?
Research shows that an enjoyable work environment is linked to higher performance and employee motivation. This question often comes later in an interview to see how your work style aligns with the company’s workplace. Again, you want to ensure that your answer blends well with the company vision:
- Do they have a buzzing corporate office or a mostly remote team?
- Do they encourage individual ownership of tasks or dynamic team projects?
- Do they value a high-tech workspace or an earthy, nature-oriented ambiance?
Thoroughly research the company’s website, job listing, and brand messaging to ensure that your preferences align with what they offer.
Example Answer: “As an introverted person, I do my best work in a quiet, focused place. Although I love communicating with the team a few times a week, I need plenty of alone time to get into a flow state of maximum productivity. I am excited to interview for a partially remote position that allows me to balance team-oriented tasks with intense periods of personal focus.”
#17 If you and a coworker disagree, how do you resolve the issue?
The interviewer is trying to prod you about your conflict resolution skills. Companies value professionals who can navigate conflicts without the assistance of management or HR. Use a brief anecdote to demonstrate how you use clear communication and kindness to resolve minor issues efficiently.
Example Answer: “I once had a misunderstanding with a coworker regarding email communication. They thought that I was ignoring them and not responding to their emails out of disrespect or a lack of responsibility. I tried to avoid being defensive when they confronted me about the issue. I told them I had sent several responses and understood their frustration.”
“When we dug into the issue, we realized that my emails were landing in their junk folder. We both apologized to each other and moved forward with an even better dynamic. I always remind myself that every story has multiple angles, and avoiding accusing or defending any side is best until you have all the information.”
#18 What did you enjoy most about your last job?
Focus on the positives of your previous job role and any achievements you can humble-brag about. This answer is another simple way to highlight your skill set and passions that complement the new role you’re interviewing for.
Example Answer: “My last role allowed me to have lots of ownership over my tasks, and I loved that freedom for creativity. My boss always guided me on exactly what she wanted to do, but she trusted my expertise to execute projects in a way that made sense to me. This culminated in one of my greatest career achievements when I received an award of recognition from the CEO.”
#19 What did you enjoy least about your last job?
This may seem like a trick question that could go sour fairly quickly. The key refers to your reasons for seeking a new job.
Never speak negatively about your previous company, boss, or coworkers. Instead, critique the team dynamic or company culture and describe how you think the new company might be a better fit for you.
Example Answer: “I enjoyed a lot of things about my previous company, but I felt fairly constrained in my position. There wasn’t much room for growth within such a small company. It seemed the only way I could be promoted was if someone retired or quit. I am excited to work with a larger company with more opportunities to develop my skills and work up to a leadership position.”
#20 What makes you different from other candidates?
No, being “a hard worker” doesn’t set you apart. Focus specifically on qualities relevant to the job description. Are you an expert communicator? Do you learn very quickly? Are you amazingly organized? Can you adapt to rapid change? Highlight what makes you unique.
If you’re worried about sounding arrogant, you may like this guide on How to Promote Yourself and Your Ideas Without Being Obnoxious.
Example Answer: “What sets me apart is my ability to adjust to change. I am highly adaptable and accustomed to the rapidly changing nature of the tech industry. I love learning new things and readily adopt new strategies to improve continuously.”
10 More Common Phone Interview Questions
Here are a few more quick questions you may want to prepare for ahead of time.
- How did you find this role?
- What do you know about our company?
- What are you looking for in your next job?
- Why do you want this job?
- What is your work style?
- Are you willing to relocate?
- When can you start?
- What other companies are you interviewing with?
- Have you ever worked remotely before?
- Do you have any questions for me?
7 Quick Tips for Answering Phone Interview Questions
A phone screen is often the second step in the interview process for a new job. The interviewer is screening you for potential risks, validating your qualifications, and trying to determine if you’re a good candidate for a longer in-person interview. Use these quick tips to convince them you’re a top pick.
#1 Answer with a smile
Research shows that your “hello” could matter more than your prepared answers. Your vocal first impression can be radically improved simply by smiling as you answer the phone. Think of something joyful, like a cuddly puppy or a happy child, right before you pick up the call.
Phone interviewers can’t always see your face (unless it’s a video call), but they can certainly hear your mood. Regardless of the communication medium, adding a smiley tone to your voice is important.
Communication expert Vanessa Van Edwards explains more in this video:
Want more phone-conquering tips? Here are 10 Steps to Conquering Your Phone Anxiety.
#2 Practice confident speaking
Again, the recruiter or hiring manager on the other end of the line can’t see your body language or outfit. Their impression of your confidence and charisma is based entirely on the sound of your voice.
Before a phone call, you can:
- Ensure you are well-hydrated.
- Do a breathing exercise to soothe your nerves. Blow out a vital breath before you start speaking.
- Do a vocal warm-up like this one to help prepare your voice.
- Practice tongue twisters to prevent stuttering.
- Practice speaking in a slightly lower tone.
- Have a conversation at a moderately fast pace (not too slow and not too fast).
Learn more about How to Speak with Confidence and Sound Better.
#3 Use power pauses
Embrace some silence. The power pause is a conversation technique used by highly charismatic people. Wait a few seconds between an interviewer’s question and you answer. Take a deep breath and avoid rushing into your response. This shows that you are confident and calm.
Since you can’t use body language tools to your advantage on a phone interview, you’ll need to lean in on your pauses and other charismatic verbal cues. These will help you master your phone interview and prepare for real-life conversations.
Communicate With Confidence
Do you struggle with small talk? Do you often run out of things to say or feel awkward and self-conscious in social situations?
Our Conversation Mastery Course teaches you the secrets of master conversationalists and gives you the skills you need to have confident, engaging, and captivating conversations with anyone, anywhere.
#4 Get out of your pajamas
Nobody cares what you wear during a phone interview, but staying in your pajamas could affect your performance. Psychologists termed a phenomenon “enclothed cognition,” which explains why people feel more confident and capable in certain clothes. When someone puts on a lab coat, they feel smarter. When they put on workout clothes, they feel more motivated to go to the gym.
Dress the part by practicing a little self-care and putting on a casual, professional outfit that makes you feel confident for the job. This easy tip could dramatically improve your phone interview performance if you are shy or introverted.
Pro Tip: Try standing up while having your conversation to have greater control of your vocal power.
#5 Ask the interviewer questions, too
A phone interview should be a two-way conversation, not a question drill. Don’t forget to ask the interviewer questions about themselves, the company, and the job.
For example, not every job description thoroughly explains what your daily responsibilities will look like. You may want to ask about a typical routine for someone in the position you’re interviewing for, including hours of availability, tasks, scheduling, meetings, commuting, remote work, etc.
Great questions for a phone interviewer include:
- Is there anything preventing me from being your top candidate?
- What do you love about working for this company?
- What does a typical day in this position look like?
- How would you describe the existing team dynamic?
- What is the onboarding process like with your company?
- What is the biggest challenge that the company is currently facing?
- What are the next steps in the hiring process?
#6 Keep notes in front of you
It’s perfectly fine to keep notes in front of you during the phone interview in case you draw a blank. While you don’t need to script your answers, it helps to have keywords and prompts jotted down in front of you. These will remind you of the exact points you want to make and ensure that you don’t miss anything important in the heat of the moment.
Remember, the interviewer is probably referencing their notes and jotting down things about you. You’re free to do the same.
#7 Practice with a friend
If you feel nervous about a phone interview, a practice run with your friend or family member can be extremely helpful to prepare. Have your friend ask you 10 of the questions from above and rehearse your answers. You can do this over the phone or in person. Ask them for feedback and practice rephrasing your answers to see which delivery sounds the best.
Key Takeaways: Answer Phone Interview Questions With Pre-Prepared Concrete Examples
A successful phone screen interview is a conversational phone call with pre-prepared answers that slate you as the best candidate for a job. Because a phone interview is often the crux of your job search, you want to take the time to practice your answers ahead of time.
- Research the company and be able to paraphrase its mission, vision, and objectives.
- Study the job description and reference the critical skills they are looking for.
- Use stories and data to back up your statements. Don’t just say, “I’m a hard worker.” Give an example of a time when your work ethic shined.
You don’t want to miss these 12 Amazing Tips You Can Do to Ace Your Next Phone Interview.