Got an upcoming job interview but don’t know what to say?

No more confusion! As a business owner, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing really positive phone interviews and the displeasure of experiencing some awkward ones.

In this article, I’ve compiled only the best phone interview tips so you can ace your next interview—whether as a job seeker or employer.

Let’s kick it off with some science:

Why are Phone Interviews so Hard?

Phone phobia is real.

Phone phobia (also known as phone anxiety) is the fear and avoidance of phone calls. People with phone phobia can feel anxious when they are on a phone call with someone or anticipating getting on a call. Anyone can have phone phobia, even people who are comfortable conversing with others in person.

An infographic about how 40% of baby boomers and 70% of millennials experience anxiety when the phone rings

A 2019 survey found that 40% of baby boomers and 70% of millennials experience anxiety when the phone rings.

Not being able to see the other person, bad connection, and a lack of visual cues are just a few of the problems we face in phone interviews.

This can lead to a smorgasbord of confusion and awkwardness.

But not all interviews have to be bad!

Research shows there are 3 main criteria for a successful phone interview:

  1. cultivating rapport and maintaining connection
  2. demonstrating responsiveness to interviewee content and concerns, and
  3. communicating regard for the interviewee and what they contribute

In short…

The most successful phone interviews aren’t just about business. They’re about building that human connection.

So keep that in mind while you read these tips. Connecting with the person on the other side of that phone is just as important—if not MORE important—than being qualified for the job.

Let’s move on to the tips.

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8 Tips to Ace Your Next Phone Interview (for the job seeker)

Mirror Their Words

Do you prefer awesome, fantastic, great, or excellent?

Sure, these words might mean the same thing to you. But they might NOT for the other person.

You see, we all like to feel like we belong. So when we see someone else sporting the same team on their jersey, or in the same fitness class as us, we think they’re in our “in-group.”

Since we can’t see our interviewer through the phone, the closest thing we can do to build rapport is to mirror their words. In fact, research shows this actually works:

In a study of 9 counselors who conducted phone interviews, researchers found that intentional harmonization by mirroring clients in words, phrases, language style, tone, speed, and pace helped clients build connection with the counselors and reinforce that they were “in tune” with them.

You can also do this to build rapport with your interviewer. When they say something is “fantastic,” sprinkle in a little “fantastic” somewhere in your answer. If they use an excited tone, you might want to match their energy.

Pro tip: Don’t be so obvious—only use this technique sparingly, or your interviewer might catch on. (“Seriously? Did you REALLY say that you’re a fantastic writer, a fantastic hard worker, and fantastic at meeting deadlines? Sheesh!”)

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Stand, Don’t Sit

Watch any singer live or on TV, and chances are they’re standing.

Standing helps you optimize your breathing, helping you speak powerfully and sound more confident.

In a phone interview, ditch the sofa and stand straight and tall while you’re speaking.

Pay close attention to speaking from the belly and not from the throat area. And if you want to go the extra mile, dress the same way you’d appear when going in for a live interview.

Not only will professional clothes prime you for the right behavior but having a phone interview without pants on might be a little too casual.

Pro Tip: Stand somewhere that you feel professional and confident. I recommend avoiding the bedroom or noisy places and opting for an office or private meeting room if you can find one.

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Vary Your Voice

How does your voice sound?

If your normal voice is more suitable as a bedtime story voice-over artist, then consider adding in some variation in that pitch.

In a phone interview where your appearance won’t be judged, you can bet your voice will be.

Here’s one study that might surprise you:

Thirty French female operators were recorded over the phone, saying the word for hello (“Bonjour!”). The recordings were then played back to students and seniors, who each rated the voices based on their level of agreeableness (the degree in which a person is warm and friendly with others).

The result?

Listeners preferred nonmonotonous voices, with short-term frequency changes in them.

In other words, voices that you could hear changes in their pitch were the true winners.

So here’s what to do before your next phone interview:

  • Record yourself. Do you sound monotonous? Ask a friend or family member to give you feedback.
  • Try sounding more dynamic by doing vocal warmups. Use a variety of vocal pitches, from low to high, to warm up those vocal chords.
  • Don’t start with a full belly! This one might be more anecdotal, but I notice my vocal power is greatly diminished right after I eat a hefty meal. Try seeing if your voice sounds more dynamic before a meal than after it.

Remember, practice makes perfect! Get amped up, listen to your favorite happy tunes, and sing your heart out before your interview to warm up your pitch.

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Speak Like a President

Have you ever noticed that presidents usually end their sentences in a downward pitch? In contrast, here’s an example with upward pitch (aka valley talk/upspeak):

A downward pitch, on the other hand, ends with an affirmative feeling and sounds confident. And, according to a research study, this is what makes a speaker sound convincing.

The study found that not only was a downward pitch effective in convincing listeners but a faster rate of speech was too. This is in contrast to speakers who talked slowly and with uptalk.

To practice this, I want you to imagine you’re the president. You’re going to give a speech, and you want to sound as authoritative and confident as possible—after all, you’re leading an entire country, aren’t you?

Imagine what the president would sound like and alter your voice to sound exactly like that.

Not unsure. Not with a questioning tone. And not unconfident.

Once you nail that presidential “sweet spot,” you’re one step closer to sounding effective.

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Get Over Phone Phobia

Do you have a case of phone phobia?

For most of my life, I dreaded going near the phone:

  • I dreaded the way my voice sounded.
  • I dreaded not being able to talk calmly.
  • I dreaded that fear of not knowing what to say.

But the more phone calls I got into, the more I became good at them. But if you’re not used to picking up the phone, no worries!

Science says we overestimate how awkward phone calls will be.

In fact, researchers asked people to connect with strangers by discussing several meaningful questions like “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?”

The only catch?

They either had to do it on a video call, using only audio, or using instant messaging.

Here’s the thing: The participants said they would not feel as connected after talking and would even feel awkward.

But after talking with the stranger, participants actually felt MORE connected (and no more awkward) than simply typing with the strangers!

So if you have a case of phone phobia, I totally understand!

But phone interviews are one step closer to truly connecting with a potential employer… which, ultimately, is key to a successful business relationship.

So if you have phone phobia… just know that once the call is over, you’ll likely feel like it was worth it.

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Set Your Voicemail

Let’s face it: Sometimes you won’t be able to answer that phone call.

Maybe your phone dies, your timer doesn’t go off, or you suddenly remember about that other phone interview happening at the exact same time.

Whatever the case is, you’ll need a professional voicemail, especially for this scenario.

Your voicemail, like your social media profile, should be geared toward professionalism and not incriminate you in any way.

Here’s how to do that:

  • Do NOT keep your voicemail’s default robotic voice. This might confuse your interviewer into thinking they’ve called the wrong number.
  • Old voicemail? Record it again! Nobody wants to hear what you sounded like back in your old college days. (“Hey, sister! I’m not here right now. I’m busy partying!”)
  • State your full name. This is especially helpful for hiring managers who are used to quite a few “Johns” and “Janes.”
  • Be friendly. Use this as an opportunity to sound welcoming, like you actually want them to call you back.
  • Ask them to leave a callback number and/or email in their message so you can reach them.

An example voicemail could be something like: “Hi there! This is Vanessa Van Edwards. Thank you for calling, but I’m currently away for now. Please leave a detailed message with your phone number or email address, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you!”

Pro Tip: After your interview, don’t forget your follow-up email either! For a guide on how to write this, check out our article: 17 Professional Email Tips to Craft Your Next Email (With Templates!)

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The Interrupt Effect

Imagine you’re on a phone interview with a potential employer. They ask you a question like “What is your biggest weakness?”

As you’re in the middle of your answer, the interviewer suddenly cuts you off.

Now, this could be a bad thing. But it could also be a good thing.

I find that whenever an interviewee is interrupted by the caller, the interviewee has likely gotten off on a topic that the interviewer doesn’t exactly care about.

For example, with the above question, perhaps you might’ve glazed over your biggest weakness and turned it into a strength (a major faux pas, and something you should never do in an interview).

The interviewer likely is fishing for a particular answer. If they deliberately interrupt you, take a pause and think of a way you can get closer to what they’re looking for.

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Find a Practice Partner

Think of someone you can “practice” with before your actual interview:

  • a previous boss
  • your coworker
  • a trusted friend or family member

Whoever it is, try to practice what you’re going to say. Imagine you’re on a real phone call and role-play your upcoming interview with your phone partner. Or, you could just ask something like “Hey, coworker! I have an upcoming interview and I’d like to go over our company culture and responsibilities, if that’s OK with you?”

You don’t even have to practice an interview—call up a friend and ask them how they’re doing! Calling someone right before your phone interview can “warm up” your vocals right before the big interview.

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4 Tips to Conduct a Great Phone Interview (for the interviewer)

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Employ the Pause

In a study of 37 healthcare patients, researchers found that those awkward phone “pauses” might actually be helpful.

In a normal phone interview, not being able to see body language and facial expressions means that you might not be as willing to probe for further information or ask follow-up questions. Thus, we have that awkward pause.

However, you can use this pause to your advantage.

The study showed that these pauses sometimes allow for respondents to talk more and even share information that they might not have shared if they had been cut off by the interviewer.

In your own phone interviews, I’ve found employing a slightly longer pause can be great, as interviewees are more likely to tell more information to avoid that awkward quiet stretch.

You can use it like so:

  • You: “Why do you think you’d be a good fit for this position?”
  • Them: “I really like marketing, and I think I’d like the company culture!”
  • (Pause)
  • Them: “Oh, and I, uh, found out that I hated my last job.”

See the power of the pause?

(Pauses)

Use it to your advantage!

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Learn to Detect Deception

During an average phone call, what percentage of people do you think lie at least once? Is it:

  1. 14%
  2. 21%
  3. 27%
  4. 37%

If you chose d), you’re correct!

Research shows that people lie the most on the phone (37%), compared to face-to-face conversations (27%), instant messaging (21%), and email (14%).

Why?

Because on the telephone, people feel it’s less likely that they’re going to be caught. There are no visual cues, paper trails, or close-up interactions to incriminate a liar.

So in a phone interview, it’s crucial you know if your interviewee is lying about that “promotion” they received or not.

Want to know more on how to spot a liar? Check out our ultimate guide here!

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Phone Interview Day

If possible, try to schedule all your phone interviews on the same day.

Why?

I find that this helps me remember little details that I’d otherwise forget about. (Wait… did I really interview John last Monday?) You might also find that you’ll save a lot of time by allocating one day for it, since you’ll already be prepared to ask questions.

You can also compare your interviewees more easily by scheduling everything on the same day.

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The 80/20 Rule

As an interviewer, you’re not only trying to gain information from a potential employee. This is your chance to also make your job offer sound amazing. (Other than monetary benefits, of course!)

So keep in mind the 80/20 Rule: 80% of the time you spend should be on obtaining information about the potential candidate. The other 20% is making your job sound amazing.

After all, with the other jobs out there, why should they pick yours?

You can highlight the benefits of your open position by mentioning a few different things:

  1. Your company’s impact. What is your company trying to achieve? Here at Science of People, our mission is to spread knowledge about people skills, leadership, and charisma throughout the globe. We know what it feels like to be helplessly awkward—so we want to banish that feeling forever! If your interviewee can relate to your company’s purpose, they’ll want to work harder to land the job.
  2. Your company’s benefits. Nobody wants to hear “You’ve got to work a minimum of 40 hours a week plus overtime,” especially when there are no other benefits involved. What does your company have to offer? Are they fully remote? Do they offer lots of vacation? What about office perks?
  3. Your own attitude. People want to work for someone who’s not a pain to work with. I see this mistake being made by a lot of hiring managers—they simply don’t spend enough time getting to know the candidate on a more personal level. This doesn’t mean you should pry, but getting to know your potential employee beyond the business basics can make a huge difference.

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The Best Questions to Ask During a Phone Interview

So you’ve got an upcoming interview on the phone but don’t know what to ask? (Or you’re a job seeker and want to prepare for possible questions?)

Interview questions can be harder than trying to avoid getting corn stuck in your teeth. (Seriously—if anyone invents a magical product, I’m all in.)

Let’s dive into the best interview questions, starting with:

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The Opening Question

The opening question should come after your introductions—who you are, the background of your company, and details of the open position.

I always recommend having an opening question be a “freebie” to warm up the conversation. Something easy like:

“Have You Ever Read a Book That Changed Your Life?”

Most of the time, your interviewee will have an answer for you. Plus, you’ll get to know them on a more personal level and help ease any built-up pre-interview stress they may have.

Nice!

Think of an easy question you can ask for your opener. For a list of more questions, check out our conversation starters article!

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Motivation-Based Questions

Next, you’ll want to know WHY your candidate is applying for the job. You can ask a simple question like:

“Why Did You Apply for This Position?”

When you ask this, you’ll get to know if the interviewee truly has a passion or desire to work for your company, beyond the monetary benefits.

You’ll also get to understand more about their interests and past experiences.

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Situational Questions

Situational questions are essential to ask because they’re often something interviewees can’t prepare for in advance.

In other words, you’ll be able to test their decision-making skills on the fly.

You can ask a specific question that relates to the job, like:

“How do you like learning new technology tools? When have you done this in the past?”

Other situational questions you can ask might be related to dealing with coworker relationships, what they would do if they made a mistake, etc.

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Skill-Based Questions

Of course, one of the most important questions a hiring manager would like to know is: Are they qualified for this position?

To find out the answer, you’ll want to know if a potential candidate has the right skills. You can start off by asking:

“Describe a situation in which you led a team or overcame a challenge.”

Or you could ask about their other past experiences and why they align with the position they’re now applying for.

For a more comprehensive list of questions to prepare for your next interview, head on over to our article: 25 Best Interview Questions You MUST Ask Candidates

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Preparation is Key

I know this sounds cheesy, but the best way to ace your next phone interview is to prepare.

The more hours you spend preparing, the higher your chances of succeeding.

I highly recommend checking out these resources to step up your phone interview game:

Now, over to you!

What was your latest experience with a phone interview? And what do you do to combat your phone phobia? I’d love to hear your comments below!

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