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What is a Telephone Job Interview?

Updated on January 31, 2013

The Phone Interview or Phone Screen

The phone interview, or phone screen as it is also known, is an initial employment screening technique. Recruiters estimate that more than half of first screens take place on the phone. In this economy, chances are great that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants for any one open position. Many people put together eye-popping résumés (or pay professionals to do it). However, the top two reasons people aren’t hired are poor communication skills and lack of enthusiasm or passion. Since it’s hard to tell from a piece of paper (or a screen, usually, since most résumés are now submitted online) whether a candidate can really communicate well or is truly dedicated and excited about the job prospect, recruiters and HR personnel opt for the phone screen initially; in about 5 minutes, a good interviewer can pretty much tell if you are who your résumé says you are, or if you are just full of baloney.

The Phone Screen Can Be a Trap!

So, if your résumé got noticed, and you’ve been asked for a phone screen or interview, kudos! But, beware: one of Human Resource’s (HR’s) first goals is to eliminate candidates in the beginning; to whittle down their list of potential candidates from those hundreds or thousands of applicants to a manageable and viable few. So, while these phone interviews may seem informal, more casual than a face-to-face interview, you need to understand that they are as important as the face-to-face, personal interview; if you don’t make the phone screen cut, you won’t get a second chance to show how much value you will add to the company.

What To Expect During Your Phone Interview

Phone interviews are generally short, between 15 to 30 minutes. This is a good initial-screening option for companies considering out-of-town, out-of-state or foreign candidates but it’s also a money-saver for screening local job candidates. Remember, ultimately the phone screen is not about you; it’s about the company’s saving time and money by weeding out those applicants that might not be a good fit. In order to do this efficiently, HR Specialists usually have a list of questions on a form. They have tons of applicants to screen and they just want to get through the process as quickly as possible. Phone interviews generally tend to be mechanical, pro forma, and lack warmth.

One of an HR Specialist’s jobs is to double-check the information you provided on your résumé - and screen you out if you don’t measure up. How do you fall short? In more than one way: you may not measure up in terms of the content you supplied on your résumé or, as already stated above, you may be judged as not having enough communication skills or passion for the job.

Common Interview Questions

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “Why should we hire you?”
  • “What are your strengths?”
  • “What are your weaknesses?”
  • “Why should we hire you?”

How To Prepare for Your Phone Interview or Screen

A phone interview can actually work in a candidate’s favor. Instead of forming opinions about you based on your physical appearance and presentation, an interviewer will focus more on the delivery and substance of your conversation. Here are five things to do before your phone interview, to increase your chances of success:

  1. Research the company and re-read the job description. Then, take a piece of paper and write down each criterion that the company said it is looking for on one side. On the other side, write the qualities or skills you possess that fit these criteria.
  2. Prepare your 60-second personal statement, “sound bite” or “elevator speech.” Begin it by stating who you are, what your skills are and the main reason you want the job.
  3. Prepare (and rehearse!) your answers to a few common interview questions. This is also a good time to think about a few stories to tell about how you successfully met and resolved challenges in your past employment situations. Some experts recommend having about 5 of these stories prepared and, perhaps, even tailoring your stories to the company’s “preferred qualifications” as listed in the job description.
  4. Check with your references and get their permission to use them!
  5. List at least five questions to ask about the position, the company, and the industry. Whatever you do, DON’T ask about salary, benefits, or telecommuting! Also, make sure that you DON’T ask anything that a quick Internet search would (or should) have revealed!

Questions To Ask During Your Phone Interview

  • What happened to the person who held the position before me? Or How has this job been performed in the past?
  • What is the first issue/challenge/problem the person you hire must attend to?
  • To whom will I report? What can you tell me about him/her?
  • Why did you choose to work for this company?
  • What are our next steps?

Ready for the Phone Screen!

Now that you have researched the company, re-read the job description and matched your skills and experience to the company's listed preferred qualifications, thought about and written down your one minute elevator speech, written down at least five stories from your past work experience, and anticipated your answers to the most common interview or screening questions, you are ready to go, right? Well, not yet...there is one thing left to do: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Practice all of your prepped materials with a friend, either in person or - preferably - on the phone. Make sure to time yourself so that you keep your answers, stories, and questions short. Remember that, if a company has many job openings, the interview will be more cut-and-dry and quicker. Try to honor your interviewer's time by being succinct and to the point.

I'd wish you good luck, but, if you follow this recipe for success, you won't need it!


Submit a Comment

  • everymom profile image

    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 5 years ago from Massachusetts

    I'm just the opposite: I think much better and more cogently on the phone as there are fewer distractions for me; I'm more fidgety during a face-to-face! I hope my tips were helpful!

  • SaffronBlossom profile image

    SaffronBlossom 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    I usually get more nervous over a phone interview than a face-to-face--being able to see a person's facial expressions and body language is so much more comfortable than speaking on the phone! Thanks for all of the tips.

  • Abby Campbell profile image

    Abby Campbell 5 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

    Very useful hub! Everyone needs great tips like these when it comes to interviewing. Thanks for sharing! ;)

  • everymom profile image

    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 5 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thanks so much!

  • btrbell profile image

    Randi Benlulu 5 years ago from Mesa, AZ

    Very good and all important. With all the budget cuts, more and more interviews are being done over the phone.You havre provided so many good suggestions. Thank you! Up+