5 rules for phone interviews

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Phone interviews are usually the first interview done when someone decides, after looking at your resume, that you could qualify for the open job. That person decides you are “worthy” of an interview from what you have on your resume — your experience, job skills and results. Just as the resume won’t land you the job, neither will the phone interview. Instead, the phone interview confirms what you say matches the resume. That confirmation then moves you on to a face-to-face interview.

There are lots of opinions about how to handle a phone interview. These are my five rules:

1. Phone interviews are about showing you have the job skills to do the job

Your entire goal for the phone interview is to show you have the job skills to do the work. If you show you have the job skills, you can get a face-to-face interview.

Too many people in interviews focus on how they fit into a team or their reasons for loving the work and miss that the very first need are job skills to do the work.

2. Ensure you tie your job skills to business results

Most people can talk about their job skills. Very few take the necessary next step and tie the job skill to a business result they have achieved. That negotiation job skill they have? Great, but then show how that negotiation skill helped resolve a business conflict and helped the business reach a goal. Superior experience in nursing? Show how that experience improved the department by mentoring others.

Without this tie between job skills and business results, you won’t make as great an impact on the person doing the interview. Connect your job skills plus business results and you have a competitive advantage over almost all others.

3. Have interview stories that show using job skills to get results

People remember stories. They may or may not remember facts. And after the interviewer has done four phone interviews in a row and starts to make recommendations for who to move forward to the next interview phase, who will they remember the best? The one that told the story of job skills producing business results. People will associate the story with you. Job skills, one would believe, are a dime a dozen. So make the interview about job skills and the ways you used them to create results through stories.

4. Print out your resume and have it in front of you during the interview

Phone interviews typically go along with the chronology of the resume. What’s on page one gets asked about first, then the next page. If you’ve done several versions of resumes to more accurately show your work for a given position, having the resume you submitted for that job in front of you will not only help you understand the context of the question asked, but also help you see what is coming next. This improves your answers compared to your competition.

5. Stand up during the interview

Yeah, this is corny. Sure, you can call me stupid for bringing it up. But standing up during a phone interview increases your concentration, relaxes you through movement, and helps you get your body into answering the questions. Just talk to someone on the phone while sitting down and then talk to that same person on the phone while standing up. See the difference?

6. BONUS rule: Never use a cell phone for an interview. As in, never.


Phone interviews have their own set of skills compared to writing resumes, doing face-to-face interviews, or running the interview gauntlet. Make sure you develop the phone interview skill set — the successful phone interview, after all, gets you to the next step in the job search process.

  • Its a very good advice.Phone interviews are the classic next step after successfully submitting your resume for a job. People blow the phone interview all the time — sometimes before they even have the telephone interview scheduled. 

  • Very nice advice in here.  I do have one problem, though: a “bonus” rule with no explanation?  I’m not sure I get it.  So what should we use instead of a cell phone?  A land line?  I don’t even have one.  And I don’t think it would be a good idea to use your company’s land line for a job interview with another company.  So what do you suggest?  And why not use a cell phone?

    • Yes, I suggest a land line. Even if it is in a conference room in your company. The cell phone technology just isn’t good enough to offer up the clear, bilateral conversation that a land line does.

      Now, some have “five bars” all the time and it is not quite so bad. But less than perfect cell phone reception just breaks up conversations — deadly in an interview.

      There are a lot of people who don’t have land lines now — me included. And the digital stuff (Skype, for instance) isn’t as reliable as a landline, but better than a cell phone.

      It’s a conundrum.

  • Interview it one of the important part of our professional life and for me phone interview is a difficult task. Thanks for this great information about phone interview.

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