The phone interview can be both the best and worst part of the interview process. On the one hand, it gives both the hiring manager and the candidate a chance to screen one another without committing too much time. On the other hand, it’s challenging and frustrating to convey your whole over the phone. Technology can misbehave, background noise can throw someone off, and you can’t read facial expressions over the phone.

While some aspects of the phone interview are simply out of your hands, there are many steps you can take to ensure a smooth as possible conversation.

Prep for the Call

You should prep for phone interview questions the same way you’d prep for an in-person interview, with a few additional considerations. Unlike an in-person interview, you should take precautions to make sure the quality of the call is as smooth as possible.

They’re simple steps, but make sure your phone is fully changed and has reception. Have a “test call” with a friend before the phone interview to ensure there’s no distracting background noise.

It might sound silly, but try to stand up during your call when you speak. This helps with the projection of your voice and can eliminate some nerves you might have on the call. Also, smiling while you respond can change the tone and cadence of your voice to make it more engaging. It goes without saying, but using speakerphone should be avoided whenever possible and refrain from eating during the call.

When you can’t see the other person on the line, it’s tempting to fill the space with your voice. Try to conduct the conversation as if you are face to face with the interviewer. Remember to make the interview a conversation, not a monologue. But, unlike a face to face interview, take the effort to speak slower than you would in person.

Finally, don’t be afraid right off the bat to ask if the interviewer can hear you okay, and vice versa. If you can’t hear the other person on the line well, you could be setting yourself up to fail.

How to Answer Interview Questions

It’s not uncommon to get some tricky questions during a phone interview. Often, phone calls are used as a meeting way to screen candidates before bringing them in for an in-person interview. Don’t be surprised if you need to explain your strengths and weaknesses or when you last encountered a challenge in the workplace.

The question you’re most likely to get is, “Why did you apply for this position?” or “Why do you want to work for this company?” Don’t let this question catch you off guard. To prepare for it, research the business and the particular role, identifying what traits you share and what new skills you can contribute. This question is often asked to weed out candidates who haven’t done their research on the company or role. To be seriously considered for the position, make sure you have a response ready before the call.

One noticeable difference between answering questions over the phone as opposed to in-person is length. Since the phone interview is used as a screening process, the hiring manager doesn’t need to know your whole life’s story. Instead, answer questions directly and concisely. Make the hiring manager interested to hear more. This is only an introduction--you’ll have time to talk more specifics at an in-person interview.

Good Questions to Ask

Since you can’t read body language over the phone, it’s important to engage the hiring manager over the phone by creating a dialogue. Phone interviews can be tedious and boring for interviewers, so creating conversation can create a great call instead of a standard chat.

Given that phone interviews are often an intermediary step, feel free to ask about the timeline for the next step. Will there be another call? Or would the next step be in person? Asking follow up questions like these can indicate your interest in the position, as well as give you peace of mind.

While you should be asking questions, understand that talking over the phone isn’t always the best way to get down to the nitty gritty. Too many in-depth questions about the role or company could lead to a stilted conversation. In the end, trust your gut. Remember, you are using this call to screen the company as well. If alarm bells go off, or you feel this might not be the right role for you, it’s okay to step out of the interview process.

The phone interview, while sometimes stilted and uncomfortable, is a great, low-risk tool in the interview process. Remember to use it as a time to introduce yourself, as well as a way to get to know your potential new position. The call doesn’t have to be hours long, and the hiring manager doesn’t need to know your whole career trajectory. If you end the call with an intrigued hiring manager and a better sense of the role you’re interviewing for, you will be setting yourself up for a solid, in-person conversation.

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