MOAA’s 8 Tips for Acing Phone Interviews

August 12, 2013 |

Phone call.

Employers added 195,000 jobs in June, bringing the average number of jobs added per month for the first half of 2013 to more than 200,000. These are very encouraging benchmarks, but companies are still under intense pressure to control costs. Accordingly, many employers are using phone interviews to winnow the pool of job applicants and identify the most promising candidates.

Research suggests that up to 70 percent of our inter-personal communications effectiveness is based on non-verbal cues, none of which are available during a phone interview. Consequently, be warm, be concise, be sincere and listen intensely. These additional points of emphasis may be helpful:

  • Posture affects voice clarity and quality. Therefore, it may be best to stand at your desk during a phone interview. And remember to smile – it’s very effective at transmitting warmth and friendliness during a phone conversation.
  • Be careful not to testify against yourself through disclaimers and qualified responses. For example, if a question concerns management experience and you haven’t exactly led an organization of similar size or scope, focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. For example: “My senior leaders were always pleased with my ability to organize, focus, and motivate a team — I’m sure I could apply those same skills here,” rather than pointing out that you haven’t exactly led an organization of comparable size.
  • Prepare for problematic questions, such as why you left your last position or to explain a missed promotion. However, remember that for difficult questions, the shortest answer is usually the best answer.
  • Ensure caller ID systems are unblocked as interviewers frequently conduct phone interviews after normal business hours and on their personal cell phones. Moreover, eliminate distractions during your phone interview.  Find a quiet place to take the call that is free of children, pets, and co-workers. If the interviewer catches you at a bad time, say so – and request a call-back under more convenient circumstances.
  • Have copies of your resume, employment application, the new job description and the contact information for your professional references immediately available during your phone interview. Also, consider preparing talking points for questions you know are coming – such as a list of your specific achievements and how they will translate into positive results for a prospective employer.
  • Prepare several questions to ask the interviewer that are not readily answerable in the public domain, and that can help you better understand the employer’s needs and the immediate deliverables expected from the successful candidate. Also, remember to review the caller’s profile on LinkedIn.
  • Be alert for multiple people on the call. Sometimes strangers jump in and join the conversation. It’s very discourteous and somewhat disorienting if you’re not expecting it.
  • Signal flexibility with regard to location. You may strongly prefer a specific area, but the objective is to progress in the interview process. You can always decline an offer at some future point if the location is a deal-breaker.

The challenge during every interview is to exude confidence and enthusiasm without it spilling over into arrogance or effusiveness. Planning ahead will ensure you make the cut for a formal interview. Finally, always send a thank-you note and follow-up with the interviewer in one to two weeks.

Article provided courtesy of MOAA.

About Stephen Bajza


  1. James Ross says:

    I have received comments several times about the "pleasantness" in my voice while on the phone. Many times while I was still in the service. I always tried to have a smile on my face and be pleasant as I never knew who I was talking to when I was a "young NCO" working in the old Personnel career field. I also have a job interview scheduled tomorrow, so I will set up the wife's ironing board as a standup desk so I can project a confident, pleasant voice. Good Luck to everyone.

  2. M. O'Brien says:

    I conduct telephone interviews and I agree with all the points in this article. Here's a few of my own comments:
    Please give me your undivided attention, you have mine.
    This interview will take about an hour. Let me know if you don't have the time and we'll reschedule.
    Please know a little bit about the company you've applied with. We have a website and it would be to your advantage to have reviewed it.
    In technical interviews I usually give people the opportunity to get a calculator and reference material; unfortunately, few people accept the offer and it usually shows.
    We may cover a lot of ground in this interview so you may want to take notes, I certainly am.
    There's a fine line between confidence and being cocky, don't cross that line.
    Be honest. Don't exaggerate. I'm a veteran too and have a good idea how things operate in the military.
    Certificates of Training and College Degrees are great, but I want to know if you understand concepts and can think, so expect some tough questions.