Success Calling: How to Ace Your Phone or Skype Interview

Let’s face it – phone interviews are the worst. And I say this as someone who actually enjoys the job application process so much that I voluntarily help others through it. Applying for a new job? Send your resume my way! Struggling with your cover letter? I’d be happy to look it over for you!

Despite all this, I still loathe phone interviews. They’re a special sort of torture. You can’t see the other person, so you lose all ability to gauge and adjust what you’re saying based on their body language, facial expression, or reactions. Video interviews? They’re even worse. Now you likely can’t see the other person clearly, but also have to keep from getting distracted by the up close and personal view of yourself that your webcam provides on the screen.

The reality is that remote interviews aren’t going anywhere, and forcing yourself to get comfortable with them is a key part of any present day job search. Even as someone who dreads phone interviews, I use them to interview candidates when geography doesn’t allow for an in-person interview, or when I’m interested in more candidates than I have time to give face-to-face. As I’ve settled into a routine for phone interviews, here are the seven things I’ve found make them most successful.

Embrace the flexibility

One large benefit of remote interviews is that you have complete control over the location, so take advantage of it. Capitalize on the freedom that phone and video interviews give you to be in a calm and peaceful space. Once you choose your preferred location, take it to the next level by removing anything that could have a negative impact on the interview. Close windows to reduce outside noise, remove or shut off anything that could be distracting, and let anyone you live with know that you can’t be interrupted during that time.

Check your connection

You’ll be relying on your cell or internet connection for this interview, so be sure it’s going to work. Determine where you’ll be at the time of the interview and make a few test calls from that location. If the connection is slow or spotty, find a new space or troubleshoot it before your interview. You’re likely on the interviewer’s schedule for a specific, short amount of time, so don’t waste any precious moments asking, “Can you hear me?”

Make a cheat sheet

Not being in front of your interviewer means you can surround yourself with helpful resources during the call. Set yourself up with a glass of water, printed copies of your resume and cover letter for easy reference, a notepad and pen, and an interview cheat sheet. This cheat sheet can include information about the company and your interviewer, bulleted answers for difficult questions you’re anticipating, and more. If you’re already feeling nervous, having this information on hand can ease your anxiety and help you answer and ask questions thoughtfully.  

Dress for success

Even if your interviewer can’t see you, take the time to dress up the way you would for an in-person interview. Studies have shown that the way we dress can impact not only the way we feel but also the way we think and process information. Initial research shows that dressing more formally helps you to do more global processing, sometimes referred to as “big picture thinking,” which is an important strength in an interview. So, rather than taking the call in your pajamas, put on your favorite interview outfit to not only feel confident, but also enhance your thinking.

Start off strong

Before your interview, decide how you’ll answer the phone. It may sound silly, but answering the phone is the equivalent of standing up and introducing yourself when an in-person interviewer enters the room. As an interviewer, how someone answers the phone can determine, to an extent, how comfortable I am as we begin the conversation. For example, when someone answers as a question – “hello?” – it makes me wonder if they’d forgotten about our call or if I have the wrong number. Choose a more professional greeting, such as, “Good afternoon, this is _______,” to let the interviewer know they have the right person, at the right time.

Speak clearly

Doing well during a phone interview, or any interview for that matter, has a lot in common with doing well when you’re speaking in public. Check out these tips for public speaking and consider how they can apply to your interview experience. Knowing your audience, eliminating filler words, and removing any potential distractions all help you make a good impression.

Make peace with silence

Don’t be tempted to fill every second of the call with your words. A pause on the interviewer’s part is likely not a bad thing – they may be taking notes or considering what to ask next. On your end, silence doesn’t have to be a bad thing either. Keeping answers short and concise will show the interviewer that you’re focused, respect their time, and can communicate clearly.  

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Sara is a writer, educator, and marketing professional living in Pennsylvania. She's a fan of all things travel, organizing, and self-improvement.