Phone interviews: Answer the call to a new career

Learn the best practices for phone screen interviews

3 min read

January 2021

Person smiling while dialing in to a phone interview

Phone interviews have been around a long time. As a recruiter, over 95 percent of my hiring processes include one. So, you’d think these would be old hat for a lot of people by now, but the reality is that most of us don’t look for a new job every day. And even candidates who have plenty of interview experience face this call with a little trepidation. That can translate into a less than positive impression during the one call that can truly affect your career. All the more reason to understand their purpose and be as prepared as possible when you answer the call.

Why they’re useful

For candidates, the phone interview is also a great opportunity to learn about your future employer. After you research as much as you can about a company and a role, the phone screen is a place that you can clarify that research. Many candidates ask questions regarding benefits, our gainshare bonus, and travel required. These are excellent questions!

For recruiters, a phone interview is a great way to determine if a candidate is as good as their resume looks. It’s cost-effective (no one needs to travel for a phone call), it’s efficient (calls typically range from 30 minutes to an hour), and it helps determine if a candidate truly has the experience and skills needed for the opportunity.

How to master them

When you meet face to face (whether virtually or in-person), you can see when someone’s interested (and when they’re not). On the phone it can be harder to pick up on the non-verbal cues. So, at the very least, you’ll want to be ready to demonstrate your best communication and listening skills. Here are some additional best practices that can add to success in your next call:

  1. Plan where you’ll take the call: While it’s best to talk on a landline, that is not always possible. Being stationary with a cell phone that has PROVEN great reception is a second-best option. Be free from distractions—if you’re at home with your dog, for example, take the call far enough away from any potential noise that could occur.
  2. Have your resume with you: Be ready to reference dates of your past employment, computer technology you’ve used, and other various applications or certifications that you hold. You can get nervous on the phone and forget even the most basic information, so having your resume is key!
  3. Speak clearly: Keep in mind your recruiter is most likely typing or taking notes on the comments you’re making. Talk slowly, clearly, and avoid any colloquialisms that are specific to your current organization. I also recommend a simple glass of water nearby so you can clear your throat as needed. And be sure to avoid having gum or mints in your mouth—both can be distracting for the person taking notes on what you’re saying.
  4. Listening is communicating too: Most recruiters will tell you in the first few seconds what to expect, so take a moment and listen. Then smile, and let your personality come through!
  5. Jot down key points: Write down the questions asked to be sure you answer thoroughly. Don’t delay the phone interview by writing each word, but writing key points down ensures you will answer the entire question.

Good luck mastering a phone interview and getting on track to your new future!

Before moving into her role as a Leadership Development Consultant on Progressive’s Knowledge, Development and Solutions team, Kathy Drinko was a recruiter in Progressive’s Talent Acquisition Group for more than 20 years.

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