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Phone Interview Tips: How to Ace A Phone Interview

Even though all collegiettes have their popcorn-chomping, Wii-loving moments, the majority of us are pretty serious about post-grad life. In fact, a CNN article about college students and the state of the job market confirms a trend that is already well-known to many: that an internship experience seems to be a prerequisite for any long-term, post-grad job.

If you’re a self-proclaimed “internship queen” who has a resume a mile-long, but still needs help honing her phone skills; or if you’re hoping to ace your first ever phone interview, check out this Her Campus guide on how to ace a phone interview. After looking through these tips from HC and college experts alike, you should be well on your way to making your next long-distance interview seem closer to home!

Before the interview


As we all learned from Lady Gaga’s song, “Telephone,” it’s never a good idea to hold important conversations in the club (or in jail.) And if you, like Gaga, wouldn’t talk about something that really matters in a place where you can’t hear a thing, where you don’t have a lot of service and when you’re kind of busy, why would you conduct an interview under similarly inopportune circumstances? So unless you have a burning need to speak to Beyoncé…

Find a good place to talk at home

If you decide to have your interview in a comfortable space such as your dorm room or apartment, make sure that you have a good connection and that your surroundings are quiet. Don’t speak to your interviewer in a place with a television blaring in the background, a jackhammer going off outside of your window and poor service. Also, give your roommates a heads up. Let them know that you have an interview on a specific date at a specific time, and remind them about it as the time comes closer. They’ll appreciate your not chewing them out for bringing friends over if you remind them in advance.

Find a good place to talk on campus 

On the other hand, if you’d prefer not to talk to talk at home, start thinking of places where you can talk without any interruption as soon as you and your interviewer have scheduled a day and time to talk. Most career centers have small conference rooms for on-campus interviews with prospective employers, so ask someone at the front desk if you can reserve a room for your phone interview. Doing so will give you the chance to talk on a reliable landline and even to feel more official and prepared. If you’re the one making the phone call, just make sure that you know how to use the campus telephone since dialing out can be tricky. If you’re receiving the call, don’t forget to send your interviewer an email with the new number he or she should call.

Organize your paperwork

You wouldn’t go to an in-person interview without a few copies of your resume, a notebook and something to write with, so make sure to have all of those things together when you’re on the phone. Alexandra Patterson, a remote administrative/human resources intern at Her Campus who had to interview on the phone because she is abroad this semester, advises students not to slack off on telephone interviews just because of the long-distance component. “Take it seriously!” she advises. “Just because you’re not in an office, doesn’t make the interview mean any less. Prepare just like you would for a normal interview: know the company objectives, know what the position description is and come up with a few questions.”

Additionally, even though you can more easily sneak peeks at your CV without your interviewer noticing, you should be familiar enough with your own work history so that you don’t pause every time a question is asked. We all know what it’s like to talk to someone who isn’t fully present on the phone, and chances are that your interviewer will pick up on your uncertainty, even without seeing your shifty eyes.  So make sure you know what it says on your own resume!
Prepare questions for your interviewer

One of the most difficult parts of an interview is when your interviewer flips the script and asks if you have a few questions of your own. If this is something you’ve struggled with in the past, or if you’re just looking for a few new ideas, check out this HC article on the best questions to ask during an interview. Come up with a good list of your own, pin it to a tack board in your room, tape it to your desk or even keep a copy in your wallet if your interview is off campus. You don’t want to waste all of your hard work by rummaging through stacks of paper or in your backpack when the time comes for you to take charge.

Don’t forget the little things

If you’ve never had a phone interview before, make a checklist of all of the small things you can do to be as comfortable as possible when the time comes. Andy Harber, a career consultant at Washington University in St. Louis, suggests that students do small things such as using the bathroom or tidying up their personal space before they start talking. It’s perfectly natural to be nervous about the big things (having a good connection, being organized, getting the job!) but try not to let the small things make you sweat. Here is the consultant’s list of smaller matters you should take care of in advance:

To prepare for a phone interview

  • Confirm the time zone
  • Eliminate background noises and distractions
  • Dress as you would for an in-person interview
  • Use the bathroom beforehand
  • Have a glass of water nearby


During the interview

Relax and take your time

According to Macey Hall, a HC Campus Correspondent at the University of Maine, a lack of physical cues is one of the hardest parts about phone interviews. “I had a Skype interview last semester with Harper Collins that I think would have gone better in person,” she says. “Even though you can see the person’s face, you can’t pick up on non-verbal communication or facial expressions [as well].” Additionally, Krista Evans, a HC Campus Correspondent from Simmons College received similar insight about the miscommunications that can occur over the phone. “A boss of mine once told me that the way people sound on the phone interview (uptight, disinterested, super nervous), is a lot like [the way they give] a first impression,” Krista says. “If you can’t sound normal, calm and collected on the phone, how will your employer know how you’ll behave in person?” 

While making sure that all of your notes are in order will help you feel more prepared and avoid seeming distracted or awkward, Harber also says that altering your speech rhythm will actually improve the flow of conversation. “Pause briefly before answering questions due to the possible time delay,” he advises. Most people are afraid to stop talking for fear of sounding confused or caught off guard, but if you wait to see if your interviewer keeps speaking or not, you’ll come across as more thoughtful and avoid awkwardly cutting her off.

After the interview

Say thanks

Even though your interview won’t end with a firm handshake or an extended business card, make sure to finalize the experience just like you would for an in-person interview. It isn’t necessary to send your interviewer a follow-up email immediately after your conversation, but it’s a good idea not to wait longer than a day or two to thank the person for his or her time.

Think about how you can improve

If your first experience with a phone interview didn’t exactly give you a self-esteem boost, take note of what you can change for the next time. You will probably have another opportunity to speak to an interviewer from afar (lucky you!), so coming up with a new plan of action will only help you in the future. Krista knows a lot about the ups and downs—and ups, again—of long-distance interviews. “The first two phone interviews I did were really uncomfortable and I didn’t get either job,” she admits.“But after that and since then, I have received internship offers and some job offers just from the way I conducted my phone interview.”

Be confident!

Whether you’re making moves in your personal life or your professional one, confidence is always key. Remember that you really do have a lot to offer your prospective employer, and don’t be ashamed to toot your own horn a little. Confidence doesn’t equal cockiness and your interviewer will appreciate your explaining why you would be a great hire. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what other members of the Her Campus team say about phone and Skype interviews:

“My advice to those who’ll be taking part in phone interviews is to be calm, and most importantly, be confident in what you say. The person you are interviewing with is just a person behind a desk. There is nothing to be afraid of!” – Nicole Karlis, Contributing Writer, University of Iowa

“I would definitely recommend a phone interview for anyone who is able to do so, and even asking for one if you cannot make an in-person interview—it shows you care and really are interested in the position. I would advise anyone who is going to have a phone interview to keep it conversational – don’t worry too much about saying ‘the right thing’ or sounding a certain way—these people want to get to know you, the real you, so just give them that and you’ll be golden. Play to your strengths and be honest about your experiences.” – Valentina Palladino, Branch Manager & Contributing Writer, Syracuse University

“I think [that asking] questions shows that you have really thought about the job in depth, and that you want to be as prepared as possible. [During my interview], a document was in front of me and guided me through the interview questions. I got both of the internships [that I applied for] and had a successful summer in LA. My recommendation is to try the best you can to show your personality through voice inflection and to be prepared! – Leigh Maneri, Campus Correspondent, Quinnipiac University

CNN, “Is an internship the new entry-level job?”
Members of the Her Campus Team
Andy Harber, Career consultant, Washington University in St. Louis

Judith is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis with a double major in English and Spanish and a minor in Creative Writing. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Spires, a literary magazine on the WashU campus, and a former features intern for Seventeen and Marie Claire. A proud nerd whose greatest joys include LexisNexis and thesaurus.com, Judith can usually be found looking for new music or espousing the wonders of Twitter, Harry Potter, and late 16th century English Literature to anyone willing to listen. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Judith plans to explore as much of St. Louis as she can in her final year of college--even without a car (or a learner's permit...).
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