If you have a phone interview coming up, there are some questions you are very likely to be asked… and practicing them can immediately help you feel confident and be ready to “wow” the interviewer so you can move on to the next stage!
I’m going to walk you through the most common phone interview questions and best answers, so you can get hired faster.
Let’s get started…
The key here is to be concise. The best answers to this interview question will be 90 seconds or less.
You want to answer in chronological order – start with how you got into your current line of work or career path. Then talk about key accomplishments you’ve had along the way, key career moves you’ve made and why. Also include any promotions you’ve received.
Try to mention at least one thing that will make you memorable and stand out (for example, “In my last job, my team worked with Tesla to help design their latest battery monitoring technology).
And then finish your story with your current situation. Describe what you’re looking for now in your job search, and why.
See below for a full sample response, or read our full article on how to answer “tell me about yourself”.
“I graduated five years ago with a degree in Chemistry. I took a job with Pfizer and was promoted after three years to lead projects in their cancer research division. I’ve been in this Project Manager role for two years now and even won an award for outstanding leadership this past year. Everything’s going great, but I’d like to take my career to the next level by finding opportunities to lead larger teams. I saw on your job description that you mention this is an opportunity to lead teams of 8-10 people, so I was eager to learn more.”
If you’re unemployed, be direct and say so. BUT – have a good reason for why you want this particular job too. This is super important. Employers want to feel like you want their job, not just any job. I can’t stress this enough.
If you’re currently employed but job searching to find something better, keep it positive. Focus on what you want to gain in a move. “I’d love to find an opportunity that will give me a bigger chance to lead and manage projects”, etc.
Don’t badmouth your current job or employer, and don’t talk about the bad things you’re looking to escape or get away from. Just keep it positive and focus on what you’d love to gain by changing jobs.
Sample answer if you’re unemployed:
“I was laid off four months ago so I’m in an active job search. I’m hoping to find a position that will let me continue to build my skills as a customer service supervisor. I’m particularly looking to stay in the software industry, which is one reason this job excited me.”
Sample if you’re currently employed while job searching:
“I’ve learned a lot in my current job and enjoyed it, however, I’ve been in this position for four years and feel that to take my skills to the next level, I should expose myself to a new work environment to continue challenging myself. I saw your job description mentions ___, which is one of the key things I hope to continue doing in my next role, so this seemed like a great job to apply for and have an interview to discuss.“
The best responses to this question will be straight-forward and clear. For example, these are all good answers for how you heard about the job:
We’ve also put a few word-for-word answer examples below, or you can read our complete guide to answering “how did you find out about this position?”
“A colleague recommended your organization to me. I went on your website to learn more and saw this position listed. It seemed like a great fit and a move that could help advance my career, so I was eager to learn more and have an interview.”
“A recruiter contacted me last week and the position sounded like a great fit for my skills and experience, so I became interested.”
With this question, you want to show off your knowledge and demonstrate that you did research before applying for the job.
Employers don’t want to hire someone who’s just applying to every job, and not taking the time to learn anything about the company. They want someone who applied for a reason and wants to work at THEIR company.
For help with company research, we have a full article on how to research a company before your interview.
And for help with your interview answer after you’ve researched the employer, you can see the example response below or read our full article on how to answer, “what do you know about our company?”
“I know you’re one of the top alarm system manufacturers in the US. I did some reading on your website and discovered that you create alarms for businesses and office buildings, not just individual homes. I also did some reading on your corporate culture and it sounds like you do a lot to support the development of your employees, and get involved in community service too. That’s something I care a lot about and something that attracts me to an employer.”
With this question, the employer wants to see that you have a real reason for wanting their particular job (rather than just needing any job you can get). This is important to them and you will not get hired if you can’t show them why you want this specific job.
So your answer to this phone interview question should contain two key pieces:
Now let’s look at a full example for answering “why did you apply for this particular position?”
“One of the key things I’m targeting in my job search right now is an opportunity to work more directly with customers and clients. I really enjoy that aspect of my work, but my last job took me a bit away from that. I saw on your job description that 50% of this job is interacting with clients, either on the phone or in-person, and that excited me.”
Here’s why employers ask this: They want to make sure their job fits the general theme of what you’re looking for.
Your answer is only going to worry them or raise a “red flag” if all the other jobs you’re applying for are WAY different than this job.
So to give a great answer here, show the employer that their job fits the overall theme of other jobs you’re looking at.
And if they do ask for company names, you can refuse by saying, “I’d like to keep the names of the other companies confidential. I’d do the same for your company if another interviewer asked me.”
See examples below or read our guide to answers for “what other companies are you interviewing with?”
“I’ve been applying and interviewing at small and mid-sized banks and financial firms like yours. I spent the first 4 years of my career with Bank of America, so I’m hoping to experience a smaller work environment now to round-out my skill set. I’d like to keep the names of the other companies confidential, though. I’d do the same for your company if another employer were to ask me.”
Employers ask this in a phone interview to get a sense of how things are going for you overall, how much other companies are interested, and even how soon you might have job offers (if they like you, they don’t want to move too slowly and lose the chance to offer you the job).
The one thing you don’t want to do with your answer is sound like you’re completely struggling to find a job.
If you aren’t getting many interviews or if you just started taking phone interviews, you can always say: “I’m just beginning to take interviews, but it’s going well so far.”
If you have had a few interviews but they didn’t go well, you can say that you haven’t found the right fit yet. So for example, you might say, “I’ve had a couple of phone interviews so far but haven’t found a great fit yet.”
“Things are going well so far. I’m just beginning to take phone interviews, and I’m still very early in my job search. I expect to have some face-to-face interviews soon.”
With this interview question, be ready to respond with specific accomplishments and details of what you did.
What did you learn? Which specific tools and technologies did you work with? What results did you help your company or group achieve?
Try to prepare specific details to talk about before your interview. You ideally want to be able to share results you achieved and how you helped your company make money, save money, save time, etc.
Also, you want your examples to be relevant to THEIR needs. So prepare by studying the job description, and then mention things that will be relevant for this particular job!
Example phone interview answer:
“One of the biggest areas I was responsible for in my last job was to ensure our website had as close to 100% up-time as possible. I achieved the best result in our company’s 29-year history last year by making some key changes and optimizations immediately after being hired. I saw on your job description that you seem to be looking for someone who can do similar work for you. Your company is in a similar stage to my last employer when they hired me – in terms of size and growth. So it’s something I could help with immediately in this role.”
Do NOT give a number here. If you say a number that’s too high, you’ll scare them off. If you go too low, you’ll hurt your negotiating power later. It’s a no-win situation for you.
They’re not even sure they want to hire you or continue interviewing you yet, so you have no leverage. They’re just gathering info that will help them.
The best strategy for this interview question is to tell them you don’t have a number in mind yet. That way, they can’t push you or pressure you with multiple questions.
Here’s how to answer this question in a phone interview:
“I don’t have a specific number in mind. Right now I’m focused on finding the position that’s the best fit for my skills and my career. Once I’ve done that, I’m willing to consider any offer you feel is fair.”
If they push back, just repeat, “I really don’t have a number in mind yet”.
If you want more help, here’s a full article on how to answer salary expectations questions.
If they ask this late in a face-to-face interview, it’s a sign your interview went well. However, if you’re hearing it in a phone interview, they’re usually just trying to get a sense of your availability and current job hunt situation.
So… If you’re currently employed, tell them you’d need to give a two week notice to your current employer (or whatever is standard in your company).
“I’d need to give my current employer a two-week notice, and then I was hoping to take one week off before starting. So I could be available to start three weeks after a job offer is accepted.”
If you’re unemployed, you can still tell them you’d like one or two weeks before starting, but it’s up to you. See the example script below for how you can do this:
“I could begin one week after accepting a job offer. I do have a vacation scheduled in late May, so I would just need to take a week off during that time, but I could start before then.”
Also, if you’re applying for jobs in a different city or state, you might be asked how soon you can relocate, whether you’ll require relocation assistance and more. So be ready for that type of question too!
Always have questions to ask the interviewer. It can make the difference between getting hired and not getting a callback after the phone interview. (Because it shows interest in the position, and it shows that you’re being selective and careful in your job search and that you’re not desperate).
You can ask about the job duties, goals, the team, the company overall, the training you’ll receive, how your performance will be measured, and questions about the actual interview process (like “when can I expect to hear feedback?”)
If you’re having an interview with a recruiter, here are some good questions to ask them.
Employers want to make sure that your personality is a fit for their work environment. This is different than determining if your skills are a fit for their job.
So after some of the competency-based questions in the interview, they’ll likely ask about how you prefer to work, types of companies/environments you’ve enjoyed in the past, etc.
To answer, you can either describe an environment that you feel is similar to theirs, or demonstrate that you can work well in a variety of environments.
For more help with this, read our guide to answering “what type of work environment do you prefer?”
Some interviewers will come out and directly ask why you think you’ll be a success in their job. Don’t be timid when answering – this is your chance to show confidence and explain exactly how you can help them, and how your experience will be helpful to you in their job.
Here’s more info on answering “Why do you think you would do well in this job?”
Motivation is a concern every employer has, no matter how talented/qualified you are. If you’re not coming to work motivated, your work will suffer. So they’re likely to ask one or two phone interview questions to find out what drives you, what interests you, etc.
And one of the most common of these questions is, “what motivates you to come to work each day?”
You should be able to name something other than money if you want to impress the interviewer with this question. Do some thinking ahead of time and come up with the reason you plan on giving.
Finally, the interviewer may ask an open-ended question like “how would you describe yourself?” as they’re getting to know you.
Keep your answer professional here and only talk about your personality and attributes as an employee. And try to give an example if you can.
“I’d describe myself as detail-oriented and team-oriented. For example, in my current job, I’m responsible for managing multiple projects and I often coordinate with 10-15 people across different departments each day. I’m also responsible for reporting project milestones to our clients, so I have to stay extremely organized and on top of things.”
Many interviewers will ask, “Walk me through your resume” as one of the first few phone interview questions because it breaks the ice, gives you a relatively easy question, and gives them a chance to learn more about your background.
Also, some interviewers will enter the phone screen without having reviewed your resume at all (unfortunate, but true). So this is your chance to highlight key career accomplishments and take the interviewer briefly through your resume and career story.
Keep your answer to one or two minutes. It’s important to stay concise and focused with open-ended questions like this.
And keep the employer’s job requirements in mind when answering. You shouldn’t just share everything you’ve done; you should spend more time highlighting key jobs and experiences that will be most relevant to your next employer’s needs.
For example, if you’ve worked for eight years total, but the past four in the same industry as this employer, spend almost all of your time discussing your experience over the past four years in their industry.
“I graduated eight years ago with a B.S. in mechanical engineering and took a job for a local oil & gas company after that. However, I had always wanted to work in manufacturing, so I made the move to this industry four years ago. Since then, I’ve been promoted to Senior Manufacturing Engineer and have managed projects with up to 10 team members reporting to me. In my next role, I’m looking to step up to Engineering Manager, so I felt this position with your firm was an opportunity worth discussing.”
This is another of the most commonly-asked phone interview questions. You’ll hear this often in customer service phone interviews but also in other industries.
To prepare for this question, think back to your two most recent jobs (recent examples and experiences are seen as more relevant) and come up with a scenario where you were presented with a task that was outside of your typical work duties.
When you talk about a time you went above and beyond at work, always highlight a story with a positive outcome like a happy customer, a problem solved for your company, etc.
And just like with the previous question, keep your answer length to one or two minutes and tell a clear story from start to finish.
Think about the job you’re interviewing for, too, and pick an example that they’ll find relevant. In any phone interview, you should focus on demonstrating that your background will allow you to step into this employer’s job and be successful with whatever they need.
It’s not just about showing hiring managers that you’re skilled or hard-working; you need to show them you’re a good fit for their exact role.
“In my last job, a customer bought a computer from our store just before we closed and when he arrived home, it wasn’t turning on. He wanted a replacement because he needed to use the computer that night. I had closed the store already but was still in the building when he called. I told the customer that if he was able to come back, I could wait for him even though we had closed. He agreed and I waited for him to arrive, at which place I exchanged his product for a new unit. He ended up leaving us a 5-star review the next morning and he has also returned multiple times and become one of our best long-term customers.”
Along with practicing the phone interview questions above, you should also have a plan for how to impress the employer after the interview. Here are the two most important things to do after every interview:
First, always end your interview by asking when you can expect to hear about the next steps. That way, you can follow-up by email to ask for feedback if that time has passed (and you’ll have less anxiety while waiting after the phone interview).
And secondly, send a thank-you letter or email within 24 hours of the interview to reaffirm your interest in the position and show the employer you appreciate their time on the phone.
This will help you make a strong impression and keep yourself on top of the hiring manager’s mind as they’re making their decision!
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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