DiceTV: The Art of the Phone Interview

Ah, the quick-death elimination round of the phone interview. It’s your chance to get your foot in the door with that company you really want to work for. But no pressure

So, how do you ace a phone interview?

It’s really all about being prepared, and taking it as seriously as a face-to-face.

Start by researching the firm, and having a list of intelligent questions ready for the “do you have any questions for us” phase.

Then find the right place. This one seems obvious, but managers tell of interviews where the candidates were doing everything from driving to what sounded like visiting the zoo. So find a nice quiet, private place for the call. If you have to do the interview while still at your current employer, consider the sanctity of your car.

Don’t do anything else while you’re on the call. Ever spaced off while reading e-mail during a conference call? The same thing can happen during a phone interview. Focus, focus, focus.

In a phone interview, you can have all of your material fanned out all around you. Resume, questions, canned answers. So take advantage of this, and keep all of your documents handy.

Next: practice. Doing a faux interview with a friend is a great way to prepare. The more comfortable you can be ahead of time, the more polished and natural you’ll sound during the real thing.

Finally, don’t worry about brief silences: You ever notice how politicians pause before answering a question? That’s because they’re mentally constructing the best response. Do the same thing. Don’t worry about a pause here or there, just be sure to follow it with a thoughtful response.


28 Responses to “DiceTV: The Art of the Phone Interview”

July 29, 2009 at 12:46 am, bob slotko said:

Ask questions…like what?

I am L2 helpdesk and have never seen any examples of what I might ask that would “sound good”. When I do see examples, they are for management types or folks with degrees; sure a Chemist will ask about products in the pipeline, etc, but what does a phone jockey ask about?



July 29, 2009 at 1:08 am, Phyllis said:

I have 20 yrs of Telecommunications experience and training at A.T&T which include, but not limited to; 8 yrs as a Communications Tech; 4yrs as a Transport Engineer; 4yrs as a Provisioning Engineer, but no degree. What I am finding that if you don’t have a degree, you need to know someone within that company you’re applying to/with who can put in a good word for you…and that’s the bottom line !!!


July 29, 2009 at 2:43 am, Mal said:

Yea this is good advice. I had an IT phone interview yesterday and didnt make it any further, I didn’t have all the required skills and knew I didn’t, but its good to know what you can expect from an interviewer. I have an Associates Degree in Computer Networking Systems(06 graduate) and that hasn’t done much for me….basically one 3 month contract job through school assistance..so I don’t see why I should go back for my BA


July 29, 2009 at 2:49 am, Terrapin Station said:

Glad to know that seeing the Grateful Dead at Cole Field house, University of Maryland, paid dividends. Wound up enrolling their the following year. Isn’t that how most people pick their college?


July 29, 2009 at 2:50 am, Terrapin Station said:

Obviously, I majored in Computer Science vs. English Lit


July 29, 2009 at 3:30 am, Diplomat said:

The reason to place a positive spin on even a hostile boss is to assure the interviewer that you will treat his company with equal respect. For example, suppose you¿re convinced your last manager considered you a threat to her job, which is why she told HR you ¿are not working out in the current position¿? You could tell an interviewer the real reason you suspect: ¿My manager let me go because my technical knowledge was superior to hers, and I¿m convinced she considered my presence a threat to her job.¿ Why not provide a more diplomatic explanation: ¿I heard the real reason for my layoff was that corporate told my manager to reduce headcount to cut costs when our department was understaffed. Already overworked, I made a difficult decision to privately volunteer to get laid off. I invested many hours over the past few years and decided that perhaps a change was in order. Your company is obviously an attractive place to work. I don¿t regret my decision after seeing what¿s out there.¿


July 29, 2009 at 3:33 am, waynemiller said:

90% of the time I am hired with a phone interview as I am offered only temp. contact type assignments in telco osp engineering be ready to refer to your resume when asked about job skills as ( please notice on the job with xxx in 2007 I was doing that type of xxx engineering) this seems to work well and directs more detailed questions if they want to know more about my skill set.


July 29, 2009 at 5:49 am, T in C said:

To all those who say that you can’t get through the front door without a degree, I’d like to offer my perspective as somebody who never attended college. I got into I.T. during the 1990s as an independent consultant, and managed to land a job as a junior architect for a Fortune 50 organization. Within ten years, I had risen to the level of VP, leading a large infrastructure group, through hard work, a consistent record of successfully delivering projects and focusing on my soft skills as much as my technical skills.

Ten years on, I decided to explore other opportunities, and after just four telephone interviews, have received two offers. My advice is, for what it’s worth, that degrees don’t count if you have the experience. What counts is attitude. If you know your subject and convey a sense of confidence (though not arrogance), and can demonstrate the soft skills that are so essential for I.T. professionals today, then you’re halfway there. If you get asked a technical question to which you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I haven’t had exposure to that technology”. Hiring managers prefer a candidate who is honest and smart enough to learn than one who blusters.

But how do you get to the interview stage in the first place? What has worked for me is to make sure that you don’t just have one version of your resume. Tailor each version to accentuate the skills that match the buzzwords used in the job spec. And if, like myself, you don’t have a degree, then don’t even mention your academic record until the very end of the resume. By the time the hiring manager gets to that part, you’ll have already impressed them with your experience.

Of course, this doesn’t work in every case, as no two hiring managers are the same. But this approach has always worked for me, through three different career changes over the years. As somebody who has hired hundreds of I.T. professionals, I would take experience, a solid track record and strong communication skills over a CS degree any day of the week.

Even though it sounds harsh, my experience is that I.T. professionals who claim that their failure to land a dream job is due to a lack of a degree often use that as an excuse, when their real shortcomings are related to poor soft skills. I can find highly qualified I.T. professionals anywhere in the world, but finding strong communicators with a blend of technical and business acumen is much more of a challenge, and that is how the best I.T. professionals differentiate themselves nowadays, not through certifications.


July 29, 2009 at 7:33 am, Bob Woodhead said:

This article is right on. Remember to be honest and direct. To much off the cuff banter may hinder your success.


July 29, 2009 at 7:38 am, Karen Ullmann said:

I find it hard to take professional advice from someone who cannot construct a proper sentence, and does not take the time to edit their work.


July 29, 2009 at 7:56 am, JF said:

caution…. grammar nazi above….

good article….would anything else apply for a phone interview that wasn’t a pre-screen quick-elimination….such as long distance phone interviews?


July 29, 2009 at 8:11 am, Margaret said:

I definitely can use this information and I got to smile to…which is becoming harder every day I am out of work.

Thanks for the fun atmosphere!!


July 29, 2009 at 8:56 am, Juergen said:

Why is it almost impossible to get an IT job if you only have 8 months of experience in programming lets say. I do have a B.S. in Computer Science though…


July 29, 2009 at 8:56 am, Niccole McCrary said:

.. I just got nixed for saying not nice things about my former manager for a job i would have been perfect for..One more lessone learned the hard way..I was just being honest


July 29, 2009 at 9:08 am, Randall Jefferson said:

The information was great for me. I’ve been in the Navy 20years and, at 40yrs old, never did an interview or made a resume. I was offered a job and told that the interview would likely be over the phone. So, this info is golden to me.


July 29, 2009 at 9:13 am, Randall jefferson said:

To Juergen: Not that I am an SME on the job market, but from what I could gather in my job search, experience is preffered over schooling. I have seen many jobs that required a bachelor OR equal experience and if it were me doing the hiring… I’d hire the experienced one first.


July 29, 2009 at 9:27 am, Anthony said:

For IT folks, always review the main languages and products for which you expect to be interviewed. You may be asked questions you don’t expect and may have to think about them too long. This is good for phone and face-to-face interviews. Also, keep your voice volume constant and don’t let it get so low that the interviewers have trouble hearing you. Low volume conveys uncertainty; keep it upbeat.


July 29, 2009 at 9:34 am, ChuckB said:

To Randall: I’ve got over 25 years experience as a software engineer but do not have a degree. I get the feeling that hiring managers won’t touch me with a ten foot pole because I have not got the degree.
I WISH that you were right about experience being preferred over degree and that might be true of cases where one has less than 5 years experience but the degrees and certifications DO weigh VERY heavily on the managers decisions.


July 29, 2009 at 9:56 am, BrianB said:

A good practice I found is, listen closely to the questions, if you know the answer, don’t become cocky. Just answer the question in a normal pace. Research, research, research, the company and the job. Look at the job description very closely. Make sure you understand what the position is about and what requirements are needed to get the position. If they say Experience Desired or a Plus, that usually means – that is the environment. They know it may be rare, but it is the better part of the job. Overall, be calm, confident and know your business. I am 54 with 36 years of experience and no college. I am also a road warrior and usually only need on average four interviews to get an offer. I have found the right attitude and knowledge are the keys over a degree and experience.


July 29, 2009 at 10:36 am, Dylan W said:

I just had a phone interview about a half hour ago and guess what? I have an interview on Monday. I had my PC on, my resume, and my notebook with answers that I thought might come up in the interview. It looked like I was getting ready to play drums at a rock concert in my computer room. But planning ahead helped me pass the 1st phase of the employeer’s interview process. This video has good advice for the dreaded phone interview.


July 29, 2009 at 11:11 am, Oscar Ho said:

Degree, experience and knoweldge or anything else all totally depends on only one thing: Did you meet the requirement in the job description. My recoment is that try to match all your experience, degree and working history as much as you can to the job description by a natural way and present them with a detail case to your future employer. The phone interview just try to screen out those people not match the job description and requirement. I got MS in Computer Science and have been work 25 years in programming and DBA.


July 29, 2009 at 11:48 am, Complainer said:

This woman should smack less, preferably not at all – it’s annoying.


July 30, 2009 at 5:32 am, Bob said:

My experiences are showing even with 20 years in telecomm most of the employers will not speak with unless you have a degree. In this part of the country (Mid-Atlantic) it is getting more so that way.
Yes it is possible still to land a job wihout a degree so don’t get discouraged.
Keep your grammer correct (no slang, contractions) and be polite, even when they turn you down. At some futur point you may encounter them. If they don’t remember you that’s not bad. If they do remember you it may be because of your rudeness. Then you have a problem.


July 30, 2009 at 10:04 am, sean said:

The phone interview is a minor hurdle. This is where the recruiter makes sure you meet the minimum requirements, such as years of experience, preferred education, etc. to advance you through the process. If you do not have the minimum skills required, do not be surprised when the offer to move forward is not extended. Usually the recruiter has no bearing on the hiring process and the phone interview ends with a yes or no to the department or team conducting the search. In this economy you have to slant the playing field in your favor. Aggressively compete for those positions that are within your strengths.


August 01, 2009 at 9:11 am, Paul said:

In most cases there are TWO or MORE phone interviews, not one.

Candidates get “screened” by contingency recruiters who can’t read a resume, and haven’t the foggiest idea what the what the hiring manager needs nor what the candidates have done on their past jobs, then MAY be phone interviewed by an HR person.

The best question to ask durin an HR screening is “I think I understand the job and what your company does. Assuming that I can do everything you need, money and benefits aside, what are the top three reasons that I should invest several years of my life working for you?” Unless you are desperate, take a pass on any interviewer who can’t, or won’t, answer this question.


August 04, 2009 at 4:10 am, Mike said:

Try even obtaining an interview when you are close to 50YO, have 20+ years of experience as a “computer guy” (including Software/Systems Engineering, Networking, Project Management, Systems Admin, etc.) and have two degrees in business.


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