How to Crush a Phone Interview

How to Crush a Phone Interview

Great news – your dream firm wants to speak to you on the phone! But once the initial buzz has passed, you might break out in a nervous sweat as your thoughts turn to the interview itself. Have no fear, however – we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out what you need to do to succeed in your phone interview!


Prepare your environment

I once prepared for a job interview that I believed would be by Skype from my home. I ironed my shirt, selected the perfect suit and tie, and settled down for the call. Then they called me – on my landline phone. I felt a little sheepish hanging my suit back in the closet after the interview, no eyes but my own ever having alighted upon it.

Now, that was the wrong kind of preparation – I’d have been better off double-checking the email setting out the arrangements. Start by doing that yourself, then ensure your environment is just how you need it. Make sure your partner’s not going to burst in asking if you want a cup of coffee and turn off any distracting notifications on your phone and elsewhere in the room.

If you’re on your computer, it might be worth investing in a decent microphone to ensure the audio is clear. Fairly inexpensive headsets are available for this purpose – they allow the microphone to sit right next to your mouth, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to capture your voice and cancels out noise from nearby. If it’s a video call, you might feel odd decked out like you’re in a call center – but more likely than not your interviewers will be impressed by your preparation.

Be confident – but don’t go over the top

The humbler souls among us find it unnatural to talk about how amazing we are. We can end up playing down or failing to mention our achievements. But then we’ll only end up losing out to someone with no qualms about self-promotion – which isn’t fair, is it? Don’t be afraid to let your interviewers know how well you've performed in the past.

Having said that, however, you should also be careful not to go too far in the other direction. Later in my career, I have interviewed people myself, and I always find it a little grating when they adopt a ludicrously overconfident persona. With men in particular, the tell-tale sign is often introducing themselves with an unnecessarily bone-crushing handshake (obviously not a risk on the phone – the audio equivalent is probably speaking as if trying to be heard in a storm). Of course, I tell myself that they’re just nervous and doing their best to stand out – but it’s an impression to avoid as an interviewee.

Talk about concrete examples – not vague attributes

So, how to get to that sweet spot where you sell yourself without sounding boastful or forced? Well, I’ll tell you. The best thing you can do is focus on concrete achievements. 

Did you introduce some changes that allowed you to increase your chargeable hours by 20% last quarter? Did you introduce x number of new clients to your current firm last year? Great – make sure you mention that. It’s much better than vague and unprovable assertions. With a solid fact, you can simply let the information speak for itself without the need to oversell it, which will help you avoid sounding like a used car salesman. 

Smile – even on the phone

If you sound happy, you’ll be more likely to create trust and a warm response in your interviewer. And one way to accomplish that is to actually smile. Ok, your phone interviewer can’t see you – but humans are remarkably attuned to tiny cues in the voice, which will naturally appear if your face takes the lead.

Think of at least one thing that will help you stand out

Depending on the position, your interviewers may be speaking to a long list of candidates. If all the interviews are by phone, then it may be even harder for them to remember everybody as they will have no visual cues to jog their memory. If you can think of one thing that’s a little unusual about you (but not too strange!), don’t be afraid to slip it in – it might bring you to the forefront of the interviewer’s attention when they're mulling over their choices later on.

Do your research 

Always research the firm you want to work for in advance – and plan what you can ask that shows you’ve done your research. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what aspect of the organization you focus on – the point is to show you’re taking the interview seriously. After all, the interviewer will be thinking: if you’re conscientious about the interview, then there’s a good chance you’ll be conscientious in the job.

Research your interviewers, too. There was a point in my career when I was considering taking a Master’s degree. I had a job interview around that time, and I discovered beforehand that my interviewer had taken an LLM. I asked him about it, and he warmed to the subject – delighted to be able to advise on something important to him. And guess what? Job offer received! 

Hopefully, there will be a job offer coming your way soon, too. Good luck!