Phone interviews are a common way for recruiters and hiring managers to screen candidates. Give yourself the best chance of moving onto the next round of interviews by practicing your answers to these common phone interview questions.
While you don’t need a script, prepare yourself for the phone interview by thinking or writing down your answers to these questions and doing mock interviews.
Phone interviews typically last 15-30 minutes, so be prepared to give cohesive and concise responses.
Along with seeing if you’re a fit for the role, the interviewer is also evaluating you for your energy and personality to see if you’re a fit for the team and the company.
Since you can’t see body language when talking on the phone, use your tone of voice to convey your excitement for the role. Remember to smile. You’re happy about being considered for this opportunity, right?
Phone Interview Questions with Sample Answers
You may be asked these questions in your next phone interview.
Tell me about yourself
You need time to review the documents. You don’t want to sign away rights that you didn’t know you had and regret it later. If it’s a reasonable company, they’ll be fine with you taking time to review the documents. If the company is pressuring you to sign then and there, say, “I need a few days to review the paperwork” or “I need to get in touch with my lawyer and I’ll get back to you with any questions we have.”
Review your severance pay, PTO, overtime, sick pay, 401k, pension and any other benefits you have. The US Department of Labor shares federal regulations for early terminations. State laws vary so check out your state’s labor department for details.There’s a lot to say about yourself. It’ll be easier for you to talk about your career in chronological order and for the interviewer to understand. Keep it short, about 1-2 minutes long. Remember the interviewer has other questions to ask you. Focus on your professional career. If you have a side gig or personal project that is relevant for showcasing your skills, mention that too. It’s fine to include some personal note, like you just moved to the area, to show your values and personality.
This question is typically the first one. If you can hit this one out of the park, you’ve set your interview up for success. Think of this question as your elevator pitch. If you only have time to practice one question, practice this one and make it good!
Think through these questions and you’ll have plenty to talk about in your elevator pitch:
- What are the highlights of your career?
- Why are you passionate about your career or the role you want to move into?
- What have you achieved in your current role?
Interviewers aren’t looking for your autobiography, they want to know what value you can bring to them. Likewise, this phone interview is an opportunity for you to see what this company can offer you for your career growth and personal development.
“At Green Machine I designed their website, e-commerce store, and marketing emails. I troubleshooted issues from both the sales and customer support teams. And I implemented a new quality control process that reduced the monthly incoming ticket count. Then at Balanced Carbon I designed their mobile app and mobile web experience. I worked closely with the product manager to ensure the design supported the user flow and we had an increase in user retention after a major redesign I led.”
Are you still are your company?
Tell the truth about your current employment status. If you’re currently employed, a simple answer is, yes. And their follow up question will most likely be “Why are you looking for a new job?”
If you’re unemployed, say so. The truth will come out at some point and it’s better if it comes from you because you can control how you tell it. Give a concise answer and move on to what you’re looking forward to in your next role.
If you have hard feelings for your current or former employer, get it off your chest before you have a phone interview. An interview is not the time to rant. Be positive when talking about current or former employers. If it wasn’t all rainbows, then don’t say that it was, but also find positive points to share.
If you’re struggling to find something positive to say, think:
- Did you have some wonderful colleagues?
- Did you enjoy some parts of the projects you were involved with?
- Did you learn something new?
Even if it’s only a few things, it shows you can find positive points in any situation. Plus, no one wants to work with a pessimistic personality. You’re making a positive change in your situation with this phone interview, don’t squash it by dwelling on the past.
If you left voluntarily:
“I had an incredible five years at UpZoom. After the merger a year ago, the work environment and mission changed. I no longer felt we were addressing the loan challenges for students. So I left this week to recharge and dedicate my time to my job search.”
If you were laid off:
“AlterTech underwent downsizing and I was a part of the latest batch. While I’m sad the economic times forced this decision, I’m seeing it as a great opportunity to expand into the retail industry. I’m seeing exciting changes with data analytics for offline and online events and a lot of growth too that I’d like to support with my experience in attribution modeling.”
If you were fired:
“I’m thankful for my former boss letting me go because I realize now the role and culture weren’t a fit for me. And if it wasn’t for him, I think I’d still be trying to make it work instead of focusing on my strengths and how I can best use them. With that experience, I’m more selective in my job search process now because I want to make sure it’s a good fit for both myself and the company.”
Tell me about a project you’re most proud of and you’re involvement with it.
Walk the interviewer through the project from start to finish, your results, what you learned from it, and what you would change if you were to do the project again.
The interviewer wants to hear what you did for the project and your thought process for tackling challenges. This question is a great opportunity to showcase your skills.
To prepare for this question, list all of the projects you’ve worked on. Group together the larger projects. With a larger project, there are more steps to talk about and, hopefully, a more impressive impact. Note the projects you enjoyed so you can share your enthusiasm for them and hopefully find at the new company there’ll be similar projects. For the larger projects you enjoyed, list the steps that were involved in starting and completing it. If you have numbers about the results you can share, even better.
Keep a few projects in mind so you can present the one that best suits the focus of the role or that the interviewer has. For instance, you have one project that shows how you worked across departments and another one that shows how you implemented efficiencies and reduced the turnaround time. If the job description and interviewer have placed an emphasis on collaboration, talk about the interdepartmental project.
“I launched a podcast that in three months was receiving over a thousand listeners per month. I enjoyed brainstorming topics for the podcast episodes and sourcing thought leaders to interview. I learned a lot about sound quality and audio editing. I also wrote the show notes and email campaigns for promoting our podcast. It’s been one of my favorite projects because of the amazing people I get to speak with.”
How would your managers or colleagues describe you?
Of course you want to say that others will say great things about you. Try to find authentic descriptions that show a unique perspective of yourself.
Did you have an official employee review? If so, what did your manager say? If you received constructive feedback and took action to improve, you can share this information too as it shows you can handle feedback and are willing to improve. It also anticipates their next question of, “What is your greatest strength and weakness?”
If you haven’t had a review or feedback from a manager, what have your colleagues remarked about you while you’ve worked together?
Think back through all of your work experience not only your most recent. There may be a hidden gem in there that’ll be relevant to the new role you’re interviewing for.
If you have time before the phone interview and are still looking for some ideas, you can ask your colleagues how they would describe you.
If you’re still at a loss of what to say, think of how you would describe yourself and then put yourself in a manager’s shoes to see what is important to them and frame your description in that frame of mind.
The interviewer is seeing if you can think from other people’s perspective, which is a valuable skill for empathy and team collaboration.
“My former boss said in a review that I was diligent with follow through and that it was the key to our successful completion of product development milestones. My colleagues have noted I’m great at laying out easy to follow processes. They’ve really appreciated that I keep things straightforward and removed convoluted approval systems. I think my current manager would say I’m very goal-driven and a good mediator because she’s been grateful that I’ve been open about where I see roadmaps heading and potential obstacles for team development if we didn’t diffuse situations soon. Everyone’s very passionate about creating the best product, which I love, it just sometimes means I have to focus that ambition in a constructive direction. “
What is your greatness strength and weakness?
Start off with your strengths. What do you excel at? Maybe you’re a great communicator, organizer, or problem-solver. Or you’re excellent at a specific skill like a programming language or software tool.
No one wants to admit they have a weakness, especially not to a potential employer. Instead of seeing it as a fault, something that can’t be changed, look at it as what you can improve.
Everyone can improve something. No one is perfect, nor should they be. Part of the fun of a job is experiencing new challenges and learning new skills.
What do you know you can improve on and have you taken steps to improve? If you’ve taken action to improve, share your progress. If what you’ve shared as a weakness is something the interviewer views as important to the role, at least with commentary of how you’re improving they can hear it as a work in progress instead of a fault.
Answering this question well shows you’re capable of self analysis, a critical skill for personal development. And for improving, it shows if there’s a new software or skill you need to learn on the job, then you can identify what you need to do to use the new tool or develop the skill.
“My strengths are listening, problem-solving, and analyzing numbers. For a weakness, one of my former bosses mentioned that I can be impatient when a project is moving slowly. I’ve been more conscious of my patience level since then and I’ve found asking what my colleagues have in mind for timelines first has helped me temper my enthusiasm for a fast pace.”
Why are you interested in joining our company?
The interviewer wants to know that you’re looking for something specific and that their company fits it. They also want to hear that you’re genuinely interested in their company and what they do.
You made it to the interview stage. If you didn’t research the company before you applied for the position, take the time now to do your research. Find two to three points about the company that you can talk about.
Here are some topic ideas:
- What they’re doing that’s different in their industry.
- Their company culture
- A feature of their product or service.
- News about the company and their leadership.
- Employees you’ve spoken with and what they’ve said about the company.
If you couldn’t find much information about the company, which isn’t unusual if it’s a brand new business, now’s the time to ask them.
“First, congratulations on your series B funding! That’s a big milestone for a startup and I was excited to see that you’re growing your team. I’ve been following HeroBiz’s social media for a while and I love the optimistic and fun content you share. It looks like you have a strong team culture and focus on innovating the vendor and customer communication channels. Can you share more about what HeroBiz’s culture is like?”
What other companies are you interviewing with?
Talk about the type of companies and roles you’re seeking. The interviewer wants to see that you know what you want in your next position and that it matches their company.
Don’t share the names of companies you are having interviews with. The interviewer wants to find out who their competitors are. You also don’t know which companies they have relationships with and what the state of that relationship is. Keep yourself a neutral party.
By talking about types of companies and roles, you also help prevent yourself from disclosing how many or few jobs you’ve applied to or interviews you’ve had. The interviewer doesn’t need to have a number. Keep your answer on an overview level.
Even if you’re applying to any job post you find, don’t say that! At a minimum, you can say you’ve been looking in the same industry and at similar sized companies and roles to the position you’re interviewing for.
If you’re interviewing for an account management position and you’re also applying for data analyst roles, it’s a red flag to an interviewer that you either don’t know what you want to do or you don’t excel in either of those roles.
If this phone call is your first interview in your job search, don’t share that! Especially not if you’ve been searching for a while as you don’t want to give the interviewer any fuel for thinking you’re an undesirable candidate. There are many factors outside of your control for why you may not have received more interview invitations before and it’s not something you need to explain to an interviewer.
If you’re honestly just starting your job search, that’s fine to share and then move on to what types of companies and positions you’re looking for.
Honesty is valuable for answering any question, but just because the interviewer asked the question doesn’t mean you have to answer it with all the small details.
Remember your goal with the phone interview is to be asked for another interview. Be confident and upbeat.
“I’ve been looking for companies in the education industry because I believe learning is the most precious skill we can have in life. I’m also excited seeing the evolution of LMS and where it will go next. I’ve been in the corporate sphere for 10 years and I’m ready for a change. Can you tell me more about what it’s like to work at a startup?”
Why are you looking for a new job?
Have a heart to heart with yourself first. If you are still in your current job, what do you like and not like about your current role, team, and company? How can you frame what you don’t like into what you’re searching for?
For example, you feel stagnant in your career so you want a new job to advance your career. You could say, “I appreciate their mission but it’s a small company and there’s no more room for growth for me here. So I’m looking for a position where I can expand my skill sets and take on more responsibilities as a manager. In the job description it mentioned an opportunity to manage a small team, can you tell me more about that?”
Or you didn’t like your soon-to-be former company’s heavy focus on marketing and releasing a product too early that then received negative feedback from users. You could say, “I really enjoyed my role and I’d like to continue doing user experience and design. Now I’m looking for a company that shares my passion for creating a high-quality product.”
If you were fired or laid off, be honest about it. If you lie, your job offer can be withdrawn or your employment can be terminated. You may have already addressed this point if the interviewer asked you, “Are you still at your current company?”
Besides external circumstances you can’t control, why are you excited about being in a new job at a new company?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Your role
- Your work environment
- Your colleagues
- The work schedule
- The company’s leadership
- The company mission
- The company’s product or service
“I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible colleagues for seven years and I’ll be sad to leave them, but I’ve decided it’s time for me to take the next step in my career. I’m looking for a position that challenges me in new ways and what you’ve said about the fast pace of Titanium Robotics makes me really excited about this role. “
What are your salary expectations?
This question is a quick way for recruiters to eliminate candidates that are outside of their budget. Avoid answering as long as possible because you want to get as much information about the role and company as you can before giving a figure. What the hiring manager has in mind for the role can be different from the job description – and their mind can change during the interview process.
Do research on salary figures for your role, experience, and location. A few salary sites are PayScale, Salary.com, and Fairy God Boss. Be prepared with a salary range before doing an interview. You don’t want to blurt out a number and later regret it.
Also take into consideration the size of the company you’re interviewing with and whether or not they have funding. If it’s a small business that’s boot-strapped, most likely the salary will be lower than what you can expect from a large corporation or well-funded startup.
Some recruiters will hard ball you to get a number. Go with your gut. If you feel putting off the question will irritate the interviewer more (not something you want!), then give a salary range. If you feel you can get away with another question without annoying the interviewer, try, “It seems this topic is really important to you. So do you have a salary range that you’re looking for?”
When you do give a salary figure, always give a range.
What do you say after you’ve given a salary range and the interviewer follow ups with, “Are you okay with the lower end of that range?”
First thought, ouch. They’re bidding low right out of the gate. Unless you’ve overshot on your salary range, which you can judge based on other interviewers’ reactions. Try not to narrow your range, otherwise it gets close to being a set figure, which defeats the point of giving a range.
Ask them a question, “What benefits and packages do you offer?”
Usually the interviewer will have a long answer and the conversation moves on. If they ask again if the lower end of the range is acceptable for you. Ask another question, “What salary range are you expecting for this role?”
If they give you a salary range, you need to decide if it’s acceptable for you. If it’s much lower than what you had in mind, you can ask if there’s flexibility for the right candidate, such as, “I know a lot of thought goes into budget and business growth planning. I also know I can implement a faster turnaround for customer acquisition that will save you money like I did for my current employer. Is there any flexibility on the salary range for the right candidate?”
If you and the interviewer don’t align on the salary range, it’s fine to say no and focus your time on other companies.
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“From what I’ve seen in the current job market and what I know about my qualifications for this role, my range is 120-160k. What range do you have in mind?”
What stage are you at in the interview process?
The interviewer wants to know how far along you are with interviewing so they can see if other companies are interested in you and gauge what kind of time flexibility they have.
If you have an offer on the table, tell them. If they really want you, they’ll move faster to get you if you’re at risk of being picked up by another company.
Don’t offer up any concrete timelines. Don’t say what you’re expecting to happen in the future, because predicting the future is one skill no one has. Unless you’re applying for a data analytics and trend prediction role?
Ask the interviewer what their time frame is for hiring for this position. Their answer will tell you what kind of pace you can expect from the interview process with them.
“I’m actively interviewing with both phone and in-person interviews. What’s your timeframe for hiring for this position?”
Do you have any questions for me?
It’s always good to ask the interviewer questions if you have questions they haven’t answered. Interviewers usually plan to have 5-10 minutes open at the end of the call for you to ask questions. Use this time to find out more about the company, the department, the role, and the team.
Questions show that you’re interested in the company and what they’re doing. And also that you’re interested in the interviewer and their opinion.
Don’t be afraid to pause and think before jumping into saying that you don’t have any questions. If you’re concerned the interviewer will misinterpret your silence, say something like, “Let me think for a moment.”
If you made a list of questions that you want to ask, see if there are any that haven’t been answered yet and ask them.
Yet, don’t wait too long to say something. If you feel you have a question, but can’t think of it right now, then ask if you can send them any questions that come to you later.
Most interviewers are transparent about what the next steps in the hiring process are. If they’re not, it’s a good question to ask!
Here are some general questions you can ask:
- What is your company culture like?
- Your work environment
- What has your experience at this company been like?
- What brought you to this company?
- Can you tell me about this department’s team?
- What top challenges do you see this company facing this year?
- What is the leadership style of the executives and managers?
- What is your turnover rate?
If you were already asking questions throughout the interview, and you don’t have anymore questions, thank the interviewer for sharing their insights about the company and team.
“Thank you for answering all of my questions and sharing your experience about the culture and team. What are our next steps from here?”
Best of luck with your next phone interview!
With all of these tips, you’ll rock your next phone interview!