Dear Bev: How Should I Prepare For A Phone Interview?

The simple answer is that you should prepare for a phone interview the same way you prepare for a face-to-face meeting The reality, however, is phone interviews have some unique twists beginning with the fact that most interviewers don't like them.

Phone interviews never replace in-person meetings. They occur as a preliminary candidate screen or because the geography won't work for the interviewer and candidate, if for example, one is on the East Coast and the other on the West Coast. But beware, a misstep on the phone could mean the end to any more conversations.

I asked some recruiter colleagues, HR professionals and a scattering of clients to weigh in on the subject. Below are some tips on preparing yourself to make a quick, but lasting impression via phone.

Start Strong: Phone interviews are almost always shorter and give you less opportunity to make an impression. For the most part, we all agreed that the first 5 minutes will make or break the next 10 to 20 minutes.



How You Say Something Counts: Be confident, be passionate, and pay attention to cadence and inflection. Sound professional. Don't use slang and don't be overly casual, try to keep your "umm's" and "ahh's" to a minimum.

Keep it Concise: No one likes a candidate who talks too much. A prospective employer wants to know about your work experience, not your life story. Be careful not to go off on tangents far outside the realm of what is being discussed. Fair warning, don't be too concise. A one word answer is another red flag for the interviewer.

Listening Skills: It's important in any conversation to show your interviewer that you're listening intently, but it can be much more difficult on the phone. Pay attention to questions and stay on point with your answers, make sure they are relevant. And remember, no one likes to be interrupted.

Location, Location, Location.: Everyone has a busy schedule but don't try to do a phone interview unless it's the only thing you're doing. Multi-tasking works for a lot of things, but it's not a good idea if you're interviewing. Find a time and location that work the best. Generally that doesn't include in your car fighting traffic.

Know your resume. Recruiters and HR professionals are most likely to use your resume as a starting point and/or a point of reference throughout the conversation. It may sound obvious, but make sure you've got a copy in front of you and that you know what's on it.

It's hard to put your best foot forward on the phone, so prepare yourself in advance. Don't just wing it. The inventor of the phone himself, Alexander Graham Bell, once said, "Before anything else, preparation is the key to success."

Editor's note: If you have specific questions about your career in the media industry, please post them below, and Bev will help you out. Or if you feel uncomfortable posting your queries publicly, feel free to email Bev anonymously at

1 comment about "Dear Bev: How Should I Prepare For A Phone Interview?".
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  1. Marcia Needels from ValueClick, February 17, 2009 at 11:26 a.m.

    Bev has given great suggestions to prepare for a phone interview and I have a few to add as well. I always ask candidates what they know about our company. You will interview with many companies, so I suggest you print your research on the opportunity and company for review prior to your phone interview. You can use linkedin and the corporate site for research. Typically investor relations pages on corporate sites have detailed relevant information that will help you prepare.
    Finally, lately when I have interviewed candidates by phone there have been dogs barking, kids screaming and other distractions. It is difficult to give the candidate professional consideration with these interruptions. Good luck!

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