Top phone interview questions: Tips and example answers

Last updated: March 22, 2023
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Kai Dickerson
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Top phone interview questions: Tips and example answers
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After you write the world’s greatest cover letter and resume, but before you’re offered an in-person interview for your dream job, you often have to go through a phone interview.

Getting a phone interview means that your job application caught the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter. If they’re still interested after the phone screen, you’ll move on to the next round.

But don’t be fooled — while a phone interview may sound less intimidating than an in-person interview, it’s an important part of the process. If you fail to impress your potential employer by phone, you won’t get that second interview.

So how do you make a great impression over the phone?

This article will help you prepare to ace your phone interview. Read on for a list of common interview questions and expert phone interview tips.

How do you prepare for a phone interview?

It’s tempting to treat a phone interview more casually than an in-person one, but preparation is key for any interview.

These days, it may even be your only chance to impress the hiring manager. While traditionally, there’s a face-to-face interview after the phone screening, COVID-19 has caused many employers to interview by phone only.

Follow these steps to make sure you’re ready to shine during your next phone interview.

Confirm the scheduled time

It’s important to be ready for the interviewer’s phone call when it comes.

Double-check the date and time of the interview and write it on your calendar or whatever you use to keep track of appointments.

If you’re applying for jobs outside your local area (or for a remote position), be careful about time zones — the interviewer may be using their time zone or yours. Ask if you’re not sure.

If the interview request comes in an email, a good way to avoid confusion is to repeat the interview time in your reply. For example, “Thank you for the opportunity to interview. I look forward to speaking with you on Tuesday at 2:30 PM EST.” (EST meaning Eastern Standard Time.)

Do your research

76% of employers say that not knowing about the company is the biggest mistake a candidate can make.

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If you didn’t get around to researching your potential employer, it will show.

Common interview questions include:

  • What do you know about the company?

  • What do you know about the role?

  • Why do you want to work here?

Review the employer’s website and social media for ideas about how to answer those questions.

You should even look over your own resume, so you know it by heart. It’s easy to forget the details of a job you had years ago if you haven’t thought about it recently.

You can have materials in front of you during the interview, but don’t write down or memorize your answers. The interviewer will be able to tell that you’re reading or reciting an answer rather than speaking naturally.

Think of stories and examples

It’s always better to show than to tell. Your interview answers will pack more of a punch when they’re backed up by relevant anecdotes.

Go through the list of interview questions below and come up with examples you could use to demonstrate your qualifications.

For example, if the question is “What is your greatest strength?” and you feel that your strength is creativity, you can talk about a time in a past job when you had an innovative idea that helped the company.

Find a quiet, comfortable space

Phone interviews have several advantages over in-person interviews. You can dress casually and look at your notes during the interview. Body language doesn’t matter, and the interview doesn’t take as much time out of your day.

The big disadvantage is distractions. Maybe you have kids or pets at home or a construction site next door. 27% of remote interviews are disrupted by background noises.

Loud noises distract you from doing your best and make it hard for the interviewer to hear you. Find an isolated and comfortable place where you can do your telephone interview, and be there waiting for the call when the time comes.

Consider conducting a practice interview

It might feel awkward, but having a friend or family member ask you common interview questions is a great way to prepare.

If you don’t have anyone to role-play the interview with, practice speaking the answers aloud by yourself.

Why are phone interviews so important?

You’ve impressed the hiring manager with your job application materials, but they don’t really know you yet. In many cases, the phone interview is your first point of contact with the company.

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This phone screening interview is where the interviewer decides if they were right to pull your resume out of the pile. Making a bad impression (see the list of red flags below) will mean that you can’t move forward with the hiring process.

Is a phone interview a good sign?

A phone interview is a great sign.

A phone interview means the hiring manager liked your resume and cover letter, and you’ve made it to the next part of the process.

If you ace the phone interview, you’ll sail past another round of cuts and get another interview or even a job offer.

The most common phone interview questions (and how to answer them)

Most job interview questions fall into a few broad categories. While it’s best not to memorize exact interview question answers, you can have some bullet points you want to touch on for each question category.

Interview questions about you

When an interviewer asks these questions, they’re trying to determine if you’re a good fit for the company. They want to know who you are as a person and as an employee, what interests you, and what your career goals are.

Be honest, but also keep the goals of the employer in mind.

If the job description says that they’re looking for someone tech-savvy, you can mention that everyone in the office comes to you for computer help.

Some common questions in this category are:

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?

  • Talk about the accomplishment you’re the most proud of.

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Example answer for “Tell me about yourself”:

I've been a customer service agent for Will’s Widgets for the past three years. I assist customers over the phone, email, and chat when they have trouble with products or questions about their orders.

I find the job very satisfying because I love helping people. Last year, I was the customer service agent with the highest customer satisfaction rating four months in a row.

It's been great at Will’s Widgets, but I don't feel like there are enough leadership opportunities. I'd like to use my customer service expertise to lead a team of agents, which is why I'm interested in the customer service manager position at your company.

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Interview questions about your background

Many interview questions will focus on your past work or education. The hiring manager is trying to get a sense of how you would perform in the role and what you would be like to work with.

Possible questions include:

  • Tell me about a project you led and how it turned out.

  • Describe a time when your work was criticized. How did you react?

  • Tell me about a difficult work situation and how you overcame it.

  • How do you deal with a heavy workload?

  • What did you like most and least about your last job?

Example answer for “Tell me about a difficult work situation”:

One of my coworkers quit her job abruptly, and I had to take on her workload. There were aspects of the job I had no experience with, and there was no one to train me.

Through problem-solving and learning about the tasks from online resources, I was able to finish her daily work and my own until her replacement was hired.

Interview questions about salary expectations

The salary question is complex. If the number you give is too low, you might be leaving money on the table. But if you aim too high, the employer might offer the job to a cheaper candidate.

It’s best to give a salary range rather than an exact number. Research similar jobs (Glassdoor is a great resource) to get a realistic idea of what you can ask for.

Sometimes it’s possible to turn the question back on the interviewer and ask what salary range they’re considering for the job.

You can also give an expected salary while emphasizing your flexibility.

Example answer for “What is your expected salary?”:

I believe a salary of $55,000 to $60,000 matches my skills and experience level and is in line with industry standards. But I’m relatively flexible and open to discussing these numbers if they don’t match your expectations.

Interview questions about the new job

Interviewers ask these questions to make sure you’ve researched the position and to find out whether you’re a good match for it.

Make sure you’re familiar with the job description and goals of the company. Your answers should describe how your unique skills, experience, and personality match the requirements of the position.

Questions in this category include:

  • Why do you want to work here?

  • What do you already know about the role?

  • Why are you the best person for this job?

Example answer for “Why do you want to work here?”:

I’ve been interested in photography for years, and friends often come to me when they want nice photos of themselves, so I’m excited about the opportunity to take family portraits professionally.

Pete’s Pics gets great reviews, and some of my acquaintances have recommended your service. I have a talent for capturing personality in a picture, and I’d like to bring my skills to the Pete’s Pics team.

5 tips to ace a phone interview

Here are five tips for making a positive impression in your next phone interview:

1. Speak clearly

Clear communication is always valuable in an interview, but you have to be especially careful about it in a phone interview.

Nerves cause many people to talk too fast or too quietly. And 93% of candidates feel nervous before a job interview. If you’re one of them, be aware of your speech.

The interviewer can’t see you, and phone audio can be bad, so it’s important to speak at a reasonable pace and volume and avoid mumbling.

2. Don’t just recite your resume

Your interview question answers need to expand on the bullet points in your resume. Give details about your experiences and talk about your strengths and character traits.

3. Be honest

It’s okay to paint the best possible picture of yourself in an interview. Everyone expects it. But don’t outright lie.

It’s not just that lying is wrong — it’s very possible that you’ll get caught, which could cause you to lose the job and even damage your future career prospects.

These days, employers can dig into social media and other sources to verify your claims. And if you lie about being fired from a past job, your former employer will probably set them straight.

4. Use real results and numbers when possible

”I helped 30 customers per day at my last job” sounds better than “I have experience with customer service.” Talk about sales numbers or how you reduced costs for the company, or any other data you have about your past successes.

Not every job success is quantifiable, and that’s OK. You should still talk about a specific result of your work.

For example, “the organizational system I came up with helped everyone in the office get work done more quickly.”

5. Start and end well

When the phone interviewer calls you, answer promptly. It’s best to answer with your name. Say, “Hello, this is Jane,” rather than just “Hello.”

When the interview is over, thank the interviewer for taking the time to speak with you. Ask if they need anything else from you.

It’s helpful to find out about the next steps in the interview process before you hang up. You can even ask when they plan to follow up and whether there’ll be a second round of interviews.

Phone interview red flags

There are a few things that most hiring managers hate. To make a good impression, avoid the following.

Not knowing anything about the employer

This is the biggest one. Demonstrate your interest in the job with thorough research and an understanding of what the company does.

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Sounding distracted

There’s a lot going on at home. When you talk on the phone to friends and family, you might be multi-tasking rather than giving the call your full attention.

However, for a phone interview, you should be as focused on the interview questions as you would be in an in-person interview.

Speaking negatively about your past employer or supervisor

Your old boss might be a real jerk, but the interviewer doesn’t know that. Complaining about difficulties at your previous or current job might make them think that you were the problem.

Focus on the positive aspects of your past employment, like what you accomplished and what you learned.

Being unprofessional

Avoid cursing and telling inappropriate or overly personal anecdotes. You don’t have to be completely formal, but keep it work-appropriate.

Asking about money

Asking about money, vacation time, or how soon you’ll get promoted is a serious red flag. Save questions about compensation and benefits until after you get an offer, unless the recruiter brings it up first.

Not asking questions

Interviewers always give you a chance to ask questions about the job. Declining to ask questions makes you sound uninterested and unprepared.

Questions to ask your interviewer

Asking questions of the interviewer shows that you have a genuine interest in the company and that you’ve done your research.

Plus, it’s not just about impressing the hiring manager; it’s about finding out if the job is right for you.

You can ask questions like:

  • What does a typical day look like for employees at your company?

  • What specific skills are you looking for?

  • In your opinion, what would the biggest challenge of this position be?

  • What's in the future for this company?

  • How would you describe the company culture?

  • Who would my manager be, and what's their management style?

  • How big of a team would I be working with?

  • What are the next steps in the interview process?

Check out this article for more examples of questions to ask your interviewer.

Ace your phone interview

Phone interviews are a great opportunity to impress the hiring manager.

Preparing well and giving great answers in your phone interview gives you the best chance of making it to the next round.

For more job search tips, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.



Colleen Conlon
Bullet point

This information is priceless and extremely helpful in trying to prepare for the various and sometimes difficult questions being asked during the interview process. I can see now where some of my prior answers were in the ‘Don’t’ category and could have affected my interview in a negative way. Thank you for this article and I hope all prospective job seekers get the chance to review your insightful information.

Manuel Carrillo
Bullet point