The phone interview—it’s one of the most critical steps in the hiring process in part because it’s often the first chance for a candidate to reveal their personality. That makes it one of the most nerve-wracking steps. As opposed to an in-person interview, on a phone interview, you have little time and no visual cues to make an impression.
According to research from Zippia, the average first phone interview only lasts about 15 minutes. That’s very little time to make a positive and lasting impression. From there, hiring managers usually only select a few candidates to move on to in-person interviews. With little time to work with, preparation is key.
The good news is that while phone interviews present a unique challenge, they can be mastered with the right strategies and practice. Understanding what employers want to hear and delivering confident responses can help you stand out from the start. As you’re applying for jobs, you’ll need to get ready for the interviews.
In this article, learn more about how to excel at your next phone interview, including knowing some of the most common phone interview questions you’re likely to be asked.
Why Phone Interviews Matter
While it may feel like a hurdle to overcome, or you may prefer to talk to people face-to-face, the phone interview serves an important purpose for employers. Before getting into deeper behavioral interview questions, a phone interview often covers a wide range of basic concepts and ideas. Here are some of the key reasons companies utilize phone screenings as part of the hiring process:
- Saves Time and Resources: Phone interviews allow hiring managers to quickly vet candidates before investing time into in-person meetings. They can screen numerous applicants in the time it takes to conduct one office interview.
- Tests Communication Skills: Since phone interviews rely solely on verbal cues, they test a candidate’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Employers can assess how well you organize thoughts, articulate ideas, and listen actively.
- Assesses Thinking On Your Feet: Unlike a traditional interview, candidates don’t always have time to prepare stories or responses in advance. The limited time requires you to think critically and respond thoughtfully in the moment based on the questions asked.
- Provides a Glimpse Into Pressure Situations: By seeing how candidates handle a pressure-filled phone call and rapid-fire questioning, employers gain insight into how they may perform in a high-stakes, on-the-spot work environment.
Most Common Phone Interview Questions
Doing well in a job interview is all about preparation. The same goes for a phone interview. If you’re aware of the types of phone interview questions you’ll likely face, you’ll be focused and ready. Here are some of the most frequently asked job interview questions asked over the phone.
1. “Walk me through your resume”
Focus on highlights, accomplishments, and impact rather than just listing job duties. Use numbers and examples to quantify your achievements. Tailor your walkthrough to the role you’re interviewing for.
“Starting with my most recent role at Company Y, I was brought on as a Project Manager to lead a struggling initiative that was behind schedule and over budget. Within 6 months, I streamlined processes which resulted in finishing the project $15,000 under budget and one month ahead of schedule. The client was so impressed that…”
2. “Why are you interested in this role?”
Share 2 to 3 specific reasons why the role aligns with your professional skills, interests, career goals, and core values. Share your passion and enthusiasm for the opportunity.
“I’m highly interested in this role for a few key reasons. First, leading analytics projects aligns perfectly with my background in data science and my goal to take on more senior data roles. Also, I’ve heard great things about your company culture, especially the mentorship opportunities and growth potential, which are important to me. Finally, I’m excited about…”
3. “What are your salary expectations?”
If possible, defer by saying you’re flexible, open to discussing, or want to better understand the details of the role first. If pressed, give a reasonable range based on the market research you’ve conducted before the interview.
“I’m somewhat flexible on salary. If you want to discuss this subject in more detail, I’m happy to do so. However, based on my research I believe a salary in the range of $X to $X is reasonable for someone with my experience and qualifications.”
4. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Share a relevant strength about your top skills for the role. For weakness, pick an area to improve that’s not critical and share how you actively work to improve it.
“A key strength I would bring is my analytical skills – I have a proven ability to discover insights from complex datasets. In terms of areas for improvement, I’m working on further developing my public speaking skills through joining a local Toastmasters group.”
5. “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
Keep the answer positive—focus on your growth goals and not so much on negativity about your current role. Share new skills and experiences you hope to gain.
“I’ve greatly appreciated my experience at Company Y, which has given me a strong foundation in project management. At this point, I’m looking for opportunities to deepen my analytics skills and take on more data-focused projects to continue advancing my career in that direction.”
6. “Why is there a gap in your work history?”
If there is a gap, explain the reason in a positive way—sabbatical, family reasons, layoff, etc. Emphasize skills you developed during that time. Show that you weren’t just lying around on the couch the whole time.
“After my role at Company Y ended due to restructuring, I took 6 months to travel and recharge. During that sabbatical, I honed skills like resourcefulness, adaptability, and problem-solving, which would be valuable strengths I can bring to this role.”
7. “What can you tell me about our company?”
Showcase your knowledge of major company facts, mission, values, products, competitors, and recent news. Share why you’re interested. Career coach Nicole Rae Drummond offers this advice: “Research as much as possible about the company, the role, and the person you’re meeting with.” In that way, you’ll show that you’re a good fit for their organization.
“From my research, I know Company A is the leader in X industry with a mission to empower customers through innovative products like your flagship X platform. Your company values align closely with my own in promoting growth and transparency, which is one of the reasons I’m so excited to join the team.”
8. “How would you describe your work style?”
Share working styles and attributes that would enable success in the role. Refer to the job descriptions when thinking of your response.
“I would describe my work style as collaborative—I thrive working closely with team members to achieve shared goals. I’m also meticulous when it comes to data analysis—I enjoy taking the time to draw thoughtful, informed conclusions from complex datasets.”
9. “What motivates you?”
Share what gets you excited about work—challenges, creativity, helping others, learning new skills, etc. Make sure the hiring manager can hear the passion in your voice.
“Two key motivators for me are problem-solving and continuous improvement. I get energized by taking on complex challenges and collaborating with others to find innovative solutions. I’m always striving to enhance processes and exceed my own goals.”
10. “How do you handle stress and pressure?”
Discuss the tactics you use to thrive under pressure. Those could be planning, effective time management, asking for help, maintaining positivity, and more.
“To handle high-pressure situations, I use strategies like creating detailed action plans to break down complex tasks. This prevents me from getting overwhelmed. I also proactively communicate with my manager if my workload becomes unmanageable, and make self-care a priority.”
11. “What are your career goals?”
Align your goals with the role and company. Share your enthusiasm to grow skills, receive mentoring, and advance in your career there.
“My career goal is to transition into a Senior Data Analyst role leading complex modeling and machine learning projects. I’m excited that this role would allow me to improve my skills in advanced analytics to work toward that goal. In the longer term, I hope to move into a Director position managing an analytics team.”
12. “What’s your availability to start?”
If you’re currently employed, indicate you’d need a standard notice period of 2-4 weeks. If not, share how soon you can start.
“I would be able to start in 2-3 weeks if offered the role. I want to ensure a smooth transition from my current company, but could start right away if absolutely needed.”
13. “Are you interviewing with other companies?”
If so, reaffirm your strong interest in this role and why it’s your top choice. If not, say you’re focused on this opportunity.
“Yes, I have had a few other interviews, however, this role at Company A aligned very closely with the type of opportunity I’m looking for. The fit seems ideal and I’m thrilled to be speaking with you.”
14. “What are you looking for in your next role?”
Make sure your answer aligns with the key elements of the role—growth opportunities, skills development, work culture, cutting-edge projects, and more.
“Most important to me is finding a company with opportunities for continuous learning and career development. I’m excited about this role because it would allow me to expand my analytics skills and take on new challenges within a collaborative team.”
15. “How do you evaluate success?”
Share how you measure your own impact—exceed goals, positive team outcomes, recognition, client satisfaction, etc.
“I evaluate my own success by metrics like achieving key benchmarks and deadlines, feedback from team members that my work is enabling their success, and knowing my work directly supported business-impacting decisions.”
16. “Describe a time you faced a challenge. How did you overcome it?”
Use the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Share a concise example highlighting relevant skills.
“In my last role, I faced a challenge when I was tasked with analyzing a huge new dataset with a tight 1-week deadline. To tackle it, I came in over the weekend to familiarize myself with the data first. I then set up meetings with stakeholders to understand their top priorities. By working extended hours and asking for support when needed, I delivered the insights with 2 days to spare.”
17. “Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned.”
Share an example that demonstrates self-awareness, accountability, and growth. Focus on the lessons and how you have improved since then.
“Early in my career, I led a project that ultimately didn’t meet expectations due to my lack of experience managing team members. I learned the hard way that being an effective leader requires earning others’ trust first and communicating very clearly to set expectations. This motivated me to join a mentorship program to level up my leadership skills.”
18. “Walk me through a complex project or task you completed.”
Describe project goals, planning process, actions taken, and results. Emphasize skills like analytical thinking, data insights, and project management if those are good skills for the role you want. The more detail you can give, the better your answer will be.
“As a Business Analyst, I led the launch of our new X product, which required pulling data from 5 different systems into a central dashboard. I coordinated with IT and department heads to understand requirements, then designed the data architecture and ETL process. The result was an automated dashboard providing insights that reduced costs by 18%.”
19. Why Should This Company Hire You?
Reemphasize your strengths and the value you can bring to the organization. This is a great opportunity to talk about your excitement for working for them and how working together is what’s best for both sides.
“I’m a highly organized and self-driven individual who wants to hit the ground running if hired. I have benefitted every company I’ve worked for, and I believe yours would be no exception. I feel I can grow and help your company grow, all at the same time.”
20. “Do you have any questions for me?”
Ask 2-3 thoughtful questions about the team, challenges of the role, expected projects, growth opportunities, company culture, or anything else you would like to know.
“Yes, I do have a few questions. Could you describe the day-to-day responsibilities and types of projects I would take on in this role? Also, how would you describe the culture on your team and at the company overall? Finally, what qualities does someone need to be successful in this position?”
How to Prepare for Phone Interviews
Now that you know some of the most common phone interview questions you may face, you’re on the right path toward preparing for it. Here are some additional tips that will help you no matter what type of phone interview you have.
- Research the Company and Role: Go beyond skimming their website and dedicate time to fully understand the company mission, values, products, culture, and initiatives for the department and role.
- Practice Responses Out Loud: Don’t just go through the answers in your head. Replicate the interview by practicing responses to questions out loud until they sound natural. Julie Kantor, a career coach and consultant, recommends recording yourself. “Playing back the recording will enable you to evaluate how others hear you and you can make modifications if necessary,” she says.
- Develop Thoughtful Questions: Having 2-3 strong questions prepared shows your engagement. Ask about challenges, initiatives, company culture, or details to learn from the interviewer. This is your chance to see if the role is the right fit for you.
- Review Your Resume: Refresh yourself on key details, as you’ll likely need to walk through and summarize parts of your background. Highlight the most relevant items you want to focus on.
- Prepare Examples and Stories: “Recruiters and hiring managers are more likely to remember the stories you tell than the specific facts you share.” That’s according to Dr. Kyle Elliott, a career coach and professional resume writer. Come up with 3-5 specific examples and stories that showcase your top skills and align with the role. Use the STAR model (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure them.
Best Practices for Phone Interview Success
In addition to preparation, there are important best practices to follow during the phone interview that will maximize your chances of moving to the next round. Here are several phone interview tips to put yourself in the best position to succeed.
- Find a quiet, distraction-free space
- Use a landline if possible to ensure a good connection
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Smile and stand during the call
- Take notes during the interview if you can
- Express enthusiasm and interest
- Send a follow-up email thanking the interviewer for their time
Questions to Ask the Interviewer
A proper job interview isn’t just hiring managers asking questions and applicants answering them. You need to be ready with questions of your own. This will show your engagement and interest in the role.
Here are examples of strong questions to ask:
- “What are the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?”
- “What skills or attributes are most critical for success in this position?”
- “What are some of the challenges facing the team/company now?”
- “What initiatives or projects would I be responsible for early on?”
- “How would you describe the culture here?”
- “What opportunities are there for growth and advancement?”
- “Is there anything about my background or experience that you have remaining questions about?”
Make a Good First Impression on the Phone
Acing phone interviews is critical to landing top roles. With the right preparation strategies and understanding of common phone interview questions, you can put your best foot forward from your initial screening call.
On the flip side of things, you may find yourself on the other end as a manager looking to hire. That means you’ll be the one to ask most of the questions. While you’ll want to ask some of the ones listed above, feel free to mix it up with questions that are more lighthearted. For suggestions on what to ask, check out the following article.
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- Zippia. (2023). 40 Important Job Interview Statistics : How Many Interviews Before Job Offer. https://www.zippia.com/advice/job-interview-statistics/
- Whattobecome. (2023). 27 Astonishing Interview Statistics for 2023. https://whattobecome.com/blog/interview-statistics/
- Schoenberger, C.R. (2020, April 27). 8 phone interview tips from experts that’ll help you nail your next conversation. Mic. https://www.mic.com/life/8-phone-interview-tips-from-experts-thatll-help-you-nail-your-next-conversation-17995694
- Forbes Coaches Council. (2020, June 11). 15 Uncommon Tips For Acing A Phone Interview. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/06/11/15-uncommon-tips-for-acing-a-phone-interview/?sh=210ba2ac518f
- Forbes Coaches Council. (2021, March 2). How To Prepare For A Job Interview. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/03/02/how-to-prepare-for-a-job-interview-in-2021/?sh=7055e0b6add7