How to Pass the Phone Screen


Phone interviews are by far the most common first screen that a recruiting manager performs. However,I’ve often heard my peers declare, “It’s just a phone interview.” While phone interviews do present you with the option to take the call from your sofa, they should be taken seriously. They’re the first (and possibly only) entrypoint into the hiring process, after all!

Speaking over the phone means both you and the recruiter are unable to read any visual cues, which limits the ease of connecting on an interpersonal level. So, how can you leverage your phone interview to impress the recruiter?

First, let’s make sure we know what recruiters are looking for. They want to to confirm that:

  • You understand the position

  • You are a great listener

  • You have appropriate skills and experience for the position

  • Your responses reflect a clear, logical stream of thought

  • You are a team player

Next, let’s talk about logistics. Here’s how to lay the groundwork for an ideal phone interview:

  • Sign on to the call on time. This one’s simple - don’t be late. If your call is at 3 pm, plan your day accordingly so that you can be ready at least ten minutes in advance. If you think being on time could be an issue given your other responsibilities, it’s best to request a different time that works better with your schedule.

  • Don’t take your phone call on the run. You should be in a quiet, enclosed space where you can focus—taking your phone call on the street or even in a loud coffee shop can give the impression that you’re not serious about the opportunity. If the interviewer calls you out of the blue, it is totally acceptable to ask them to reschedule, even if it’s just in fifteen minutes.

  • Use body language to your advantage. One of the hardest things about phone interviews is bringing energy when you're not in the same room as your interviewer. There are a few ways to assure you’re bringing your a-game attitude:

    • Smile! It may seem strange, but practice answering your questions with a smile on your face. Your answers will be more energized and inviting.

    • Stand up. Taking your phone call while standing up will make you feel more alert.

    • Dress the part. While technically you *can* take the call in your PJs, get dressed into something that makes you feel confident and professional. It will carry through over the phone.

  • Strike a balance between professional and conversational. While bringing a certain level of professionalism to the interview is key, don’t forget you’re talking to a real, live human! Starting the phone call by establishing a conversational bond will not only help you relax and maintain a friendly tone throughout the interview, but it will also show the recruiter that you’re someone they’d like to work because of both your skills and your personality.

  • Don’t skip the cheat sheet. Since you’re interviewing remotely, use it to your advantage and lay out as many helpful resources as possible. For example, have your Skillist application or your resume and cover letter handy, so that you can reference them as needed. You’ll also want to review all these in advance so that you’ve got great examples of all your skills and accomplishments fresh in your mind.

Last but not least, here’s how to answer four key questions that you’ll almost definitely be asked on the call:

  • “Tell me about yourself”: It’s tempting to blurt out your life story, but your interviewer is not looking to learn about your upbringing or hobbies, at least not yet. The interviewer is actually asking about your overall professional experience and how it’s applicable to the prospective job. To learn more about how to get this tricky question right, check out our previous article.

  • “What do you know about the company?”: Researching the company shows recruiters that you are interested in their product and mission. Lack of interest is a red flag that you won’t have sufficient drive on the job. Be sure to research things like:

    • What products or services they offer

    • How the company generates money

    • Who the CEO is

    • The company’s mission and/or why it was founded

In the past to prepare for an interview, I’ve visited the company’s website and Wikipedia page, read about their investments on Crunchbase, and watched videos about the company (shoutout to FormLabs and Print the Legend)!

  • “Why are you interested in this position?”: At this point, the interviewer wants to you to show them that you’ll be motivated to perform well in this position, and that it is in line with your career goals. To answer, show how you don't want just any role, but how you want this one. Do this by sharing detailed reasons that feel true to you, like why you’re excited to contribute to specific company goals, or what you’re excited to learn and work on. Combine this with the high energy we mentioned earlier, and your recruiter will have no doubt you’re serious about the opportunity.

  • “Do you have any questions for me?”: Never say no. The recruiter wants to gauge your interest and observe how you determine this is genuinely a good fit for you. For examples of impressive questions you can ask, check out this article.

Don’t forget to close the loop by sending a thank you note to your interviewer within 24 hours of the interview. Use the thank you note as a chance to stand out, show off your professionalism, and highlight your strengths. Check this blog post for an example of a successful post-interview thank you note!

 Ready to go? Land your next phone interview by applying to a job through Skillist!



Rizel Bobb-Semple