Why Phone Interviews Are the Best and Also the Worst

Among the pantheon of interview styles, none is more enigmatic and potentially intimidating as the phone interview. That said, there are clear benefits for both the employer and the interviewee.

For one thing, phone interviews are deadly efficient with most calls taking no longer than 30 minutes. This means (for the interviewee, at least) no getting dressed in uncomfortable clothing to sit in a waiting room full of a bunch of people you’ll have to be polite to while hoping that they are stricken with a debilitating, but non life-threatening, illness so that you might have the upper edge.

They are also convenient for interviewees in that you decide what time the call happens. If you’re already at work, you can knock out a phone interview on your break. If you’re still looking for work, you don’t have to get out of bed and can, if you want to, tackle a phone interview in your pajamas.

For employers, the benefits go beyond logistical ease. From an efficiency standpoint, it’s possible to get through a lot more phone interviews in a shorter amount of time. This means that employers with more easily be able to recall key attributes of candidates that an extensive in-person interview process may cause an interviewer to forget. Phone interviews are also the only way to vet a significant amount of out-of-state candidates in a timely manner.

When thinking about people’s anxieties regarding phone interviews, I’m am reminded of one of the earlier scenes from the 2004 movie Hitch starring Will Smith, in which his character, explains to his clients: “Sixty percent of all human communication is nonverbal, body language; thirty percent is your tone. So that means that ninety percent of what you're saying ain't coming out of your mouth.”

This makes phone interviews all the more tricky. In an in-person interview you have access the fullest version of yourself you can bring to the table. A winning smile, expertly applied makeup/pomade, a firm handshake, and a general aura of competence are all at your disposal. These advantages disappear on the phone. While there are still benefits to phone interviews, wearing your PJs and doing an interview from the comfort of your own home may actually be hurting your chances depending on how you handle phone interviews.

I spoke with Jenny* who recruits for Boeing, and learned that the number one mistake recruiters see people make while conducting phone interviews is sounding bored, tired, or otherwise disinterested.

“You have to be as entertaining as possible over the phone. If you don’t you’ll sound bored and your interviewers will be wondering if you’re sleepy or just unengaged," she says.

If that same voice you use when talking to your significant other from bed, or your parents when they call your at unreasonable times of night/morning is the same voice you with a potential employer, you’re not prepared. 

"They don’t take full advantage of the fact they are on the phone," Jenny says. "To potential employers, there just really isn’t an excuse. Unless they are a superstar candidate, we’re not going to want to hire them as it shows that they don’t really want the job.”

It’s these little details that allow people to stand out from the crowd during phone interviews. And even though it’s stressful to think about, it’s the seemingly most innocent mistakes that stick out the most. 

“They don’t call in at the right time or mess up the timezone. It only takes a few minutes of preparation to get these things right, and while they are understandable mistakes, they reflect very poorly on potential applicants," says Jenny.

All that being said, here are some tips and tricks to ace the phone interview and put your best foot forward.

1)      Wear clothes that make you feel good

Somewhere in-between business formal and couch potato slob is a collection of clothes that makes you feel your best. These are the clothes that you wear to go out with friends or perhaps something you’d wear on a first date. Something that makes you look good, but not constricted. When you look and feel good, it will carry through the way you speak. You may feel silly dressing up to talk to someone on the phone, but just play-acting the part of someone confident will give you the boost to keep you from sounding disengaged.

2)      Interview in front of a mirror

Continuing down the path of looking the part even when you're on the phone interviewing in front of a mirror is a great way to stay engaged while on the phone. Now you don’t have to take your phone call in a bathroom or in front of a full-length mirror to get the effect, but, studies have shown people who work in sales and customer service have huge success putting a small mirror in front of them while doing their work. This little secret will make sure that you’re smiling throughout your interview.  Smiling while talking will automatically make your voice more upbeat. 

3)      Make sure to have a strong opener and a memorable ending

This is one of the trickiest tips to pull off. Just as you won’t get a chance to formulate a charming anecdote about the nicknacks on your interviewers’ desk, you also won’t be able to offer them a sturdy handshake while looking them in the eyes to prove your resolve. Knowing this, your only ace in the hole is to make sure they remember you, and people tend to only remember the beginnings and the endings of most encounters.

Aside from whatever notes they may take about you, the bulk of your impression will be made at the beginning and end of an interview. Have a collection of things to talk about to get the ball rolling, make sure you have 5-7 icebreakers, because not all of them will naturally fit into the conversation. Instead of attempting to pull something together in the moment, take a few minutes to prepare ahead of time.

4)      Request a video chat

Since most of the disadvantages of phone interviews come from not being able to see the person you’re interviewing with, the best way to combat this is by using technology to mitigate that. Through Skype (FaceTime, Google Hangouts, etc.) you’ll be able to actually see your interviewer’s face and base your responses off of their body language and facial expressions. While it may seem risky to set the terms of your interview, recognize that if you’re a good fit for this company, it’s in everyone's best interest to make sure the interview goes well. The worst case scenario is that they refuse, while the best case scenario is you get to mitigate 50% of the issues with phone interviews in one fell swoop. 

*name has been changed

FEATURE ILLUSTRATION BY NICOLE SAMANICH