10 Phone Interview Mistakes You Can't Make if You Want the Job

woman in her kitchen on the phone

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  • Before the interview, research the company, get your environment ready, and be prepared to answer common interview questions.
  • During the interview, listen carefully, speak thoughtfully and take notes; also send a thank you email within 24 hours.
  • Don't make the mistake of putting your interviewer on hold, talking down your company or missing the phone call altogether.
With extended requirements to stay home and companies moving to completely remote workforces, we may find ourselves doing more and more phone interviews than we had pre-COVID. But unlike the phone interviews of the past, we don't know when (or even if) they'll be followed up with in-person interviews — which means the stakes are that much higher.
If you have a phone interview coming up, we've got seven simple tips to help you nail it followed by 10 things you definitely want to avoid doing on your first ring around.

How to prepare for a phone interview

1. Research the company and your interviewer.

First things first, you should be familiar with the company you're applying to, the role you're applying for and who you'll be interviewing with. Expect the recruiter to mention the company and role multiple times in unpredictable ways like "why do you want to work for us?" or "of the job's main responsibilities, which do you feel the least equipped to do?"
A quick look at the recruiters LinkedIn profile or work at the company on their website will also allow you to build the connections necessary to ask thoughtful questions. For example, if you know you'll be interviewing with the Director of People & Culture, you could ask what the company's values look like in practice within the work environment? 

2. Get your outfit and environment ready.

If you want to nail your phone interview, you need to take it as seriously as an in person one. That means getting your outfit and environment ready, so you can put forth your most professional self through the phone. 
Think about it: If you interviewed in your pajamas on your bed with your dog by your side, you would be comfortable — too comfortable, sluggish even — and may compromise the professional energy you're hoping to convey. But if you were seated upright at your dining room table wearing a button down shirt and slacks, you would feel the right amount of discomfort to trigger your awareness and attention.

3. Be ready to answer common interview questions.

The recruiter's most likely going to ask you to tell them about yourself — that's where your elevator pitch will come in. After that, expect to discuss your strengths and weaknesses or to talk about your response to a time you failed . 
At this time, recruiters are gauging your work personality, past experience and culture fit, so they may ask you a hybrid of questions that push you to think about your past experience in the context of this new role (this is why it's super important to do your research). 
Consider everything from how you like to be managed to what you're looking to get out of this next role. Also come ready with questions to ask of your own throughout the interview or or at the end.

10 mistakes to avoid making

The following mistakes will make you look deeply unprofessional during a phone interview, so part of your prep will include avoiding these 10 behaviors:
"10 Mistakes to Avoid Making During a Phone Interview" graphic via Fairygodboss
"10 Mistakes to Avoid Making During a Phone Interview" graphic via Fairygodboss

What to expect during a phone interview

Now that you're ready for your interview, these three tips will help you stay present and professional:

4. Listen to each question carefully.

Time is money and if we're talking phone interviews, you really only have between 15 to 45 minutes to make a great first impression.The most important thing you can do during a phone interview is keep calm and listen. Especially because you may be nervous, you may answer a question incorrectly or rush through your answer if you don't listen intently. 
To hold yourself accountable for actively listening, feel free to pause and think after the question's been asked (yes, you can do that!). Repeat the question if you need to, then answer it honestly. 

5. Think before you speak.

Before you answer a question or get carried away with friendly conversation, you want to be mindful about everything you say so you can project your most professional self at all times. 
Sometimes, it's not what you say during an interview that ruins your chances — it's how you say it. Be mindful about your tone and the language you use as you converse, but also stay true to yourself as you answer.

6. Take notes.

If it's helpful, you should take notes throughout the interview (after all, no one can see you). You can quickly jot questions you're being asked so you have a second to form an answer, or you can jot answers to the questions you asked so you can marinate on that new information at a later time. Either way, it helps you keep a running record or what was said (or not said) and provides an excellent segue to the following step.

How to follow-up after a phone interview

7. Send a thank you email.

Always, always, always end every phone interview, video interview or in-person interview with a thank you note. Recruiters take time sifting through applications and moving their schedule around to prioritize meeting you. Within 24 hours of meeting, and in five minutes or fewer, you can show your gratitude with a quick email to them. Check out the template below for an example:
Hi [Interviewer's Name],
Thank you for speaking with me about the [job title] position [when]. I loved hearing about [this thing you told me about the company] and learning [this unique thing you shared with me about your career/position]. [A line to build a bridge for communication here].
[Your Name]
Here's a sample thank you note if you want to see what it looks like for real:
Hi Alana,
Thank you for speaking with me about the associate editor position this afternoon. I loved hearing about the company's new online magazine and learning about how you built a meaningful career on the content team. Please don't hesitate to contact me should you need any further information.
Stephanie Nieves

8. Showcase your website or online portfolio.

Relevant work samples can significantly increase your chances of standing out during an interview process. Give recruiters an opportunity to check out the projects you've worked on in the past by directing them to your online website or portfolio. You can plug in that promo during the phone interview or in your thank you note. 
During the interview: Before the interview ends, the recruiter may ask if there's anything else you want them to know that hadn't been covered yet. That's your chance to point them to your prior experience, accomplishments and personal brand online.
After the interview: You can also point recruiters to your previous work in the thank you email by plugging in the following line: "Feel free to check out my personal website, [websitename.com], for an idea of my past projects and experiences."

9. Be patient.

With sweeping limitations imposed by the new normal, recruiters face new challenges to mail on-boarding equipment and supplies, follow up regularly with all relevant parties of the hiring process and extend offers they know won't be rescinded in the weeks to come. Patience will be key for preserving your mental health as you wait for these moving parts to settle. 
Send a follow-up email after a week has passed, and then again after two if you don't hear back from recruiters the first time. If you want real-time updates about your hiring process, create a professional profile on Fairygodboss and message recruiters directly about the status of your candidacy.
Stephanie Nieves is the SEO & Editorial Associate on the Fairygodboss team. Her words can also be found on MediumPayScale and The Muse.