+10 Top Phone Interview Questions & Answers [Complete Guide]

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+10 Top Phone Interview Questions & Answers [Complete Guide]

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Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna Ryś

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Indeed, there are a lot of merits to phone interviews, a lot of things that can take a lot of the pressure off. But that doesn’t mean they’re a total walk in the park, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare. So, where to begin?

Phone interviews are great for a number of reasons. You don’t have to worry about what to wear or if you have a little bit of spinach stuck between your teeth. You get to do them from the comfort of your own home, even your own couch, even in sweatpants.

Pretty sweet deal, right? Your dog is definitely going to be a fan of phone interviews, too, because you can never have too many cuddles! 😄

For starters, since you are ready to prep for a phone interview, you must have already sent the company a resume and cover letter that were pretty impressive, so congratulations on that 😄

If you haven’t actually written either of the above yet and you’re wondering what I am talking about, you’re probably doing things in the wrong order — but no worries!

I have created detailed guides on both:

so feel free to check both of those out now and come back later. I’ll be here!

If you have completed all of the earlier steps, let’s start prepping for your well-deserved phone interview together now!

Why employers use phone interviews

Let’s start off with a few words on what phone interviews are for and why they are important. 

Phone interviews don’t just save you time and effort, they save the hiring manager time and effort, too. A phone interview is what will help recruiters decide whether to have you come into the office for an interview or not, meaning this seemingly relatively laid-back part of the recruitment process can actually make or break your candidacy.

Why employers use phone interviews

Phone interviews are also a great solution for when the candidate is applying for a job in a company located very far away — in a different city, or maybe even a different state. I mean, there is no point in you driving or even flying to attend an interview that may not quite turn out, right?

Potential drawbacks of phone interviews

As I’ve already mentioned, phone interviews may seem pretty chill at first glance, what with the sweatpants and all. But they do have a few potential drawbacks that you might not have thought of, so consider this:

Phone interviews make using body language impossible.

Body language is a huge part of how humans communicate. Sometimes a simple smile can help get you out of a tight spot, or a gesture can help you express what your words are failing to.

During a phone call, you have no access to that arsenal of expressions and gestures, so you have to be able to get your message across with words alone.

This means being extra eloquent and specific so as to avoid misunderstandings and make sure the person on the other end of the line understands what you mean and how you mean it.

It’s harder to build rapport.

This point is pretty closely tied to the one above, except now we’re talking about the interviewer’s facial expressions and body language. Being able to see your interviewer’s face lets you adapt to their reactions in real-time.

When you can’t see them, on the other hand, building rapport can prove much more difficult, especially if the phone connection is not all that good. 

A bad reception can kill your flow.

Reception is yet another issue that is never a problem at a face-to-face interview, where everything you say is heard loud and clear.

During a call, however, a bad reception means you will probably have to stop mid-sentence and repeat yourself — and the more you have to do that, the less charismatic and enthusiastic you’ll sound, and the more frustrated and disinterested the recruiter will become. 

Poor call quality may also result in you constantly interrupting the interviewer, or a lag causing long moments of awkward dead silence. It may be the 21st century, but sadly, technology is still far from infallible.

This is not to say you should be too stressed about something not working out during your phone interview, but the more aware you are of potential problems, the better equipped you are to deal with them.

Assuming everything is going to be easy peasy, on the other hand, can backfire and cost you the great job opportunity.

Typical questions and how to answer them

Typical questions and how to answer them

So what will you be asked during a phone interview?

Of course, the exact questions depend on the hiring manager and the position you’re applying for, but generally, you can expect something more or less like the lists below.

Questions about your background

By background, I of course mean professional background — relevant work history, experience, et cetera. Some of the most common background questions include:

What were your responsibilities in your last job?

What the interviewer wants to find out by asking this question is whether your previous responsibilities have in some way prepared you for upcoming challenges. That’s why, when answering this question, be sure to mention things that are relevant to the job offer.

What major challenges and problems have you faced in the workplace?

Of course, this question is more about how you’ve dealt with challenges and problems, not just about you listing your past difficulties. So think about a complication you’ve encountered that you were able to solve, and prepare to talk about that — this will show you can work under pressure, or when circumstances are not ideal.

Why are you leaving your current job?

This one can be a bit tricky in that it is a little tempting to talk smack about your current employer.

DON’T. Doesn’t everybody despise people who talk behind other people’s backs? Not to mention nobody trusts them. And heaven forbid the recruiter somehow knows your current boss…ouch.

So what should you say? Go for something positive that opens the door to more discussion about why you are a great fit for this position — maybe you need more challenges, maybe you need to develop more?

What are your salary expectations?

One word: ballpark. Don’t sell yourself too cheaply, but don’t blurt out anything ridiculous, either. The best way to prepare for this question is to check Glassdoor.com ahead of time to see what the average salaries on the market are in your city, and then offer the interviewer a range, say between $50,000 and $60,000, depending on the benefits package and/or other perks.

This will make you look confident, but also reasonable. A good combination.

Questions about the new company

Questions about the new company

These help the interviewer find out why you are applying there in particular and what you can offer the company should they decide to hire you.

Some common questions include:

Why do you want this job?

Always make sure you have a good answer ready for this popular question. Answering, “Because I am very passionate about not starving to death” or indicating that you don’t care either way and just want any old job to pay the bills is not a good reason.

Sure, you have bills to pay, and so does the person interviewing you, and so does everyone else, and everyone knows this.

This question is more about checking whether you understand what the position you are applying for and less about your personal reasons. Talking about the benefits of working for the company is a good way to go.

What can you do for this company?

What do you bring that is unique, something others can’t boast about? You are, after all, an investment they are making, so show them it will be a good one. Following up with an example of a way you have improved your current or previous employers’ business is a win here, as it shows you are proactive and eager to contribute.

What challenges or opportunities are you looking for?

This question is a great opportunity for you to talk about your aspirations and show the recruiter that you want more than just a regular paycheck. Prepare to talk about how you’d like to develop, both in the short and longer term perspectives. And as always, make sure they things you mention are in line with the job offer.

Questions about you

These are more personal — an interviewer asks them because they want to get to know you.

Some of the most common ones include:

Tell me more about yourself.

A lot of recruiters start off with this question. As it is an open question, its purpose is to break the ice. Providing a short couple of paragraphs on your past, current occupation and goals for the future is a good move here.

What is your greatest strength?

This is your time to shine! You likely have plenty of strengths, but the thing to keep in mind when asked this question is that the strength you describe should align with the requirements for the job you are seeking.

Applying for the position of event planner?
Be sure to mention your superb organizational skills!

What is your greatest weakness?

Ah yes, the dreaded weakness question, the bane of every job seeker’s existence. How do you answer this question in a way that makes you seem honest, while also not torpedoing your candidacy? Never fear, I have a guide for that! 😄

Check out my in-depth guide on how to answer the question about your greatest weakness to find out how to tackle it properly.

Situational interview questions and how to answer them

Situational interview questions and how to answer them

First off, what is a situational interview question?

As the name itself suggests, situation interview questions are when the interviewer asks you to tell them about a specific situation you’ve had. But as always, it’s not as simple as that: what they really want to know is how you dealt with it.

Typical situational interview questions can include:

  • Talk about a time you had to work with someone whose personality was very different from yours.
  • Tell me about something you’ve done you wish you could go back and do differently.
  • Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to your point of view.
  • Tell me about a time you knew your boss was completely wrong on something. How did you react?
  • Give me an example of a situation when you had to balance many responsibilities at the same time. How did you prioritize them?
  • Tell me about a time customer was very pleased with your service.
  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure and how you handled the situation.
  • Tell me about a time you had to explain something very specific and complex to a client. How did you go about it?
  • Tell me about your very first job. How did you learn the ropes?
  • Talk about a time your team criticized an idea of yours. How did you take it?
  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with that?
  • Talk about a goal you set for yourself and how you managed to achieve it.
  • Tell me about a time you had the opportunity to get very independent and creative with a project. How did you feel about that?
  • Tell me about a time you were very dissatisfied with a colleague’s work. How did you handle that situation?
  • Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied with your own work. What did you do about it?

When planning your answers to such questions, it’s a good idea to use the STAR technique.

STAR, which stands for Situation, Task Action and Result, is a simple and effective technique that allows you to succinctly describe how you dealt with a complicated situation. Emphasis on dealt with!

Questions you can ask an interviewer

A lot of recruiters like to ask you to ask a question or two at the end of the interview, and they do it for several reasons:

  1. The first one is that they might want to see how interested you really are in the job.
    If you have no questions, the recruiter might interpret that as a sign of lack of interest, and that’s obviously no good.
  2. The second one is to see if you did any research on the company.
    If you blurt out a question that a 10-second Google search can provide the answer to, you probably don’t care about the company. That’s not a good look, either. 
  3. The third could be to see how good you feel about the interview you just had,
    if you’re feeling worried or unsettled by anything that was said, if something doesn’t quite suit you. Remember, the outcome of your phone interview will decide whether you will get invited in for a face-to-face interview.

Wondering where to start? Don’t worry, I have a detailed guide for that that I’d be glad to share with you here: Top 15 Best Questions to Ask Interviewer.

Tips to make things go just right

Tips to make things go just right

Here are a few things to keep in mind while preparing to ensure your phone interview goes as smoothly as possible:

💡 Tip 1

Find a quiet spot with good reception.

Everyone has those telecommunication black holes somewhere in their home where the phone reception is just worse for some reason. Nothing will throw both you and the interviewer off like missing half of what the other party is saying and having to repeat the same thing over and over — it’s frustrating, it’s tedious, it’s pointless.

The same goes for background noise. Any music should be turned off, no loud air conditioner should be blowing right into your phone, and your kids should not be pulling on your sleeve whining for a snack.

In short, any and all potential distractors should be avoided so as not to have to deal with them while also trying to sound qualified and charming. That’s hard enough as is!

💡 Tip 2

Practice ahead of time.

As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect. If a friend or family member has the time, why not do a little dress rehearsal over the phone? Practicing answering questions like the ones listed above will allow you to spot and eliminate any problems before the actual interview.

💡 Tip 3

Stay calm.

The interviewer can probably hear you pacing nervously from one end of the room to the other, just like they can hear you chewing gum or sipping water every 30 seconds.

It’s natural to be a little nervous, but don’t make it painfully obvious. Plus, if you’ve prepared properly (using this guide, of course 😄) there is nothing to be nervous about! And always remember: confidence sells!

So, are you feeling confident yet?

You should, because we have covered all of the most important parts of a phone interview. Now all you have to do is wait for that call!

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Joanna Ryś

Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna Ryś

Sourcing Specialist

Joanna has 8 years of experience in the recruitment industry, and currently works as the Chief Strategist for Sourcing in the EMEA area at HAYS. Microsoft, Rolls Royce Aerospace, Abbott, AB Inbev are several companies from the...portfolio of clients with whom it has cooperated, and its tasks include defining strategies for obtaining candidates in Europe, independent management of recruitment tools, monitoring the rate of return on investment, implementing initiatives from the area of Employer Branding into processes recruitment and data analysis. Sharing knowledge and discussions about working with candidates is her passion, which is why she eagerly creates new training programs, conducts postgraduate classes, organizes workshops with students of Krakow universities, employees of her company and free students from various social organizations. Passionate about computer games and socioeconomic issues.