How to answer phone interview questions well?

Most of us don’t like surprises in the job search. Because honestly, finding and landing the job of your dreams is stressful enough—tossing an extra curveball on top doesn’t help.

So let’s avoid any surprises in one of the more difficult parts—and often the first part—of the job search: the phone interview. If you’re unsure what to expect in that call, here are some of the more common phone interview questions you might face, and some advice on how to answer them with ease.

Phone interviews are, as you can imagine, convenient. But what are they looking for in that phone call? Usually it’s very high level: They’re screening for risks, they’re trying to validate your qualifications, and they want to see if you’re a fit. Of course, it’s entirely possible you’ll get asked very specific questions that are unique to the job or your field. But more often than not—and usually in addition to those behavioral or technical questions—you’ll get asked the following in a phone interview:

1. Tell Me About Yourself/Walk Me Through Your Resume.
Asking this question helps connect the dots between you and the position. Sometimes the person interviewing you won’t be the hiring manager but a recruiter or someone in HR who has little background in your field. In that case, they may have zero context as to what makes your resume a good fit.

How to Answer It
Focus on those skills and experiences that are most applicable. You can simplify your answer by using the “Present-Past-Future” formula. Explain where you are and what you do now, segue into what you’ve done in the past, and end with a brief explanation of what you’re looking forward to doing in the future (and how it relates to this job!).

2. What Do You Know About Our Company?
The interviewer wants to know if you’ve done your research. Anyone can apply to an open job posting that’s up their alley. The right candidate will be passionate about the company itself and what it stands for.

How to Answer It
Do not just regurgitate their “About” page. Rather, pick one or two qualities of the organization that resonate with you—their mission, their product, their brand, their company culture. Explain why you admire them, and provide an example of how they tie back to you.

3. Why Did You Leave/Are You Leaving Your Last Position?
While it might feel like the interviewer is digging for dirt, there’s actually a larger purpose to this question: Why you left a previous job (and how you talk about it) can say a lot about your work ethic and attitude.

This should not stop you from being honest if you were terminated for whatever reason. Being laid off or fired isn’t something to be ashamed about, nor is it always entirely your fault. And overcoming it professionally and proactively only impresses an interviewer more.

How to Answer It
No need to get deep in the weeds if you were let go or fired. The interviewer doesn’t want to rehash the uncomfortable details—they’d rather see what you’ve learned from the experience. Simply say “I was let go for [reason]” and explain how this has made you a better and stronger employee.

If you’re moving on for another reason, whether you’re no longer growing, dislike your boss, or want to try something new, avoid badmouthing your past employer (even if you desperately want to) and focus instead on what you’re looking forward to accomplishing in your next role.

4. Describe What You Do in Your Current Role.
Like the question “Tell me about yourself,” this provides context for the interviewer to get a sense of your skill set and expertise. It also shows whether or not you can effectively communicate your value proposition—as Wascovich points out, “If you can’t describe how you contribute on a daily basis, why should I hire you?”

How to Answer It
Don’t just focus on the “what” of your job—emphasize the impact. How do your responsibilities contribute to your team or company goals? How does your work make things more efficient or effective? What skills have you developed over time in this role, and how are they an asset to your company?

5. What Are You Looking for in Your Next Job?
Ideally, your goals and the role’s should be aligned. Your answer also says a lot to an interviewer about whether or not you’d be a good long-term hire. For example, you may be looking for a job where you can grow and move up in the next couple years, while this role leaves little room for mobility. Hashing this out now helps both you and the hiring manager avoid a bad fit.

How to Answer It
If you already have a job and you’re looking for a different one, it’s because there’s something missing, there’s something lacking in your current position. And I think it’s okay to be honest about that. And there’s a way of doing it without badmouthing anybody or speaking poorly of your current employer.

6. Why Are You Interested in This Role?/What Attracted You to This Company?
Similar to some of the questions above, the interviewer asks this because they want to see if you did your research and actually care about who they are and what they do. What they don’t want to hear is, “I need a job and this one seemed cool.”

How to Answer It
There must be something that drew you to the role or company (besides money or perks)—focus on that.

7. What Are Your Salary Requirements?
While it may seem presumptuous, a lot of times interviewers will ask this in phone interviews to quickly eliminate anyone who’s out of their budget.

Oftentimes recruiters are given a certain amount per position, and rather than bring a candidate all the way through the process only to get stuck on salary, they want to ensure the person is comfortable with what they can offer upfront.

How to Answer It
This is not meant to be a trick question, nor will shooting high necessarily put you out of the running. However, you’ll want to do your research to make sure you provide an accurate number or range that’s appropriate for the role and that you can back up with evidence of your value.

Talking salary depends heavily on where you are in the process. If this is an initial phone screen, you might have better luck keeping your answer vague, such as “Right now I’m really interested in finding the right fit and am open to negotiating on salary.” Then, if they press you for a more specific answer you can give your range (this is why preparing ahead of time is so important!). Regardless, don’t bring up money unless they do—you’ll be in a better position to get the salary you want later on.

8. What Type of Manager Do You Work Best With?
This question, like many others, comes down to fit. The manager-employee relationship is crucial for success, and the interviewer wants to be sure you’d get along and work well with your potential boss. And don’t we all want to work for a manager we jibe with?

How to Answer It
Don’t try to answer the question the way that you think they want to hear it. Just be honest. If it helps you craft a good answer, offer some examples of past good managers you’ve had or management styles you’ve come across that you’ve liked. And avoid mentioning any negative feedback or stories about old bosses or leaders.

9. Why Are You the Best Candidate for the Job?
Plenty of people are qualified on paper for a single job. Interviewers want to narrow down their pool to those who stand out from the pack—and asking this question helps them do so.

How to Answer It
What’s great about this question is that it allows you an opportunity to really showcase what makes you special outside your application. So run with it!

What’s one thing no one else would bring to the table that you have? It could be past experience, a certain passion or skill, alignment with the company’s culture, or merely your grit and determination to solve a specific problem. You can also take this approach to the question, “Why should we hire you?”

10. Do You Have Any Questions for Me?
With this question, the interviewer genuinely wants to offer you the chance to get your questions and concerns addressed. Because after all, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you!

But the questions you ask also give them insight into your values and expertise—so make sure they’re thoughtful and tailored to the role, company, and person you’re speaking with.

How to Answer It
Prepare two to three questions ahead of time around the company or role’s goals, the team dynamic, your future manager, or the company culture. Even better, jot down any questions that pop into your head as you’re talking with them—this will show you’re paying attention and tailoring your responses accordingly.

As you’re wrapping up the phone call, it’s always a good idea to find out what the next steps are if the interviewer doesn’t bring it up. This can be as simple as asking, “What is the next step in this process?” or “When can I expect to hear from you next?”

The best way to nail these questions in the moment is to prepare as much as possible beforehand. When you take the time to do your research into the company and interviewer, compile notes, and practice your responses, it becomes that much easier to answer with confidence. Good luck!

Check out my related post: How to do better at a job interview?

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