Dear Ronnie Ann,
I am looking for a new job and was wondering if you could provide me with hints on how to handle a phone interview. Unfortunately, since we’re unable to see the recruiter, we can’t rely on visual cues.
I just had a phone interview 2 days ago (see: screening candidates) and felt things went well. This is an initial, first phase interview and successful candidates are then sent for an on-site interview. She did say at the end of the phone interview that she would certainly recommend me for an in-person interview and wished me good luck.
How long would it take (if I am selected for a 2nd interview) to receive a phone call?
So glad you asked. This is the third phone interview question I’ve gotten this week. Must be in the air!
So how soon will you hear back after a phone interview?
Truth is … there is no absolute answer to your question about how soon to expect to hear from a phone interview. When I did phone interviews (and I’ve done a lot), I usually called people back for the in-person interview within a week or two. But it also depended on how available internal folks were to interview, as well as all kinds of other things.
In my own career when I interviewed for a job, I’ve gotten the call as soon as a day later. But in one case I got the call THREE MONTHS LATER! Now the latter is not common, but my point is there is no absolute rule here. On average, it’s not unusual for it to take a week or two.
It can take even more in times when conditions may unexpectedly change. Then again, if there is an opening now, they may need to fill it soon. So, as much as I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer, there is no way to know for sure. Although you can ask at the end of the interview to see if they have an idea.
How to tell how you did on your phone interview
The fact that you got good feedback during your phone interview is very hopeful. While not everyone gives you feedback, when I do phone interviews I try to give the person at least some sense of how they did. If there is absolutely no chance, I only thank them and wish them well.
So at the very least, we can assume she’s passing you on with a big plus next to your name. It’s still up to the decision-makers as to whom they actually call in for an interview.
Other clues about how your phone interview went:
- How long did it last? Longer is better but NOT the only clue. Sometimes if I find a candidate who sounds great from the git go, I end it quickly.
- Did you get positive-sounding responses to your answers? (The interviewer’s tone often tells a lot.)
- Did you hear a smile or excitement in the interviewer’s voice? Both good signs of course.
- Did the interviewer ask follow-up questions based on what you said or did the questions sound somewhat scripted? (Following up on your responses at least shows they’re interested enough to dig deeper.)
- As they closed the phone call, did they specifically say you could be expecting to hear from them or only discuss the interview process generally? Some people close the same way for all to keep it very “professional”, but I often only give a general statement if I know we probably aren’t interested.
OK. None of these are for-sure definitive as to whether you’ll get to the next interview. In-person body language makes it a little easier to assess how an interview went, but you can often walk away from a phone interview with at least a sense of how it went. And then give yourself credit for having done your best and — yes I know it’s hard — just wait.
I wish you luck with the job and hope the call comes quickly. Try to be patient. All kinds of things can be going on at the other side that you know nothing about and has nothing to do with you. In your case, sounds like you did your best and got a good review from the screener who knows what the company is looking for and whether there is a good chance of a good fit.
So how about some tips to handle phone interviews?
- Listen very carefully (paying attention to vocal cues).
- Ask questions if you don’t understand. (Really. It’s ok. But don’t ask just to talk. Only ask things that help you answer better and help them see who you are. )
- Respond with good energy and sincerity. (Energy is VERY important. Some interview gurus even suggest standing up during the phone interview to increase your energy. Or jumping jacks beforehand. I say do what feels best for you.)
- Speak clearly and not too fast or too softly. This is not the time to be shy — although a little nervousness is to be expected.
- Don’t go on and on — unless they prompt you to. But answer fully enough for them to get a good sense of who you are.
- Have a few quick stories to choose from that highlight your resourcefulness, problem-solving ability, willingness to step up and get things done, and/or some skill they’re looking for. (Only use if it feels right of course.)
- Finally … just be yourself! Most phone screeners are simply looking for a nice person with positive energy who has the skills. In-person interviews are meant to more finely hone the search process and find an all-around good match. Phone interviewers are looking for a good overall feel.
If you are uncomfortable with the idea of phone interviews for any reason, remember the old joke:
Tourist: Excuse, me. How do I get to Carnegie Hall?
New Yorker: Practice. Practice. Practice.
And that goes for interviews too. Practice with a friend or even a tape recorder until it feels more natural. But whatever you do, try not to memorize an answer! That would only work against you.
Practice being natural and spontaneous. The interviewer knows what they’re looking for. So just let them see who you are. If you pretend to be something or someone you aren’t, not only will you come across phony, but you will just be wasting everyone’s time.
PLEASE don’t use canned answers for phone interviews
No matter what you may have heard, it is NOT a good career move to use exact answers you read somewhere. (Although researching ways to answer job interview questions can help you come up with your own.)
And don’t worry about sounding a little nervous. We get that all the time. It never stopped me from calling someone in for a face-to-face interview if I liked them. But hearing someone give me stock answers or go on and on bragging about how unbelievably great they are almost always leads to a BIG NO!
Tell about your successes with pleasant enthusiasm,
but try not to sound overly full of yourself.
There is a difference.
Last but not least … and I can’t say this enough … just be real. Listen carefully and speak clearly, imagining yourself as the person they really need and want. If you believe it, good chance they will too!
[Post updated in 2020]
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About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.