While each employer has a different hiring process, many use phone interviews in the early stages. Phone interviews are often used by recruiters to perform an initial screening to ensure the candidates they advance to the hiring manager meets their minimum requirements. Some employers only require one phone interview, but others might request two or three with different members of their staff including the hiring manager before they ask you for an in-person interview.
Because you cannot rely on body language when communicating with your interviewer by phone, it is important to be thoughtful about your tone and language to provide a clear, helpful answer. Unlike in-person interviews, however, you do have the ability to refer back to notes. You might consider taking that opportunity to plan out your answers to common phone interview questions. If you do write down outlines or notes, remember to sound natural instead of like you are reading directly from a page.
Preparing for a phone interview
Generally during phone interviews, employers are seeking general, high-level information about you and your background to see if they should advance you to the next step in the hiring process. You should be prepared to talk about why you’re looking for a job, why you’re interested in this specific job and company, and your background.
Each employer has a different set of questions for phone interviews, but there are several commonly asked questions. Below are several phone interview example questions and answers you can use as inspiration when preparing for your interview.
Phone interview questions with example answers
1. Tell me about yourself/Tell me about your background.
Recruiters and hiring managers will likely start a phone interview by asking about your background. This is a simple way for them to learn more about you. You should use this time to explain your relevant experience, what you’re currently doing and why that makes you qualified. While you can include a few personal details that allow the employer to understand how you lead a well-balanced life, you should focus on professional qualifications and accomplishments.
Example answer: “As someone with an extensive background in education, I am well-equipped to provide students with guidance throughout their college career. My passion for education makes me confident in my ability to fulfill the role of Academic Advisor at River Tech. Currently I work as an Academic Advisor at Coral Springs University where I support a student body of 3,000 students and am assigned to directly counsel 1,000 of those students per year. My responsibilities include making course schedules for each student every semester, addressing student concerns, and meeting with students to discuss change of major, program evaluations, and grade concerns. Before that, I studied education at Hawaii Western University. My degree in secondary education with a minor in psychology taught me the knowledge needed to properly advise students. Throughout my career, I have made a point to be the Academic Advisor I wish I had around when I was a student in college. I am willing to do what it takes to ensure the success of my students. That’s why I’m so excited to be talking with you about the position at River Tech.”
2. Describe yourself.
This question is similar to “tell me about yourself,” but instead of focusing on your experience and previously held positions, you can talk about the skills and qualities that make you a great fit for the job. Employers are looking for what you consider to be your strengths that are relevant for the position to which you’re applying. How you describe yourself
Example answer: “I am results-oriented, constantly checking in with the goal to determine how close or how far away we are and what it will take to make it happen. I find this pressure inspiring and a great motivator for the rest of the team. In fact, over the past year, I was able to help my team shorten our average product time to market by two weeks.”
3. Why are you applying for this position?
Another common question, “Why are you applying for this position?” or “What about this job interests you?” tells employers whether or not you are serious and have genuine interest in pursuing the position. To answer this question, use details listed in the job description that made you want to apply. This can be duties listed in the job description, details about the company or something about the job that aligns with your career goals.
Example answer: “I’ve been working for several years on gaining skills in your industry. I feel I have the knowledge, skills and qualifications you’re looking for, along with a unique perspective coming from a different industry. I am passionate about working in the environmental protections space, and it is time for me to make a change. I feel your company is the perfect place for me to do that.”
4. Why do you want this job?
Recruiters might ask this question during a phone interview to understand more about your current work situation. When explaining why you want the job, remember to stay positive about your current employer if you currently have a job.
Example answer: “I noticed that the parts of my previous positions I enjoyed the most were those that aligned with what’s listed in your job description, like creative writing and building relationships with stakeholders. While I am grateful for my time at my current company, I feel that it’s time to move into a role more tailored to my talents where I can continue to grow as a PR professional.”
5. Tell me what you know about the role.
Employers may ask this question to get a starting line for how much they need to tell you about the basics of the position you’re applying for. It might also tell them whether or not you’ve taken the time to carefully read the job description and research as much as possible before
Example answer: “From the job description, I understand that you are looking for a bookkeeper to provide support to the department’s financial activities primarily related to Accounts Payable and Procurement. I also understand that you require HIPAA compliance training, for which I am certified. It sounds like many of the daily tasks include processing vendor creation, journals, check requests, wire transfers and invoice for payments. Can you tell me more about why this position is open and what needs the team needs?”
6. Why do you want to work here?
Your phone interviewer might ask why you want to work at the company to get an idea of whether or not you’ve researched the company, what motivates you and whether your values align with those of the business. To answer this question, research the company by visiting their company page, their website and recent press releases or news stories. Select a few key items from your research that align with the company. For example, you might be inspired by their mission, interested in their product or excited about their growth in the industry.
Example answer: “After building my career managing hospitality staff, it has been my ultimate goal to work for a hotel that not only values the growth and achievement of their employees, but also maintains an exquisite, affordable experience for their guests. I read your recent press release about implementing a truly innovative rewards program for guests at all levels, even those visiting for the first time. Your company continues to set precedence for quality service and experience, and I am looking for a career working toward that kind of mission.”
7. Why are you looking for jobs?
Employers might ask this question during your phone interview to see if there are any red flags about your employment situation. If you are currently employed but are looking for new jobs, simply explain why. You should make your answer focused on your career instead of personal reasons or small preferences like hours or commute time. For example, you might be looking for new jobs because there are few opportunities for growth or movement in your current role.
If you’ve been let go for some reason, explain in a positive way that you and your employer decided it would be best for you to find a better fitting opportunity. You should address the ways you’ve been using your time to improve your skills and work styles.
Example answer: “I’m looking for opportunities to start my career as a project coordinator. Working as an executive assistant has given me abundant experience in managing and organizing schedules, so I’m ready to take the next step in my career. I feel especially qualified for this particular position because I’ve worked in the retail industry in my last two administrative roles. I’m more than ready to start my project coordination career and would be excited for it to be with your company.”
8. What are you passionate about?
Understanding what you are passionate about or what motivates you might help employers decide whether you might be a good fit for the position. If you are passionate about helping people, for example, and are interviewing for a largely independent role with little interaction with others, the position might not be a good fit for you. To answer this question, think of broad ways you are motivated both in and out of work. Consider how your passions might align with the role.
Example answer: “I’m driven every day by the ability to create beautiful, innovative experiences for users all over the world. There is so much helpful, valuable digital information on the web. Designing it in a way that is easy for people to consume makes me feel like I’m truly making a difference for people to access whatever it is that helps them live to their true potential. Even if only in a small way.”
9. What are your salary expectations?
Recruiters might ask this question early in the hiring process, like during a phone interview, to see if the salary you expect aligns with what they have budgeted for the role. It can also help them understand if you are over or perhaps under qualified for the position. To answer this question, it is best to provide a range to show that you are flexible, but also that you expect to earn a certain amount.
Be sure that you are comfortable with making the lowest number in your range, because the recruiter will likely try and start with the lowest possible number. Negotiating your salary is an acceptable and normal part of the hiring process that will come later once you’ve received an offer. For the purposes of your phone interview, they will likely tell you whether or not this position will be acceptable for the range you are given.
Example answer: “For this position my ideal salary would fall in the range of $55,000 to $65,000. I feel this is an appropriate amount for my experience level in this position.”
10. Test or scenario question.
During a phone interview, you might be asked to perform a simple test or respond to a scenario of some sort. They might be looking for something in your answer like your thought process, ability to be creative or think under pressure. While it might feel awkward to be silent on the phone, it is acceptable to ask for a moment to think about your answer.
During this time, calmly consider the steps you would take to respond to their test. Try and avoid taking more than 30 seconds to respond. You can also try asking clarifying questions to better understand what they’re looking for. Write down the question to make sure you address each part.
Example answer: The employer explains that they’d like you to provide ideas for marketing a local event on a tight budget, and which companies they could partner with. For this scenario, you might explain that grassroots marketing is both affordable and effective with local events. You would invest in strategized word of mouth efforts and a bold, teaser-style social media campaign. You provide examples of several local companies with the same mission or similar industry to partner with to help get the word out.