Phone Interview Strategies

I recently began the process of applying for jobs. When I found out I was invited for my first phone interview, I was given a lot of fantastic Facebook-solicited advice: shut your (distracting) pet out of the room, ask “Did that answer your question?” after answering a question, dress like you’re going to an actual interview so you’re in the right mindset. I practiced a mock interview beforehand. I felt reasonably well-prepared. I had eager cheerleaders telling me I could do it.

But after my first interview concluded, I felt ashamed. Like a failure. I recognized that I had had good answers to relevant questions about the specifics of what the job entailed, but I had rambled an incoherent mess of words in response to a simple question about a problem within a team and how I dealt with it. Oh, how I replayed those words over and over in my head after the brief interview had concluded. Someone I respected was on the search committee, a fact which further embarrassed me. It was a few weeks of near-constant cringing as I recovered.

Since that first phone interview, I have had additional phone interviews. I’ve learned something new from each one. Be reassured that it does get easier! Here are some of my tips for doing well in a phone interview.

Prepare. No, really prepare.

Before my first phone interview, I scheduled a mock phone interview with my career services office, which is staffed by students. When I got there, the person working (who I already knew) asked if we could just do a face-to-face interview because of the complicated logistics of setting up a mock phone interview. I said sure, thinking it was no big deal. We did the interview and it was fine. It wasn’t particularly nervewracking.

In retrospect, I should have had a mock phone interview that was a) With someone I didn’t know already – definitely not a fellow student, and b) It should absolutely have been over the phone. When I had my actual phone interview, I was way more nervous than I anticipated and felt totally unprepared. If doing a mock interview isn’t possible, you can at least check out the Hiring Librarians interview questions repository – don’t forget to sort by phone interview questions!

Anticipate and accept the awkwardness.

Phone interviews are notoriously awkward for all involved. You can’t read the search committee members’ body language, so you and someone from the search committee will likely interrupt each other. It’s okay. One thing that has been conveyed to me over and over again is that the search committee wants you to do well; they’re rooting for you. The best thing you can do when awkward things happen is just to have a positive attitude.

Have stories ready.

I don’t consider myself a very good storyteller. Speaking off the cuff is not my strong suit; I prefer time to think and analyze. But with interviews, reflection is key. You need to have stories focusing on a few predictable themes ready to go: a time when you dealt with a conflict, a time when you worked with a team, a time when you faced a conflict in a team setting. And of course, you have to be ready to answer questions about how your knowledge/experiences tie in with the job responsibilities.

Phone interviews made me recognize that I have been really busy over the past few years working in libraries, but I haven’t necessarily taken the time to reflect upon my experiences. It’s worth taking the time to really think about these broad themes and write them down. You won’t necessarily remember your stories off the cuff if you’re super nervous.

Try not to speculate too much about the interview.

As a job hunter, there’s a lot you may not know: who you’re up against, the salary, and often, when the institution expects the successful candidate to start the position. I’ve felt a level of vulnerability I didn’t expect when faced with all these unknowns. Adding a phone interview into the mix can be just another confusing aspect of the process, leading to all sorts of fixation and speculation about what it will lead to, if anything.

As much as you may want the position, don’t over-congratulate yourself or berate yourself about the phone interview after it’s over. Try to be objective: what did you do well, and what could you improve upon? The intelligent questions I couldn’t answer in phone interviews gave me clues as to what I need to learn to be competitive. Now that I’m past the embarrassment of not having a good answer, I can recognize how to be better next time.

Know you’ll get better with experience.

Once you know how phone interviews go, it will get easier. You’ll be less nervous. And in-person interviews are even better than phone interviews because you can make a real connection with the search committee.

Be nice to yourself.

Everything about applying for jobs is a humbling experience. If you’re on the job hunt, your emotions are probably all over the place: nervous, excited, depressed. You’re probably a bit crazy, right? It’s easy to feel that familiar sinking gut feeling: I will never learn everything I possibly need to know to be successful. How will I ever get a job? Be nice to yourself. Forgive yourself for making whatever mistake is hanging over your head convincing you that you’re 12 years old and nowhere near a hirable professional! (Hopefully I’m not the only one out there who feels like this from time to time.)

What have your phone interview experiences been like? What did you learn from them?

Categories: Job Searching

16 replies

  1. You are not alone! 🙂 Thank you for this Brianna, all of your advice is well placed particularly for a phone interview but just as applicable for in person or even video-calls too. I particularly like your advice to be kind to yourself and take away what lessons you can. I am doing that with a question I recently received and my botched opportunity to talk about an important project I am proud of that would have been much more relevant to the job than the off-the-cuff example I gave (also to your point about having stories). It is all experience and we move forward. Good luck with your search!


  2. is also a great resource.

    An additional lesson to learn: don’t schedule back to back phone interviews. I had two phone interviews with a 5 minute break once. The biggest issue: when it comes to the second interview, you’ve forgotten which person you’ve told that story to.


  3. I would add Skpye/Video interviews, they are becoming more common and while i hold webcam meeting often they are still hard and you must must plan and prepare!


  4. Please G-d may I never have a(nother) phone interview. I hate the phone with the heat of a thousand suns. I had one phone interview; it went poorly, but then again, it was a job I didn’t really care about. My favorite part of it was when I got the rejection letter that said “thank you for coming to…”. Nope, didn’t go to your offices, dudes!


  5. I have a phone interview tomorrow morning… Googling all sorts of things and came across this. Thank you! I’m nervous but also not real sure I want the job. I’ll try to remember to come back and comment after the interview is OVER, which is less than 24 hours from now… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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