ACE THE INTERVIEW

Phone Interviews: Sure-Fire Advice on 14 Common Questions (plus 5 questions to ask the interviewer)

Expert advice on how to answer 14 common phone interview questions, plus advice on questions to ask the interviewer.

More than ever, since the start of the pandemic (ugh…), employers are turning to phone interviews as either a first screening or even a major step in the hiring process.  They’re a fast, easy, and effective way for them to get an initial impression and learn about a potential candidate.

Companies start their interview process off with a phone call to get an idea of whose resume they’re looking at, and to give the candidate an overview of the company and the role. They can quickly gauge mutual interest and fit this way, and everyone saves time and energy.

It’s also important to be ready for one at any time. At the drop of a hat.

Employers may, and will often set an interview up in advance, especially lengthier more formal ones. At the same time, they often call without notice and could ask anything from basic questions about you to much more specific questions about the role, your experience, and how you’d react in specific situations.  

The more specific questions about the role and how you’d perform can be challenging to answer off the cuff. So it’s a great idea to get prepared in advance, and you definitely want to start thinking about some common phone interview questions you may get.

In this article:

  • We’ll go over and explain 14 of the most common questions we’re asked about phone interviews.
  • We show you where to find out more about the topics you’re interested in.
  • As a bonus, we explain why it’s important to ask the interviewer some questions too, and we’re giving you a few of those to choose from.

We’ve helped 1000+ other candidates find their futures with custom-tailored training, advice, and strategies. If you want to do a deep dive into phone interview questions, or you're curious about other ways to better navigate your career path, check out our career counseling service.

How long is a phone interview on average?

Given the different reasons an employer may call to have a phone interview - from a few quick questions to gauge interest to a full-on interview - you can’t pin this down exactly. But a good rule of thumb is to assume it may be 15-45 minutes.

The person calling you - generally a recruiter or HR assistant at the earlier stages of the interview process - may ask screening questions and might include more in-depth ones. Be sure to plan for a longer interview just in case, so you’re prepared.

Common Phone Interview Questions and how to answer them

Over the years, we’ve heard a few of the same questions come up pretty regularly.  We’re going to go through 13 more of our most common questions here, explain the why and whatnot of them, and give you a quick answer for each.

We also have separate pages where you can go to get really thorough explanations for each, so if one applies to you, head to the full articles. And if you want more tailored help, consider our interview prep services to get you ready for every aspect of the interview process.

What do you know about our company?

This one is key - if you can’t tell them anything, they’ll think you’re not really interested, and you could lose your chances of getting the job right there. Employers want buy-in - they want to hire people who believe in the company and want to work there, so you need to demonstrate that interest.

From social media profiles, company newsletters and blogs, news, and a range of other online sources you can get a good idea of the company you’re applying to in advance, so you can impress them when you’re asked this one in the interview.

What is your leadership style?

This question comes up for sure when you’re applying for a leadership position, but you’ll also get it when there’s potential for promotion. The company wants to know that your leadership style matches its values, culture, and mission.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question, but making sure you align with the company is vital when you’re going for a leadership position. We’ve put together some example answers you can look over that will impress your interviewer depending on your situation.

If you want to be absolutely sure you’re going to impress in your next interview, you can also look into our mock interview service to get yourself ready.

Why do you want to work here?

An interviewer’s go-to that comes up in almost every interview; they’re looking for what YOUR interest in the role is beyond the job description, and checking that you have some understanding of the role and the company.

The short answer to this one is that you need to read between the lines of the job description to imagine what it would be like on a daily basis, think about your real motivations, and tell them where these overlap.

Because this one is so common, prep yourself, so you’re ready when it inevitably comes up.

What is your biggest weakness?

A very common question, and one we all struggle with, is "what’s your biggest weakness?". Employers ask this to see your progression and problem-solving skills, so think of it as a chance to demonstrate your strengths.

The best way to answer this is to identify in advance weaknesses you’ve overcome that relate to the position you’re applying for, and tell the interviewer how you also overcame that hurdle.

Describe your greatest challenge at your current job

Hiring personnel tends to ask this question to identify three things about a candidate:

  • how honest you are about the answer
  • how you react when there’s a problem
  • and whether you’ve learned from past challenges

Because something unexpected is always going to come up, recruiters tend to put a lot of weight on this question, and may ask you some follow-up questions about it that you’ll want to be ready to answer.

We suggest you answer this question  using a STAR response, where you present a Situation, Task, Action, and Response that highlights how you were able to work through an unexpected hurdle at work.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Tricky, tricky… You’ll definitely be asked this question sometime over your career, but the answer a recruiter is looking for isn’t really the answer you’re giving.  They’re looking to see whether your career goals match the trajectory of the position you're applying for and whether your plans are in line with the company vision.

There are some real hidden pitfalls to avoid with your answer to this one, but you’ll hit it out of the park if you can convey sincere interest in the role, your goals match with the likely growth in the position, and you seem intent on being there that long.

What do you look for in a manager?

Prospective employers ask this question to gauge whether the amount of supervision they want or need matches how they manage at that workplace. Your answer gives them an idea of who you’re going to be as an employee, and whether you’ll be a fit with the team leaders and their expectations.

Think about and plan your answer to this one in advance, because an honest answer will help make sure there’s a workable fit between you and the company leadership, which is important for job satisfaction and success.

Tell me about a time you failed

This is a make-or-break answer that can either land you the job or seal your fate then and there. Your answer will tell the recruiter whether you respond to challenges well and grow from them, or if you avoid them and play the blame game.

It can be hard to admit your shortcomings, but presenting them as hurdles you overcame and learned from is actually a success, and it’s exactly what the interviewer wants in response to this question.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Hiring managers ask this question to find what specifically you bring to the table - your unique value proposition. They want to know what you can bring to the position that no one else can.

We’ve got a ton to say about this question and answer, but the short of it is you should use the opportunity to share what you would do in this position -  a specific skill or goal to show how you are key for the position will impress your interviewer.

What are you passionate about?

Answering this one can be a bit awkward, it’s pretty personal, but that’s exactly why recruiters ask it. They want to know more about you as a person, beyond the bullet points of your resume, because they want to hire someone who brings great energy to the team.

When a hiring manager asks you about your passions, they want to see what you value and what motivates you, so show them aspects of yourself that relate to the job and demonstrate how you’ll increase their success.

Why are you leaving your current job?

Uh oh, the recruiter is up to their old tricks again; this question is more about what not to say, than what to say. At all costs, you don’t want to wander into negative language or impressions when you're answering this question.

The best way to answer this question is to present some positive aspects of what’s offered through the current opportunity - specific responsibilities or growth opportunities that you’ll have access to if you got the job. DO NOT badmouth your current or former employers!

What other companies are you interviewing with?

This question can really throw you off, but rest assured the recruiter isn’t asking it to catch you off guard or confuse you. The intentions behind it are usually innocent, but they might include:

  • To gauge the market and learn about their competitors.
  • To see how quickly they need to act if they want to offer you a position.
  • To gather whether your job search really lines up with the role they’re offering and/or the company vision.

Given the options and how sticky the answers can get, I suggest you read the full article on this question, just in case it comes up.  But as short as possible, you want to be honest but vague (no need to name specific companies), and also make sure you impress on them that this is your #1 choice among all your options.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Woo-hoo, finally, a straightforward time to shine! But wait, which one to choose?

Of course, this answer is going to be specific to everyone reading this post, but what the recruiter wants from your answer consists of three main points:

  • Your work ethic
  • Your values
  • Real-life examples of your work

When answering, consider these three points and choose an accomplishment that makes you stand out from the other candidates.

What questions should you ask the phone interviewer

Whether you’re sweating it out in someone’s office or on the phone, before the interview wraps up, the hiring manager is going to ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”. In case you don’t already know, no matter how the interview has gone up to that point, the worst reply you can offer is a casual, “No, all good.”

Interviews serve the double purpose of letting the hiring manager learn about you, but also giving you the opportunity to see if they fit what YOU want. Of course, you’ll only gain the latter if you ask some questions of your own.

Spend a bit of time in advance learning how to use this opportunity to your greatest benefit. What do you want to know about the role? The company? The department? The team?

Here are a few examples of the types of questions to ask a recruiter that are appropriate and will reflect well on you in an interview:

Question #1: What do you love about your job? What inspires you every day?

If the recruiter is brave enough to share their motivation, they understand the value of personal connection and the power of being vulnerable. But, if it sounds like they’re overwhelmed or burned out by their job, you might see that as a red flag.

Question #2: Would your team describe you as fair?

A question worded this way tends to invite honesty from people and gives them less room to fall back on the polished answers they may have prepared. Also, you’ll find it’s pretty easy to notice if they’re being dishonest or manipulative. An honest answer will require a few moments of reflection, and unless they are loved by literally everyone on their team, they should include some critical reflections in the mix.

Question #3: Where do you see your team in 2 years?

This question goes to the heart of the team or company vision. It can tell you if the person in charge is a proactive strategic thinker, or if they let external factors rule their direction. A good leader might describe the challenges they expect to face in pursuit of their current goal, and ideally, they’ll mention how you’d fit into the plan or help realize the company vision.

How to ace the phone interview - tips and tricks

More and more, phone interviews are becoming the first step to landing a job. Phone interviews give an employer an effective way to start the screening process and only advance the best candidate to the next stages of the hiring process.

Because of the nature of phone interviews, though, obviously, the interviewer can't see your face, body language, or how professional you (do or don’t) look. To make up for this, you need to make the most of what they do get.

Be sure to start off strong, being positive, using professional language, enunciating clearly, and using a tone that conveys thoughtful answers. I’ve put together a few tips to make the most of your phone interview, and a few things to avoid that could hurt your chances.

  • A landline is a good option if you have one since it eliminates the chance of poor reception and dropped calls.
  • Find a private space. If you have pets, kids, or roommates, do what you need in advance to make sure they don’t interrupt during the call. Remember to turn off your TV and stereo, and close the door and any windows in the room so you can limit distractions or unexpected noises that might distract you or break up the interview.
  • Ask for clarification. If you do miss something the interviewer says for some reason, be sure to politely ask them to repeat themselves because they won't have any visual clues from your body language that you might not be clear on something.
  • Reschedule the interview if you have to.  In advance, if the time of the call isn't going to be convenient, ask for one that works better for your schedule, so you’ll have a suitable environment. In the event, that something unexpected comes up that’s going to make it impossible to have a quiet, distraction-free interview, it might be in your interest to reschedule rather than risk a bad interview.

Either way, be sure to explain yourself, stay professional, and understand that they may not be able to fit you in right away.

  • Be ready to take notes. This is something you should have for an in-person interview anyway, but it still applies. Have a pen and paper handy for taking notes about important info like names, salary expectations, job duties, important dates, or anything else that comes up in the interview.
  • Have your CV handy. This is also something you want IRL. Bring a copy of your CV and have it ready to compare with questions they ask you or to help you keep your memories straight.
  • Follow up with them. Anything you can do to stay ahead of the competition is good, and one small thing you can do just after the interview is to write a thank-you email to the interviewers. It’s a great way to show your appreciation, it makes a great impression that will work in your favor, and it sets you even more so in their mind.

We’ve helped 1000+ people just like you find success in the hiring process through our career counseling service. Whether you need help on the job search stage, prepping for interviews, or while you’re trying to negotiate the details of the job or compensation, we’ve got experts that are ready to give you advice and help you strategize your next move.

Takeaways

  • Phone interviews are more and more common as a first step in the hiring process.
  • They are just as important as in-person interviews but present unique challenges.
  • Preparing In advance is a great way to get ready for a phone interview.
  • Be ready for the interview to last anywhere from 15-45 minutes.
  • Speak in a clear tone of voice, enunciate, and stay positive.
  • There are lots of questions you could be asked, but you aren’t likely to get them all in one interview, but again, be prepared for anything.
  • Get everything ready on your end before the call starts: make sure it’s quiet, get your notepad and CV out, and set things for the least distractions possible.

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Kevin Roy
After a successful career in the corporate and non-profit worlds hunting for and hiring great candidates for my and others' teams, I spend my time writing on the subjects I love and know most about.