Recently a client I had worked with on job search and interviewing skills sent me a tape recording of his latest telephone interview. I had the opportunity to be a fly on the wall while getting a first-hand listen to the questions asked and how my client responding to them. It was invaluable to me as a coach. Here are some my key learnings on how to improve your performance and things to watch out for.

One of the challenges of phone interviews is the lack of body language, which can count for over 55% of the total message communicated. Of course the up side is that you can use cheat sheets making you sound very prepared and articulate with strong wording and fluctuating tonality.

When you are contacted by the recruiter or hiring manager to set up a time for the interview, be sure to get the name and title of the person you will be speaking to. Arrange to have as detailed an outline of the job description as possible, as far ahead of time as they can arrange, so you have lots of prep time.

Follow these pointers to ensure you ACE your next telephone interview:

    1. Write your SAR stories (Situation – Action taken – Result) as if you are preparing for an in-person job interview. People can’t listen effectively for as long on the phone as they can in person, so make your stories a little bit shorter. Keep them to 1-2 minutes maximum rather than the 4-5 minutes that would be acceptable in an in-person interview. If you feel like you’d like to say more, pause your story, and ask the interviewer if they would like to hear more detail.

    2. Make sure you are ready for the interview. If the call is pre-planned then you should have your notes, resume and the job description in front of you. If you are called out of the blue, ask if you can call them back in 10 minutes so you can get yourself organized. You are at an unfair advantage otherwise. Reception is often much better on a land line than a cell phone.

    3. To Skype or not to Skype. If you are to Skype be well dressed and practice where to look into the camera so it looks like you are speaking to the interviewer not to your keyboard.

    4. Pick a quiet, undisturbed location to chat. A coffee shop, your car, a mall or a hockey arena are examples of less than ideal places in which to hold an interview. There are too many distractions and back ground noise. Pick a quiet time and room in the house, with a closed door, and no chance of interruption from barking dogs or crying children. You have to be able to listen attentively as well be heard.

    5. Place a mirror in front of you. The best sales reps make their calls to clients with a mirror in front of them so they can remember to smile. Believe it or not, you can hear a smile in someone’s voice. It makes you sound a lot friendlier. If you have a cordless phone you might want to get up and move around, walking around gives you energy which makes your voice stronger which helps you sound more confident.

    6. Engage in the ice breaker and any chit chat the interviewer initiates. Remember the job of a good interviewer is to get you to like them. They usually do this by a little social chit chat at the beginning of the call. Answer in full sentences, offer a comment, and ask a reciprocal question or two. Depending on the vein of the chatter, you could ask how long they have been with the company or about a recently or renowned project they’ve worked on. You want to build rapport: an interview is a conversation, not an interrogation.

    7. Write down the questions in short form and read it back to them to ensure accuracy. You may want to make the odd note when the interviewer explains things to you about the position or the company which you can later include in your thank you letter.

    8. Express your interest, or not. Hiring managers or recruiters want to know your interest in the job, so tell them. If half way through you realize you aren’t interested in pursuing the position, decide whether you will hang in for the interview experience or thank them for their time and mention you don’t think that at this point you are the right candidate for the position. If you are keen for the position, passion sells and is often a deciding factor to short list you for an in person interview. Tell them how you feel.

    9. Ask the most important question before you end the call. As the interview is winding down ask this question,: “Is there anything else I can tell you that will help you make a positive decision?” Always close by asking, “where do we go from here?’ or “what is the next step going forward?”

    10. Send a thank you note. Always send a thank you note after every interview. The recruiter took some of their valuable time to speak with you, show your appreciation. Thank the interviewer for their time, their interest in interviewing you and recap a couple of pertinent points you want them to recall about you, the benefits to hiring you or short-listing you.


At the end of the day, an interview is an interview is an interview. Research the company and the role in advance, be prepared the day of, tell great Situation, Action, Result stories, use enthusiasm and ask the all-important questions. Smile a lot.

Best of luck!


Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer

Author of Networking How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group