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Struggle with phone interviews? Try these 3 tips...

I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews over the course of my career as a recruiter and HR professional. The most effective interviews are face to face. But, when that isn’t possible, technology makes it easy to conduct interviews via phone, skype, or a myriad of other platforms. Although this is certainly efficient and cost-effective, the results can be suboptimal. Because of technical difficulties or the inability to establish a strong connection, sometimes, I walk away from a phone or video interview less than 100% confident about the candidate or their fit for the role.

Clients often ask me how they can prepare for phone interviews. Personally, I find phone interviews difficult because it’s so hard to establish rapport with the interviewer if you cannot see their face or interpret their reactions from their body language. Below are some of my own observations and a few common themes I’ve come across in my conversations with clients that I hope will be helpful to you.


When you are face to face, it is much easier to “read” your interviewer. Particularly through body language (leaning forward, nodding), facial expressions (smile, frown, or look confused), and eye contact (direct eye contact or staring at the wall behind you), you can ascertain if the interviewer is engaged. Without the benefit of these visual cues, phone interviews are much more challenging.

Flip the script

During a phone interview, my interviewer simply said, “So what can I help you with today?” They didn’t ask me any questions about myself, my views of the company or my understanding of the role. I had to react quickly. Luckily, I had several questions prepared and launched straight into them. Always remember to prepare questions in advance of the interview and write them down! Even if you have some standard questions you always ask (“How would you describe the culture?” etc.), make sure you write them down so you don’t get flustered if your interviewer flips the script.


If you can hear kids screaming in the background, dogs barking or people coming into and out of their office, it is difficult for your interviewer to focus on you. Sometimes, you can even hear keyboard keys tapping away as they respond to emails or chat messages. This can be demoralizing and demotivating to a candidate. If this happens more than twice in the first few minutes of the interview, it’s worth it to address it. It let’s the interviewer know you are distracted too.

Long silences

Long silences can be both good and bad. The interviewer may be taking some extra time to think about what you’ve just said and consider how they will incorporate it into their next question. If the silences are incredibly long, it’s possible that your interviewer is using a purposeful technique to make you feel uncomfortable and see how you deal with the situation. Some people cannot stand it and will just start talking about anything to fill the void! It is a skill to use silences effectively. Finally, as mentioned above, your interviewer may be distracted and trying to do several things at once, so the silence could be them trying to finish an email or prepare a snack for their kids.

Stilted conversation

Sometimes, it’s difficult to establish a natural rapport with your interviewer over the phone. You may accidentally talk over one another or if you are trying to be polite and let your interviewer speak first, this may inadvertently lead to awkward silences. Or your interviewer may intentionally limit their questioning because they’ve already decided that you are not the right candidate. This can create an uncomfortable atmosphere where you aren’t really able to relax and demonstrate your best self as a candidate. 

So how should you handle these situations if you are a candidate?

Here are three tips to help your next phone interview go smoothly and lead to a mutually beneficial outcome. 

#1. Reconfirm the technicals

Sometimes an interviewer’s apparent disinterest can be chalked up to something as simple as a poor connection. There could be a significant delay or your voice is cut up so the interviewer can’t really understand your responses. Make sure you check this early in the conversation so you don’t get the wrong impression from something as simple as a technical glitch.

#2. Reschedule

If you can hear kids crying in the background, the dog barking or the train operator announcing delays, you should politely enquire if the interviewer would like to reschedule. Although you may have waited a long time to get on their calendar or this interview is the last one in a lengthy process, your conversation will be a lot more fruitful if your interviewer is focused solely on you. They may also appreciate the opportunity to reschedule so they can focus on whatever small emergency is immediately in front of them.

#3. Key Talking Points

I recommend that candidates have 3-4 talking points written down that they want to cover during the interview. If your interviewer seems disinterested or disengaged or is rushing to get you off the phone, then make sure you have these ready so you can incorporate them into your closing remarks or steer the conversation in this direction before the interview wraps up.

Another question I always like to ask is “Is there anything else I can tell you about myself that we haven’t already covered?” or “Anything else you’d like to know about me that could be helpful?” This is a great catch-all question to make the interviewer pause to confirm they’ve covered everything on their checklist too.

So next time you find yourself on the other end of a difficult phone interview, give the interviewer the benefit of the doubt and follow these three tips to ensure your time is maximized, your interviewer is focused and your interview feedback is positive! 

Need to train your team to conduct better phone interviews? Call RC HR Consulting to see how we can help.

Renee Conklin is an HR Leader who writes about talent attraction, employee engagement and the future of work. She is the founder of RC HR Consulting.

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