Meeting face-to-face for an interview is currently out of the question for most industries. However, interviews over the phone can be just as daunting as meeting in person.
They’re often short, so you feel pressured to make the most of the time. You can’t see your interviewer’s body language or facial expressions, which makes it harder to build rapport and gauge receptivity. And that reduced nonverbal communication can lead to interruptions or awkward silences.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but like any part of the job seeking process, you have more control than you think. Spending a little time preparing goes a long way toward helping you feel and sound calm and confident in your upcoming phone interview.
Surprisingly, your nonverbal communication still plays an important role in phone interviews. For example, your body language and breathing determine your voice tone. That being said, there are physical things you can do to keep your nerves under control and convey credibility.
Below, I share a few suggestions for preparing in advance, and then some phone interview tips for once the call begins.
How to Prepare for a Phone Interview
1. Make good posture a habit
The first of my phone interview tips is to pay attention to your posture. This might sound counterintuitive because interviewers can’t actually see you, but it is important.
On the phone, an interviewer can sense your posture through the sound of your voice. That’s because good posture helps you breathe better, which makes you feel calmer and sound confident. But when you’re in the thick of answering difficult questions, posture is most likely the last thing on your mind!
If you want access to the power and credibility, good posture brings during your phone interview, make standing—or sitting—up straight a habit.
Set reminders during the day to check in and correct how you’re holding yourself, and find “hacks” that force you to use good posture. For example, one person I worked with adjusted the rearview mirror in his car so that he could only see out of it if he was sitting up straight.
Take a minute or two every day while you’re preparing for a phone interview to practice good posture. The more comfortable you are with good nonverbal skills, the more naturally they will come to you when you need them.
2. Create a “Story & Answer Bank”
Some companies give out interview questions in advance so candidates can prepare answers. But even when that’s not the case, there are zillions of online resources that will provide you with possible phone interview questions and suggestions for answering them. Take the time to think of answers in advance to questions like those below:
- What do you know about our business?
- Why are you interested in working with us?
- What is your preferred management style?
- Can you describe a time you dealt with conflict in your position?
In addition, come up with half a dozen or so stories from your past employment that illustrate things like challenges overcome, innovation and creativity, conflict resolution, etc.
Most people find it hard to sift through their work experience on the spot to come up with a relevant example during a phone interview. But if you follow this phone interview tip, you will feel calm and confident knowing you have a bank of stories to draw from when needed.
3. Practice out loud
One of the most important phone interview tips I want to share is to practice out loud. Yes, OUT LOUD. Introduce yourself, tell some stories, and answer some questions out loud before you’re on the phone. If you feel weird talking to yourself (unlike me), find a friend who will roleplay with you and pepper you with questions.
When you say things out loud, you get to know your content better. You’re involving more of your body (vocal chords, for example) and senses (you can hear yourself), which utilize more of your brain.
Also, you’d be astonished at how unfamiliar your own thoughts sound when you’re hearing them come out of your mouth for the first time. What makes sense in your head doesn’t always sound as good spoken. Your answers will be much more fluid and accessible to you in the phone interview if you’ve said them out loud before.
Practice introducing yourself. Out loud.
As a presenter, the one part of a speech or workshop that I rehearse the most is the opening two minutes. You’d think that introducing myself and my content would be the easiest part! However, it takes a while to get into a rhythm, and I don’t want my first few sentences to be a mess of verbal stumblings. Neither do you.
Practice your stories. Out loud.
It’s also important to rehearse your stories. When I first started preparing presentations, I’d say to myself, “At this point, I’ll tell the story about the lady who stole my chickens,” and then I’d mangle it in the actual delivery. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to add irrelevant details, get it out of order, or miss the point entirely. Stories only make an impact when they’re well told.
4. Set the stage
On the day of your phone interview, create an atmosphere that will help you. Dress as you would for an in-person interview. You might be tempted to “show up” in jammies, since the interviewer won’t see you. But suitable clothing gets you in the right mindset and helps you feel more confident.
If possible, find a private space for the interview where you can stand. This will help you with the posture and breathing mentioned before. Using a headset will also improve your posture and allow you the use of your hands. Movement and gestures can often help get the right words flowing.
Whatever you choose to do, you know yourself best. Choose an environment that will contribute to calm confidence.
Okay… it’s showtime! Now you’re on the phone. Here are some nonverbal communication tips that will help you stay calm and sound confident. As with the posture, practicing them beforehand helps.
Nonverbal Phone Interview Tips
1. Feel your feet
This is a trick I use to stay grounded when I’m nervous. Feel the floor supporting you. This also brings awareness to your whole body, which calms you down. Getting in touch with your physical senses reduces anxiety.
When you’re aware of your feet and feeling grounded, you almost can’t help but have good posture! That stability will lead to fewer nervous tics—rocking back and forth, drumming fingers, fiddling with things, tapping feet—which can affect the sound of your voice.
2. Keep your hands free
Avoid folding your arms, clasping your hands, or putting your hands in your pockets. I know, I know…no one can see you! But when you lock down your hands, you lock down your thoughts. You will think more freely and sound more confident if your hands are available to move.
3. Pause before answering questions
Don’t be afraid of silence. You will sound better if you take a second to breathe and think. Come up with a few phrases you can use to acknowledge the question before you pause and breathe. The examples below will buy you valuable time:
- “Great question; let me think about that…”
- “Hmmm… that sparks several thoughts…”
- “I’m going to consider that for a second…”
We worry about filling every second with words, but it takes confidence to be silent and it makes you sound smarter. Communicate confidence by giving yourself a moment’s pause before answering.
- How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question
- How to Answer: What Are Your Salary Expectations?
- 10 Common Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers
Final Phone Interview Advice
You now know how to prepare for a phone interview and have many tools at your disposal. You don’t need to try them all—choose a few to practice. (Remember: out loud!)
As a note, this advice is also applicable to video interviews, which have become popular in lieu of in-person interviews.
Related: Ask Recruiters: How to Nail Your Email Responses and Phone Interview
Whether your interview is on the phone or over video, prepare, practice, and then…let go. Trust yourself. Trust the work you’ve done. Trust that you’ll have what you need when the time comes. Your interview will not be perfect, but perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to stay calm, sound confident, and present the best version of yourself. With these phone interview tips, you can now do that!
Rachel Beohm has worked for over ten years in the communications field. She trains executives, HR professionals, speakers, and job seekers to present themselves powerfully through the use of nonverbal communication skills so they can achieve their goals. She coaches clients one-on-one in downtown Portland, OR, provides blogs and other resources online, and delivers workshops and keynotes across the country. Rachel is active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Medium. She also blogs regularly at her website: www.rachelbeohm.com.