By Bruce Powell, Founder & Executive Recruiter

You’re a job candidate being screened over the phone by a recruiter or hiring manager. How do you make a good impression when the only touch point is your voice? Phone interviews can be intimidating but they don’t have to be. As recruiters, we’re on the phone all day long. We’ve heard our share of great phone screenings … along with not-so-great ones. A good recruiter will work with you to make the process smoother.

Even if you don’t feel you have particularly good phone technique, let me share some of my favourite tips that will help you ace your phone interview. Plus, many interviews are now being done over Skype or FaceTime. So I’ve provided some additional tips for these scenarios as well.

1. Make A Connection With The Headhunter

For starters, engagement is key. If you’re looking to get one thing out of the call, it’s engagement with the person on the other end of the line. This is how you’ll:

  • Build a connection
  • Differentiate yourself
  • Secure the role you’re looking for.

2. Put A Face To The Voice

If you have a job interview call set up, thoroughly prepare for it. Find out who you’re going to be talking to and check out their profile on LinkedIn. Look for common areas you can talk about, such as similar companies or industry experience, people you both know, or schools you’ve attended.

3. Research, Research, Research

Learn about the company – not just surface stuff you’ll find on their company website, but dig deeper. Get to know their products or services. Buy them and try them if you can. Set yourself up as different by having something interesting to say or ask about the company.

4. Set Yourself Up For Success

The cool thing about a phone screen is that you can ‘cheat’ – you can have your resume right in front of you. Have a pad of paper to take notes, a list of questions to ask, the job description, and a glass of water – not a coffee. Make sure you know your dates on your resume. It’s a simple thing, but people tend to get their dates wrong.

5. Avoid Distractions

Be in a room with zero distractions. Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’. If you work from a home office, kick the dog out of the office. If you have kids, get someone to watch them for an hour while you do the interview. 

6. Establish Time Parameters

If you’re gainfully employed, the first thing you always ask is “I’ve booked an hour for this meeting. Will that be sufficient?” It gives you context too on how to manage the conversation.

7. Stand Up & Smile

Stand up when you talk on the phone. Never sit down. It’s easy to slump in your chair. By standing up, you’ll have more energy and be projecting more.

Headhunter Phone Interview Tips

8. Let Your Personality Shine

If possible, stand in a room beside a bright window. It will lighten your mood and that will show in your voice. Also, get dressed up just like you would for a regular face-to-face interview. It will help you exude confidence.

9. Be Direct & Be Courteous

If you’re asked a direct question, provide a direct answer. You can’t be long-winded in a phone screen. Keep it short and succinct. Plus, you should always ask for permission to put people on speaker phone.

10. Be Unique

Always try to tell them something interesting about yourself on a personal level, e.g. when I’m not working, I run ‘Tough Mudders’. Find that one thing that people can relate to that will make them smile. Don’t say you’re an expert at something if you’re not. Be humble. If you find out that the interviewer is truly an expert and you’re just a novice, it can be quite embarrassing. For more interview tips from a headhunter on how to stand out in an interview click here to read our blog on 8 Things Rock Star Candidates Always Do.

11. Build Engagement With The Headhunter

Engagement – it’s all about engagement. Nothing is better and stronger than when there’s an open engagement between you and the person on the other line. It’s tough to create that engagement over the phone, but it can be done. Know your audience, look to create a connection, and have a conversation at the appropriate level.

12. Skype / FaceTime – Look At Them, Not Yourself

Combine the rules for a phone interview with those of a face-to-face one. Behave like you’re in front of the person you’re speaking to. You can still stand up; just angle the computer screen and make sure you’re smiling all the time. Don’t stare at yourself and avoid crossing your arms. You can take notes and refer to your resume, but don’t keep your eyes glued to it. Dress the part and get rid of all external distractions. And please don’t check your smart phone!

13. Always Ask About Next Steps

At the end of the interview, be sure to thank them profusely for their time and ask about next steps. This shows your interest in the opportunity and also helps manage your expectations.

A phone screening is often the first step in the job interview process. Remembering these simple tips should help you make a good first impression and improve your chances of securing the opportunity you want.


For more interview tips and suggestions for job seekers, check out our Tips from a Headhunter for Job Seekers blog category.

IQ PARTNERS is an Executive Search & Recruitment firm with offices in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. We help companies hire better, hire less & retain more. We have teams of specialist recruiters in Financial Services & Insurance, Marketing Communications & Media, Emerging Tech & Telecom, Consumer Goods & Retail, B2B & Industrial, Technology, Accounting & Finance, HR & Operations, Energy, Mining & Engineering, Life Sciences, and Construction, Property & Real Estate. IQ PARTNERS has its head office in Toronto and operates internationally via Aravati Global Search Network. Click here to view current job openings and to register with us.

Bruce Powell Executive Search

Bruce Powell

Bruce co-founded IQ PARTNERS in 2001 and currently operates as Managing Partner. His personal background includes hands-on management experience in sales, marketing and marketing services. He has built management teams for a wide variety of marketing, communications, media and technology companies. He has also participated in several M&A transactions for service-based companies and is frequently called upon as a resource in the planning and negotiation of such deals.

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