How to Ace a Telephone Interview for a Job in Tech

Young woman talking on telephone
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In a drive to save costs, companies nowadays screen job applicants over the phone before inviting them for an on-site interview. This way, hiring managers get a feel for skills and company fit. If the applicant doesn’t tick the right boxes, they don’t meet with the employer. This is common practice in recruitment for tech positions, especially with bigger corporations.

You may think a phone interview is not as serious as a face-to-face interview and decide to wing it.

That would be a mistake. Hirers follow strict metrics to maintain the quality of candidates referred for an interview. You need to prepare well beforehand to maximize your chances of an on-site interview, so here are 9 tips to help you pass the screening process for a job in tech.

Rehearse Your Answers to Typical Interview Questions Ahead of Time

Become familiar with typical interview questions and plan answers beforehand. The last thing you want is to stumble over your words and create a bad impression. Create a "cheat sheet" for reference during the interview, but try not to sound like you're reading answers. Gain confidence by running through a "mock interview" - have a friend, preferably with similar expertise, ask questions and give honest feedback.

Also, prepare to offer solutions to specific tech problems thrown at you by the interviewer. This gages your technical skill as well as your problem-solving approach.

While you don’t know exactly what the interviewer will ask for these types of questions, at least be aware they may come up.

Build Confidence

Know which questions tripped you up and prepare solid answers to avoid crashing during the call. Hirer’s want someone confident about their strengths and skills.

So listen to feedback from your interview practice buddy on how you sound.

Pick the Right Location

You want to be comfortable without sounding too relaxed. Pick a spot free from distractions and noise. That includes children, spouses, and pets! If it’s impossible to be alone during the interview, make sure others know not to interrupt you.

Use a Landline

Cell phones can be unreliable; the battery might die, or the reception could be terrible. The conversation needs to be clear and uninterrupted so you can hear the questions correctly and provide relevant answers.

Have Your Materials Handy

This includes your resume and cover letter in case you need to follow along when the interviewer refers to information in them. Have a pen and paper ready for taking notes and keep your "cheat sheet" accessible so you can glance at it when answering questions.

Pay Attention to Questions and Comments

Answer the question the interviewer is asking and don't go off on tangents. Stick to the topic and give specific and succinct answers. Careful listening allows you to ask follow-up questions and seek clarifications. This shows you’re interested in the conversation and the job opportunity. And it shows you’ve done your preparation.

If you’re not sure which questions to ask, familiarize yourself with common questions to ask in an interview.

Remain Positive

Never bash former or current employers, bosses, or colleagues, and keep your answers positive. Use language that communicates what you can do - even if you're questioned on weaknesses or gaps in skills and experience. Avoid sarcasm or humor that could be misinterpreted; remember, this is over the phone, so the interviewer can’t see your facial expressions or body language.

Don’t hesitate to mention how excited you are to put your skills into action and contribute to the company’s success. Leave the door open for further communication and follow-up opportunities by asking what the next step is and when you might receive an answer.

Prepare to Show Off Your Skills

If you’re interviewing for a developer position, you may need to write a piece of code on an online editor, come up with an algorithm, or explain tech concepts.

The practice is common with big companies like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn. Don’t let the experience fluster you. Focus on the task at hand because if your code doesn't run, the interview could be over.

Thank Your Interviewer

Make sure you express your gratitude to the person who interviewed you. Do this verbally, at the end of the interview, and in writing, via a post-interview thank-you letter.

More Tips to Improve Interview Performance​

  • Establish a fixed time for the interview. You’ll be better prepared when expecting a call at a specific time

  • Dress as you would for a normal interview. You’ll come across more confident and professional

  • Stand up to project your voice better

  • Show enthusiasm, use body language, and smile to help with confidence

  • If you use a cheat sheet, only list key points to serve as an outline

Telephone interviews are important - equally important as traditional interviews, in fact. On-site interviews cost companies in terms of time and resources, so if you don’t screen well, they won’t invest in you. Good preparation boosts confidence and reduces the stress of interviewing. Ace your telephone interview and you could be on your way to a job with one of the hottest companies in tech.

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