Phone interview questions that you WILL be asked (and how to prepare)

Phone interviews are becoming increasingly popular in the era of remote work and freelancing. Here are some tips to help you ace that interview, and ultimately land your perfect job.

Your phone buzzes and you get “the alert.” The one you’ve been waiting for. It’s an email from that company you sent three separate applications to. And you might have messaged the VP on LinkedIn. Can anyone blame you for being eager?

Here’s the good news: they liked your application! They want to talk to you more about the job on a phone call next week!

But then you realize: Oh no. You need to prepare for a phone interview. You’re terrible at phone interviews!

Don’t stress. Every job seeker—from CEOs to apple pickers—is going to need to get through critical steps in the search for their dream position. All you need is practice.

That’s why we’re giving you a list of practice interview questions for the standard phone interview. Practice these several times before your next one, and you’ll be better prepared to dazzle your interviewer.

1. Tell me about yourself?

It’s the infamous TMAY question. It comes in many forms but they all mean basically the same thing: pitch me on yourself as a professional.

You should expect to see this question. The number one thing hiring managers are looking for in a phone screening is fit, and TMAY questions are a good measuring tool for fit.

And it’s a little deceptive. How can you encapsulate an entire human life into a few sentences? Should you talk about every past job? College? Hobbies? Family?

Of course, it’s a balancing act, you want to give a quick but broad impression of yourself that doesn’t last more than 90 seconds.

To avoid that awkward fizzling conclusion, always end your answer with the reason you applied for the job. It’s a great strategy to make sure your TMAY answer brings you and the interviewer up to the present day.

2. Why did you decide to leave your last job?

We’ve talked about this trap before. Asking about your last job invites a lot of negativity into the room. Whether you quit, were laid off, or your company simply dissolved, it’s a tempting opportunity to complain.

But that’s not only unpleasant for the interviewer, it also leaves them with the impression that you’re a complainer. Worse, they might conclude that you were the problem at your old workplace. So, whatever reason you left your last job, it’s critical thing is to be positive.

One great way to flip the script is to focus on the things you’re looking for out of a new job rather than the things you disliked about the old one. Did you have a terrible manager? Now, you’re looking for a strong mentor.

Weren’t paid enough? Now you’re looking for a job with more growth potential. If you do it right, you’ll leave the interviewer thinking about how they can satisfy the things you’re looking for rather than what might have gone wrong at your last job.

3. How did you become interested in your chosen career path?

Every superhero has an origin story, and now it’s time to share yours. Hiring managers know that passionate employees will perform better. It’s in their best interest to hire someone who is happy with their chosen career.

Hopefully, coming up with some reasons why you chose your career won’t be too tough. If it is, it might be time to reconsider your profession.

This question is a little tougher for people with rambling careers—which in this modern age is most of us. How does someone go from programming apps to writing screenplays to applying for an HR job?

Career advisors recommend thinking about your career like a story rather than a one-time decision you made back in college.  Focus on explaining briefly how each major step led to the next. And, most importantly, how they all came together to bring you to this particular phone screening.

4. How did you learn welding/python/dressage?

Especially if you’re applying for a technical position, questions about your skill set are common. So if you list a technical skill on your resume, expect to get asked about it.

Think of it this way: a juggler who doesn’t know how to juggle is not a great candidate for a job at the circus.

On top of that, asking about the ways that you acquired the skills you mention on your resume is a great way to learn about how you approach your job. They’re listening for the way you talk about your skills, not just a confirmation you have them.

That’s why we recommend telling a story about learning the particular skill you listed on your resume. Alternatively, talk about the last time you used it. It’s a great excuse to let your interviewer know how learning it has made you better at your job.

5. Tell us about Position X at Company Y?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. There’s a good chance your first interviewer did very little to prepare for your first phone conversation. They’re probably calling a dozen other candidates today, so they haven’t had time to

So it makes sense that going through resume items is one of the most common questions you’ll get on a phone screening. It’s the easiest thing for them to ask about. The piece of paper is literally sitting in their laps.

But that’s no reason to take these questions lightly. The vast majority of hiring managers will eject any candidate they suspect of lying or exaggerating on their resume.

You’re also unlikely to get to the next level if you can’t inspire some interest in your experience.

That’s why it’s important to practice telling an interviewer something interesting about every item on your resume. If you can’t think of one, why is it on there in the first place?

While we’re on the subject of explaining resume items, need any help explaining a big gap?

6. Describe your ideal workstation?

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This is a question that I’ve gotten several times and have, at times, been unprepared for. After all, why should they care how I like to set up my desk?

I’ll tell you why. It’s another one of those infamous “culture fit” questions. The interviewer wants to know how you’ll fit in at the office.

Knowing if you dislike open-plan offices (like many do) or if you expect to work from home some days helps them to get to know your style of work.

Plus it’s a chance to get a flavor for your personality. Do yourself a favor and practice this answer so you won’t be caught flat-footed, as I have been.

7. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Some positions are designed for people who want to rise through the ranks, while others might be built for “lifers”, so to speak. Which are you?

That’s something your interviewer will want to know, and that’s why you’re likely to see a variation of this question.

For many hiring managers, reducing employee turnover is a major goal of the hiring process. It’s almost always in your interest to emphasize a vision that would let you stay at the company you’re interviewing at for the medium term.

And if you don’t know off the top of your head how you’d answer this question, you really should do some thinking. A career plan never hurt anybody!

8. Why do you want to join our company?

Eventually, your interviewer will turn from evaluating you to evaluating your interest in the position. As we mentioned, passionate employees perform better, so they’ll want to know you can be passionate about working with them.

This question is more about avoiding the wrong answers than hitting the right ones. Hiring experts agree that focusing on the pay is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

But a worse answer is “I don’t know” or “I haven’t looked it up yet.” Hiring Manager Benjamin Spiegel over at MediaBistro explained it this way:

I cannot begin to tell you how many interviews have gone sour because the candidate was not prepared ... Trust me: Nothing is more frustrating than having to tell our story 100 times to them.”

We’ve talked about more interview don’ts before, check it out.

So do your homework, and give an honest answer that focuses on something other than money or prestige. If they don’t like the honest reason you want to work there, it’s probably not a great fit.

9. Do you have any questions for me?

There is only one acceptable answer to this question: YES!!! Asking even just one question about the company or the position will increase your odds of being hired.

Ideally, you’ll be struck by something interesting said during the interview. Just in case, keep these stock questions stored at the back of your mind:

  1. When did you first join the company?
  2. What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the person in this role?
  3. What’s your favorite part about working for this company?

Keep asking until your curiosity runs out. The interviewer will let you know if they’re running out of time.

10. Are you Interviewing anywhere else?

Next to money questions (like asking for a raise), telling an interviewer about other interviews you have scheduled is one of the more awkward questions to field.

Executive Recruiter Mike Petras points out that companies ask this for two reasons.

  1. To make sure you’re not about to sign on with someone else.
  2. To get a taste for how desirable a hire you are.

So it’s a narrow needle that you’ll need to thread with this answer. That’s why it’s important to practice! You want to give the impression that you’re a desirable candidate, but that you’re still on the market.

I like to keep it vague. Something like:  “I’ve been interviewing at a few places. I’m keeping my eye open for the right fit.”

The hardest part is done

Right now, you’re staring down the long funnel of interviews that begins with a phone screening. That’s intimidating. But it’s helpful to remember that the hardest part is already done.

The average job will get 250 applications, and the hiring manager will only schedule phone screenings with 4 to 6 of those people. You’re already in the top 2%!

Now the best way you can make sure to rock your phone screening is with practice. The questions above are plenty to get you started. And, while you’re at it, here are a few others you should be seriously considering as you practice:

  • What are your salary expectations?
  • What’s something we should know about you that’s not on your resume?
  • What’s something you think you’re better at than anyone we’re likely to talk to?
  • What was your favorite and least favorite thing about your most recent manager?
  • How do you like to spend your weekends?
  • How did you first hear about this position?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • What’s your greatest weakness in the workplace?
  • What’s your greatest strength in the workplace?

But first, celebrate with a well-earned pat on the back and maybe a doughnut. Then, go crush that phone screening.

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