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Invited for a phone interview? How to answer phone interview questions

Invited for a phone interview? How to answer phone interview questions

Artwork by: Aleksandra Zabnina

  • Preparing for a phone interview
  • 13 Phone interview questions and answers
  • 1. “Tell me about your background.”
  • 2. “Why do you want to work here?”
  • 3. “What are your strengths?”
  • 4. “What are your weaknesses?”
  • 5. “Why did you leave your last job?”
  • 6. “What do you know about the role?”
  • 7. “Tell me more about…”
  • 8. “What are you passionate about?”
  • 9. “How would you respond to a job-related scenario?”
  • 10. “What are your salary expectations?”
  • 11. “When can you start?”
  • 12. “Are you interviewing with other companies?”
  • 13. “Do you have any questions?”
  • Key takeaways

Invited for a phone interview? How do you answer phone interview questions? Follow our how-to guide on acing a phone interview and impressing the hiring manager!

Congratulations, you just got invited for an interview! However, on reading your email for the second time, it turns out it’s a phone interview neither an in-person nor Zoom meeting?!

Why is the hiring manager choosing a phone interview? What sort of questions can you expect during a phone interview? How do you answer phone interview questions?

Each employer will have their own recruitment process, but many use a phone interview in the early stages to help them perform an initial screening of applicants. In this way they can save time, money, and energy in the hiring process by identifying the most suitable candidates first. This may involve one phone call or perhaps two or three if you need to speak to the wider team.

A major benefit of a phone interview is that you can have notes and answers to potential questions right in front of you and use these to your best advantage.

In this article we will explore:

  • Preparing for phone interviews

  • 13 Phone interview questions and example answers

Preparing for a phone interview

Employers typically use phone interviews to screen candidates and reduce the pool of applicants who will be invited to an in-person interview. For remote positions, a telephone interview may be the only option.

The main thing is to be prepared for the phone interview. While every company will have different questions that they ask, there is a common set of questions that are typically asked in some way, shape or form.  

Figure out what they might ask you and have some answers ready (see below). Then, practice the answers out loud. By identifying possible questions and practicing your answers beforehand, you’ll be more confident and comfortable during the interview. It’s important to sound natural on the phone and keep your tone and language clear, direct, and succinct. If you sound like you are reading from a script or start rambling, you won’t make a great impression!



Speak confidently and enunciate your words so you can be clearly understood. Have a glass of water nearby in case you need to refresh your voice during the phone interview.  

Conduct the interview in a noisy environment. Find a quiet and calm place where there will be no doorbells ringing, washing machines running, dogs barking, or music playing.

13 Phone interview questions and answers

Phone screen interviews can have similar questions to traditional, face-to-face meetings; however, there are some that are more common to this screening process. Here are the most common phone interview questions and sample answers:

1. “Tell me about your background.”

This is a typical question at the start of the phone interview where recruiters and hiring managers are looking to learn more about you. 

The best place to start is taking some time to review the job description, department, and company so you can ensure that you answer this question with relevant information. Then you need to think about your background and pull out two or three points you can make about your relevant skills and experience. This could be expertise you have gained in a specific sector, a successful project you have delivered, and/or a technology you know.

Make some notes related to these two or three points so you can use these in the actual telephone interview. Bullet points may be the best option as you can use these as a quick reminder and this also prevents you from sounding like you are reading from a script. In terms of order, it’s best to start with your most recent  experience first, only bringing up older experience if relevant.

In terms of the length of answer, make sure you keep this between two to three minutes. Any shorter is a bit brief and will hint at a lack of experience; any longer and you might take too much time with this answer and/or the interviewer may lose interest.

Example Answer

“I have years of experience in project management, and I'm happy to say I've consistently delivered quality projects on time and within budget. I'm also pretty passionate about improving the overall IT infrastructure while enhancing service delivery. Based on this, I'm confident I can do a great job in the role of IT Project Manager.

Currently, I work as an IT Project Manager at ABC Bank, where I am responsible for a portfolio of IT projects including new system implementations, server upgrades, and process automation tasks. I oversee the end-to-end project lifecycle, including oversight of budgets, resources, technical troubleshooting, and compliance.

Prior to this, I studied IT management at Washington University. My degree in technical management with a minor in business administration, taught me the knowledge needed to deliver IT improvements with a commercial approach. I aspire to be an inspirational leader to my team and deliver innovation for a forward-thinking company. That’s why I am really excited about the position at Genesis Bank.”

2. “Why do you want to work here?”

When a phone interviewer asks this question, what they really want to know is whether you have researched the company, if your values align with the business, and what motivates you.

Check out the company mission statement on their website to see if any of this information resonates with you. You can then explain how you personally connect with the company’s mission and state your commitment to helping the company achieve its goals.

In addition to researching the company, role, and team structure, be on the lookout for any news stories or press releases. 

Example Answer

“After establishing my career in retail, my goal has always been to secure a role with a retailer that is focused on delivering an outstanding customer experience and values honesty, integrity, and respect. I saw in the news that you are implementing a new customer rewards program. I’m impressed by how forward-thinking ABC Company is and I would be really excited to join the team.”

3. “What are your strengths?”

The key reason interviewers ask this question is to identify whether your strengths are aligned with the job responsibilities and the needs of the company. This enables them to judge whether you will be a good fit for the role you are interviewing for.

There are certain strengths all employers look out for, such as work ethic, time management, and dedication. There are others which will be role-specific. If you are applying for a customer service role for example, you could highlight your strong communication and conflict resolution skills.

Example Answer

“My writing skills are strong, having worked as a copy editor over the past five years. This includes writing different types of content, so I know how to tailor this according to each task and audience. I am creative and have a meticulous attention to detail, so I’m confident I can deliver engaging and high quality marketing materials as a content writer for XYZ Company.”

4. “What are your weaknesses?”

This question can be an easy one to trip up on due to the fact that giving the wrong answer might make you look insincere or lacking in terms of self-awareness. If you respond, “I work too hard,” or “I’m a perfectionist,” you may get an eye-roll from the hiring manager!

Equally, you don’t want to respond with a weakness that is a major component of the role. If you are applying for a role as a project manager, you don’t want to say you have poor time management skills for example.

The best approach is to be honest and identify a real weakness. Then provide a specific example of how you have worked to overcome this weakness. Showing how your self-awareness has helped you to tackle this issue and how others have helped you in this quest will enable you to spin this question to your advantage. 

Example Answer

“When I was working remotely during the pandemic, I found it difficult to maintain work-life balance. This led to increased stress levels which in turn negatively impacted my productivity and my ability to contribute as a key member of the team. My role is still remote, so I decided to implement more structure to my work day, connect more with team members via Zoom, and restore balance by finishing work at a reasonable time to enjoy family life.”

5. “Why did you leave your last job?”

This is a popular phone interview question. Obviously, if you are still working for a company then you may be asked why you want to leave this role. It can be easy to slip up when answering this question, particularly if you are leaving or have left a job on poor terms.

The key thing is to avoid speaking negatively about your current or most recent employer, as the interviewer will likely think that you would do the same thing to them in the future!

Example Answer

“I enjoyed honing my sales and management skills over the past three years with DEF Company, and I managed to expand the client base and boost sales by 35 percent% in the last year. When I saw your job posting, it felt like the next step in my career and an opportunity not to be missed. My ultimate goal is to work for a company like ABC, that is recognized as a market leader and has aggressive growth plans.” 

6. “What do you know about the role?”

This question can have a dual purpose approach. Hiring managers may be asking you this question to see what you already know and then fill in the gaps. However, they could also be checking if you have properly reviewed the job description and taken time to complete research.

Example Answer

“After reviewing the job description, I understand that you are looking for a finance assistant to keep track of company finances and support employees across accounting processes. I understand the role will involve conducting data entry, processing invoices, and preparing financial statements. I have advanced knowledge of MS Excel and QuickBooks, which I know is essential for this position. Can you tell me how this position became vacant and any additional needs the team may have?”

7. “Tell me more about…”

During your phone interview, you may get asked to provide more details on the experience you have outlined in your resume. This could be some more information on specific responsibilities or achievements in your last job.

Carefully review your resume prior to the phone interview and make notes to highlight any skills, experience, and education that is relevant to this new opportunity. The benefit of a phone interview is that you can have a digital or hard copy of your resume in front of you that you can refer to when asked this question.

Example Answer

“Thanks for asking about my role at Boxwell High School. I was a math teacher at the school for five years and I also led the after school program. I was successful in improving student performance by creating high quality schemes of work, lesson plans, and engaging materials - with 90% of students successfully passing the SAT math test last year. I am confident I can apply my skills and experience to Green Tree School to enable students to achieve and exceed their goals.”

8. “What are you passionate about?”

This may not seem like a difficult question, but it can be a bit awkward to answer, especially on a phone interview with someone you don’t know. Typically, an interviewer asks this question to get to know you better and see if you are potentially a good fit for the team and company.

The main takeaway here is to balance being honest and genuine with answering in a way that also sells you as a candidate for the job. You may be passionate about your work, in which case this will be an easy question for you! However, it’s perfectly fine to mention a passion you have that is not job-related. The trick is to connect it to the job opportunity if you can.

Example Answer

“One of my major passions is painting–I love being able to create something beautiful with a canvas, some paint, and a brush. I recently sold a couple of paintings at a local craft market which was really rewarding. Painting requires a lot of patience as well as a strong attention to detail, which I think are attributes that are also essential when working as a data analyst.”

9. “How would you respond to a job-related scenario?”

You may be asked in a phone interview to explain how you would respond to a specific scenario. Don’t panic! The interviewer is simply wanting to learn more about your thought process, to identify how creative you are, and to assess your ability to think under pressure. 

Don’t be afraid to take a short pause and think about the question. You can also ask a couple of clarifying questions if necessary so you can make sure you are on the right track. Try to write down the question as well so you have this as a reference point.

Be prepared to talk about your specific role and successes. For example, the interviewer might ask a marketing manager to come up with marketing and PR ideas to increase engagement and promote their brand.

Example Answer

“Relatable storytelling and providing information on trends, quirks, and statistics really helps to boost engagement with customers. I would revitalize the company website aligned to the brand and apply my SEO expertise to increase reach and engagement. I'd also suggest contacting affiliates to partner with on events or marketing campaigns to boost brand awareness.”

10. “What are your salary expectations?”

This question is typically asked in the early stages of the recruitment process as the recruiter is trying to find out if the salary you are expecting is in line with what they plan to offer. They may also be assessing if your response indicates that you are over or under-qualified for the role.

The best approach here is to provide a salary range that shows you are flexible, but also not willing to accept below a certain amount. Research typical salaries based on your experience, sector, and location as well as any additional employee benefits and perks on offer.

Example Answer

“After reviewing this position, my ideal salary would be between $45,000 to $55,000 as I feel that is reflective of the amount of experience I have in the engineering sector.”

11. “When can you start?”

Employers may need to know upfront when you would be able to start your new job. This could be because they are looking to fill the role quickly, so any candidates with a notice period of over one month would not be suitable. If you are unemployed then you will likely respond as soon as possible, which won’t be a problem.

Take time before the interview to consider the soonest date you would be able to start, and review the terms in your contract. If you say that you can start right away, this won’t necessarily impress the interviewer, due to the fact that you are leaving your current employer in a bind.

Example Answer

“After receiving a job offer, I would be able to start two weeks later to provide time for my current role to be filled.”

12. “Are you interviewing with other companies?”

Recruiters may want to know your position in the hiring process with other organizations during a phone interview. If you are already interviewing with other companies, then they may wish to fast-track the hiring process, if they think you are a strong candidate for the job.

Answer this question honestly, but don’t go into great detail about the other opportunities you are pursuing.

Example Answer

“I do have a couple of interviews coming up with other employers, but based on what I know so far, I think this position is exactly the role I am looking for.”

13. “Do you have any questions?”

How do you respond when an interviewer asks, ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ It can be really easy to go blank, ask a random question or quickly say, ‘No, I have no questions, I think you covered everything.’

You may think that the recruiter is just being polite, but more likely, hiring managers are asking you this question to measure your skills and experience against the strength of your potential commitment and passion for their company. 

Research the company and find out about their mission, vision, and values. The company website is a great starting point, and also look for any news articles you can reference in your questions to the phone interviewer. 

Example Questions

1. What does a typical day look like for a person in this position?

2. How has this role grown or adapted to suit the needs of the organization?

3. What kind of growth does the company expect to see within the next five years?

4. Do you have any concerns about my experience or skill set?

5. I heard in the news that. . . 

6. Thank you for explaining the role to me in such depth. When might I hear back from you regarding next steps in the process?

Key takeaways

  1. Phone interviews can seem less daunting than in-person interviews, but it is still really important to allocate the same time in terms of interview preparation.

  2. Practice the most common telephone interview questions and answers out loud and always ensure you ask the interviewer at least one question at the end of the interview.

  3. Don’t forget to always follow-up on your phone interview with a polite thank-you email, just as you would with a regular, in-person interview.

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