A phone interview is often the first time you’ll have direct contact with a potential employer — and first impressions mean a lot. It’s therefore important not to get caught in a situation where you’re hemming and hawing out an answer to a question that catches you by surprise.
Make the right impression over the phone by following our preparation tips, and thoroughly preparing yourself for common questions like the ones on this page, using our expert guidance.
6 Interview Questions About Your Experience
Some might say the past is the past, but to a hiring manager, your history has a direct impact on your future. Show off the best aspects of your past in answering these questions.
1. Can you talk about your background?
Employers will have already seen your resume when they talk to you, so this question is your chance to tie together your resume’s highlights and explain why you’re the right person for the job. It’s also your first chance to give an employer a sense of your personality and how you might fit in.
Think of your answer covering three areas: the past, present, and future.
- Past: A brief explanation of how you got started on your current career path
- Present: A quick summary of your most notable jobs and work experiences up to now
- Future: Specific skills and expertise that directly relate to the job you want
I’ve always had a significant interest in video production when I created homemade video projects back in high school. This interest led me to study graphic design in college. For the past five years, I’ve done design work for media websites, specializing in animated how-to videos. I was intrigued by your job posting because the requirements you listed, such as working in Adobe After Effects and creating 2D and 3D animation, seem like a good fit with my skills.
You’ll notice that even though you’ve been asked a big question — after all, you could talk about everything and anything from your background — this example is only a few sentences long, singling out important details about personal interests and experiences that link up with the job opportunity.
2. Tell us more about your current (or last) job.
This is another prime opportunity for you to explain your unique abilities while putting them in a workplace context. Break your answer to this question into these components:
- Give a quick overview of what your previous or current company does while being careful not to reveal any confidential information. One way to prepare for this is to know the company’s mission statement or study the “About Us” page on the company’s website and have that information at the ready.
- As they say in the song, “accentuate the positive.” Stress the valuable skills and experience you’ve gained and why you’re a better employee for having worked there. Communicate what you’ve brought to the job regarding significant successes and milestones and what the job has given you.
In my previous job, I worked for a clothing retailer specializing in Gen-Z sports apparel and wanted to broaden its social media reach. As part of the marketing team, I executed organic and paid strategies on Twitter and Instagram that helped increase the number of followers for the company by fifty percent on both platforms. The experience allowed me to work with different brand portfolios, come up with a variety of campaigns, and work with different clients and sponsors. It was also an excellent education in the nuts and bolts of using KPIs, metrics and ROI modeling.
3. Why did you leave/are you leaving your last job?
You may have several reasons for moving on from a previous job — and some of them might relate to a hostile work environment. Nevertheless, as with the previous question, stick to the positive. Emphasize reasons such as the following:
- Learning new skills or improving on current ones
- Taking on greater responsibilities
- Career change to something you’re more passionate about
- Improving work/life balance
- Better career growth opportunities
It’s okay to be honest if you left the job for reasons out of your control (e.g., a mass layoff or a family relocation). The key here is to stress the future: the good things you believe you can do with a new job and a fresh start. This is also another chance for you to link your goals to the company’s needs.
While I’ve enjoyed my time at Company X, I’m eager to apply the skills I’ve learned in inventory management to a larger organization and take on the challenge of building a robust logistics process from the ground up, similar to what your company is taking on. I’m particularly interested in taking on a more significant role that includes connecting with managers and stakeholders.
Remember, for every negative reason you might have for leaving a job (poor pay, bad work environment, bored at the office); there’s a counterbalancing positive reason that you can mention instead (seeking exciting career opportunities, looking for a work culture that fits my personality, looking for a new challenge).
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4. What did you enjoy the most/least about your last job?
This question helps employers see how much your experiences and expectations match up with the job opportunity. In that vein, frame your answers from the perspective of the new job:
- Most positive experience: Show how the new job opportunity is a continuation (or even an improvement) of what you enjoyed from the last job
- Least enjoyable experience: Show how the new job opportunity is a contrast (in a positive sense) to your negative experience from the last job
While it was exciting to work in a start-up environment, and I was happy to dive in on different tasks wherever I was needed, I felt that we got into a “putting out fires” mindset over time. I had fewer opportunities to tackle the original duties and responsibilities I enjoyed. The position at your company interests me because I get to truly focus on those responsibilities once again, without needing to “constantly put out fires.”
Honesty is the best policy here. For example, don’t say you loved doing something from your previous job that you didn’t, just because you think it’ll impress the interviewer. You might end up being asked to do that thing you hated in the new job.
Finally, concentrate on professional experiences at work rather than personal ones. For example, your least enjoyable experience may very well have involved negative interactions with specific people you worked with, but a phone interview isn’t the place for “dirty laundry.”
5. Can you talk about a significant challenge you’ve faced in a previous job and how you handled it?
Being good at a job means solving problems, and this question helps employers gauge how you approach difficult situations. Show them how you put your top personal traits and skills in action by following these steps:
- Think PAR: Problem, Action, Result. Provide details on all three of these aspects when describing a challenge you’ve faced. Just saying something was a challenge and you resolved it is less impactful than explaining why the challenge was challenging, the specific steps you took to solve it, and how your actions made a difference.
- Single out a challenge that’s relevant to the new job. For example, recounting a major issue you faced with providing good customer service is an excellent example if you’re applying to a customer service position.
In my previous job, we faced a major challenge in improving our customer service response times and communications — our company had been dealing with low consumer ratings on sites such as Trustpilot over the past few years because of these issues. I worked with vendors to implement new call center technology and supervised our email response team as we improved our internal processes for customer call-backs. All of this led to a 25% increase in customer ratings.
This example shows off a host of important skills related to a customer service position: leadership, collaboration organization, and proficiency in customer service equipment and processes.
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6. What’s your greatest strength/weakness?
Just listing a strength or weakness here isn’t going to cut it — employers will be looking for context. Break it down this way:
- Make two lists:
- Skills you’re good at that match what the employer is looking for
- Skills that you feel you come up short in
- For your “strengths” list, come up with at least one example of how you’ve successfully used that skill.
- For your “weaknesses” list, be truthful and consider ways to mitigate against your weaknesses. For example, if you lack training in a particular area, show how you’re taking or considering steps to get that training. Or you could show how you compensate for a weakness with another skill.
- For the interview, try to highlight an “essential” strength (a skill that the job demands) and a “non-essential” weakness (a skill that won’t impact the job as much).
Above all, just be honest. Employers will be more impressed if you’re sincere about your strengths and shortcomings than if you try to sugarcoat things too much.
I’m pretty meticulous by nature, but this can sometimes work against me when I’m working on a deadline-driven project, and I get bogged down in details. To help myself, I’m starting to use more project and time management apps that help give me a “push” when I need it.
5 Interview Questions About The Job
This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak: these questions will prompt you to address what you can bring to the new job and company. As with the other questions on this page, a little research and a little preparation will help you be ready with the correct answers.
1. What do you know about our company’s services/products?
This question gauges your interest in the company and evaluates skills such as research and communication. To answer this question:
- Look through the company’s website, and read up on the news about its services and products. See how the company stacks up against competitors.
- Get in touch and network with people who can tell you more about the company.
- Put together a few “talking points” that sum up what you find most impressive about the company. You can even leave the door open to discuss areas of the company you want to hear more about.
I’m impressed by how your institution is known for providing superior financial products like your variable-rate CDs but also maintains a reputation of being consumer-friendly and responsible. I’ve also heard many great things from current and former employees about how you’ve created a positive work environment. If we have time later, I’d be curious to hear about how you’ve used mobile technology to improve the banking experience.
2. What interests you about the position/company?
This is another variant of the question above. Emphasize aspects of the job that appeal to you and accommodate your skills, and show off a bit of your knowledge and expertise in the process. It’s also good to mention your interest in a specific product or service the company might be working on and offer ways to help.
As a retail consultant, I pay close attention to products in the grocery industry, so I was very impressed by your company’s ability to brand itself as a quality organic grocer. I’m also intrigued by this position because it delves into creating systems to track and analyze key business metrics, a skill that ties in nicely with my abilities. I’ve heard that you’re moving towards establishing stores in more urban areas — this is a challenge that interests me, and I’d like to explore ways to help out.
3. What strengths can you bring to the job?
Just follow the same advice from your “greatest strengths” question above, and expand it to include a few more strengths. Apply the Problem, Action, Result formula whenever you can to explain your answers.
I’m very flexible in teaching situations, from one-on-one mentoring to teaching classes of over 30 students. I also specialize in distance learning programs using apps such as Edmondo and Schoology and have used my administrative expertise to help organize the schedules and curriculum for a new summer program that served over 200 local students.
4. When can you start?
If you’re currently unemployed, the answer to this one will be easy: As soon as it’s convenient for the company. But if you have yet to leave your current job, your answer will depend on your situation. Do you have responsibilities and projects you need to pass on to others first? Does your company “etiquette” recommend advance notice of two weeks (or more) before you leave the job? Or do you need a week or two to take a “breather” before the new job or extra time to relocate? Sometimes it can be challenging to balance the new job’s needs while still being professional when leaving your position.
If you’re unsure about a start date, have a general date in mind, explain the reasons for the date, and leave open the possibility of changing it if needed.
My current job prefers employees to give two weeks’ notice before leaving, so I’d like to aim at an ideal start date of just over two weeks after accepting the job.
I’m excited about starting as soon as possible. Still, to do right by my current company, I’d like to finish up a major project I’m close to completing and train up my colleagues on some of my responsibilities before leaving. If it’s possible to have four weeks between my acceptance and my start date, that would be great.
Above all, be honest about the time you think you need — if the company has an urgent desire to have you onboard sooner rather than later, they’ll explain it, and it’ll be up to you to weigh the pros and cons of changing your start date.
5. What salary are you looking for?
This question is a tricky one, as it opens the door to salary negotiations. Some companies have a strict salary range to work with, and if you don’t fit that range, you might be out of luck. But would you be happy working at a company you feel you’re getting underpaid at? Then again, maybe you’re at a point in your life where you need to be a bit more flexible about your salary expectations. (As you can see, it can be complicated.)
To approach this question, you can answer in one of two ways:
1. Table it for further discussion.
It’s reasonable to suggest putting off discussing specific salary numbers until you have a chance to discuss the job in more detail, in a more extensive interview. The only potential drawback with this approach is if the employer needs a salary estimate now before you can proceed any further in the hiring process.
My salary requirements are pretty flexible, but I think I can arrive at a more accurate estimate if we can discuss my potential responsibilities in more detail. I’d be happy to take the time to go more in-depth with another interview, which would give me a better idea of what my range would be.
2. Come up with a general salary range.
- Do some research on the job and the average salary based on your location, using tools like salary.com or payscale.com.
- Consider how well your skills and experience match up with the job. Are your abilities perfectly in line with what the job needs, or are you maybe even a little overqualified? Take that into account when setting your range.
- Come with a baseline salary number that you can be satisfied with, and then offer up to 10-20% more as the top end of your range.
- Leave a little wiggle room: Stress that you have some flexibility with salary, depending on benefits and compensation packages the company might offer. That allows the company to give you a counter-offer if needed.
based on my current skill set and experience, and my confidence that I can “hit the ground running” with this position, I feel that an annual salary between $75,000 and $80,000 is in line with this industry. But I can also be flexible, depending on your available benefits and compensation options.”
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4 Interview Questions About The Future
How you answer these questions will give an employer an understanding of how you see yourself progressing in your career — and what you can potentially contribute to a company in the future.
1. Where do you see yourself in five years?
This question can be phrased in different ways, such as “What are your long-term career goals,” or “What job do you see yourself in a few years down the line?” How you answer this one tells a hiring manager about your specific ambitions and how well the potential job and company fit those ambitions. Prep for your response by thinking about the following:
- Come up with career goals that fit the job, or are an extension of the job.
- Consider skills and experiences you can pick up on the job that put you in a better position to achieve your goals.
- Think about future positions that would be a logical next step for a person in this position (for example, moving from an administrative assistant job to an office manager job), and fit your goals.
- Align your goals with the company’s goals: Show that you’re eager to help the company in this current position, as well as potential future positions.
- Be realistic: Show you understand your position and industry by talking about attainable, reasonable goals.
With my current career path, I’m keen on taking my skills in office administration to the next level and gaining more expertise in managing budgets and inventory, as well as experience overseeing employee benefits. I’m excited about the opportunity with your company since it covers all these areas. As your company is also expanding, I can grow in the role and the company, looking towards an office manager position down the line.
2. How do you see yourself growing in this job?
While this touches on similar topics addressed in the previous question, you can get a bit more specific here. Think in terms of:
- Milestone achievements: projects you can accomplish or certifications/training in specific areas
- Hard and soft skills you can learn or improve on
While I have plenty of training and grounding in carpentry and electrical work, the chance to work in a job that involves continuous property maintenance will allow me to expand my skills in turn-key operations, tenant and vendor management and give me valuable experiences in training and overseeing staff.
I’m interested in this position because it offers me the chance to improve my expertise with multi-vendor-based network and security systems and help me gain certification in networking solutions such as Juniper. Managing your company’s extensive distribution chains will also provide me with invaluable experience working in a fast-paced, technically challenging environment.
3. What would you do in the first 30 days on the job?
This question not only evaluates what you’re capable of but also shows an employer how you approach a task. In this case, apply the PAR formula:
- Problem: Identify challenging aspects of the job off the bat. Are there new skills you need to learn? Are you expected to spearhead some significant changes in the company or fit smoothly into an existing process? How fast can you get up to speed on important projects? What information do you need to get started?
- Action: Come up with actions that solve these challenges. For example: using a skill you already have to get the ball rolling on a particular process or setting up a timetable for understanding and completing essential tasks.
- Results: Show how these actions get you off to a good start and set you up for continued success moving forward.
My first order of business would be to familiarize myself with current projects and contracts and ensure that we maintain our output using my MRP skills. I would also focus on getting a complete understanding of my teammates’ responsibilities and pick up as much institutional knowledge as I can from them. My goal for the end of the month would be to start brainstorming ways to improve production times and quality based on complete KPI analysis and an audit of our competitors.
4. What’s your dream job?
This question allows an employer to glimpse what motivates you and whether your motivations match the company. Break down your answer like this:
- Think in terms of skills and tasks rather than job titles: What do you get enthusiastic about? Do you like interacting with and helping to organize others? Are you attracted to projects that have a “problem-solving” component?
- Think about your personal traits: Maybe you’re attracted to social work because you like helping people. Maybe marketing is for you because you like applying your creativity to ad campaigns.
- Link the present with the future: Explain how what you’re doing now ties in with what your dream job entails.
I get the most satisfaction from creating an office or a house from nothing. I’m not just creating a structure; I’m creating something that could be the start of a successful business or a place that people can call home. If I get the opportunity, I think my dream job would involve overseeing building construction projects, from the blueprint to completion. I like to believe that further experience with onsite management, a significant component of this job, is the first step towards that dream job.
5 Questions You Should Ask
“Do you have any questions for us?” Count on getting this question at some point in your interview, and make sure you’re ready when it happens:
- When you research the company and the job, note down specific questions you might have. Is the job description unclear about a specific task, or do you need more details? Are you curious about something the company does that’s outside your job description but feel you can contribute to? What’s the work culture like?
- During your interview, take notes on what you and the potential employer talk about. Maybe something comes up that you’d like more information on.
Remember: telling an employer you don’t have any questions when asked for them means an employer that maybe you’re not all interested in the job. This is your chance to show off your knowledge, interest, and enthusiasm for the company and the position.
1. What does a typical day look like for someone in this job?
When it comes down to it, you want to know exactly what you’re walking into. Use this question to get a better feel for what a typical “day in the life” looks like: what you’ll be counted on to do, what challenges you’ll face, what kind of people you’ll be working with and under.
2. What would you say are the major challenges facing this company?
This question shows you can take a “big picture” view of the company and tell the employer that you’re focused on the company’s overall mission and work.
3. If you could improve one element of the company, what would it be?
This not only gives you some insight into the company from people who are already in the know, but it also gives you an idea of “pain points” that you’ll need to be ready for if you take on the job.
4. Why is this job open?
Maybe this is a new position, as part of a growing company. Perhaps a previous employee left for greener pastures. Maybe the company has tried to find the right person for the job but hasn’t yet. Whatever the reason, the answer will give you more information about the position and its expectations.
5. How would you describe the company culture?
There are a few different ways you can phrase this question:
- How does your company approach team building and career development?
- What kind of support does your company offer for employee education and development?
- How does your company respond to challenges?
- What personality traits do you think the company values the most?
- How would you describe the work-life balance at the company?
The object here is to get some insight into the company’s “work style” and what kind of working environment you can expect as an employee.
Phone Interview FAQ
What kind of questions are asked in a phone interview?
Every question an interviewer asks will relate to two goals:
- Determining if you’re the right fit for the job
- Getting more details about the skills and personality traits you bring to a job
Questions will cover practical matters such as salary and start dates and more in-depth subjects such as your particular strengths and whether you’re the right match for the company’s culture. Make sure you put together your answers with all this in mind and show how your abilities, career goals, and personality traits can positively impact your potential new job.
How do you ace a phone interview?
- Have answers ready for major questions, along with a copy of your resume and a “cheat sheet” of notes that you can refer to.
- Be prepared to take notes, so you have material you can follow later, whether during the phone interview or a later conversation.
- Focus on specific examples of work experiences or achievements that showcase the most relevant skills to the job.
- Practice your interview skills by recording a “practice” interview for yourself. Make sure you’re not only giving the correct answers but that your voice is clear and professional.
- Get yourself and your surroundings ready for the interview. Find a quiet place where you’ll be undisturbed during the call.
- Even though you may be unseen, your posture and demeanor will be reflected in your voice, so stay calm and take your time in speaking.
- Be attentive and follow the interviewer’s lead. Wait for them to give you the space to answer questions, and be prepared to be stopped mid-answer in case they have a follow-on question to ask.
- Finally, follow up the interview with a thank-you message that reiterates your interest in the job and your readiness for a follow-up interview, if needed.
What shouldn’t you say in a phone interview?
- Any negative comments about a previous job or employer. Always frame your answers in favorable terms (e.g., “I’m ready to tackle new challenges” rather than “I was bored silly at my old job”).
- “I have no questions of my own.” Interviewers want to see candidates show a sincere interest in the company and learn more about the job and the work environment. To them, hearing “I don’t have any questions” means “I haven’t done my homework” or “I’m not interested.”
- Specific questions about benefits, such as vacation or bonuses. Don’t come off as someone more interested in the job’s perks than the actual work.
- Personal information. If the interviewer is making small talk, it’s okay to respond in kind. Otherwise, stick to the facts of your professional career. Hold back from divulging any personal information, such as whether you’re married.
- “Uh,” “um,” “you know,” and similar words. Most of us have “placeholder” words we use in everyday conversation, but they can come off as awkward during a phone interview. As you practice for your interview, make an effort to avoid falling back on them.
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