15 Common Phone Interview Questions (With Example Answers)
Updated October 31, 2023
Phone interviews are often used by recruiters to perform an initial screening to ensure the candidates they advance to the hiring manager meet their requirements. When interviewing by phone it's important to be thoughtful about your tone and language to provide a clear, helpful answer. Unlike in-person interviews, however, you do have the ability to refer back to notes so you might want to prepare sample answers.
In this article, we outline the phone interview process and provide example answers to commonly asked phone interview questions to help prepare you for your next call with an employer.
Phone interview questions with example answers
A list of basic phone interview questions accompanies the image of a hand holding a phone connected to a call. The headline says, "Common phone interview questions"
The list under the headline reads:
• Tell me about yourself/Tell me about your background.
• Describe yourself.
• Why are you applying for this position?
• Why do you want this job?
• Tell me what you know about the role.
Here is a list of phone interview questions to help you prepare:
1. Tell me about yourself/Tell me about your background.
Recruiters and hiring managers will likely start a phone interview by asking about your background. This is a simple way for them to learn more about you. You should use this time to explain your relevant experience, what you’re currently doing and why that makes you qualified. While you can include a few personal details that allow the employer to understand how you lead a well-balanced life, you should focus on professional qualifications and accomplishments.
“Currently, I work as an academic advisor at Coral Springs University, where I support a student body of 3,000 students and am assigned to directly counsel 1,000 of those students per year. My responsibilities include making course schedules for each student and meeting with students to discuss a change in major, program evaluations and grade concerns. Before this job, I studied education at Hawaii Western University. My degree in secondary education with a minor in psychology taught me the knowledge needed to properly advise students.”
A phone screening is typically the first stage in the interview process. Only the top candidates get asked for the next interview, often taking place onsite. Your answers during the phone interview need to be complete and impactful to have a chance of proceeding to the next round. Prepare for a phone interview as you would an in-person interview
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
2. Describe yourself.
This question is similar to “tell me about yourself,” but instead of focusing on your experience and previously held positions, you can talk about the skills and qualities that make you a great fit for the job. Employers are looking for what you consider to be your strengths that are relevant for the position to which you’re applying.
“I am results-oriented, constantly checking in with the goal to determine how close or how far away we are and what it will take to make it happen. I find this pressure inspiring and a great motivator for the rest of the team. In fact, over the past year, I was able to help my team shorten our average product time to market by two weeks.”
3. Why are you applying for this position?
Another common question, “Why are you applying for this position?” or “What about this job interests you?” tells employers whether or not you are serious and have a genuine interest in pursuing the position. To answer this question, use details listed in the job description that made you want to apply. This can be duties listed in the job description, details about the company or something about the job that aligns with your career goals.
“I’ve been working for several years on gaining skills in your industry. I feel I have the knowledge, skills and qualifications you’re looking for, along with a unique perspective coming from a different industry. I am passionate about working in the environmental protection space, and it is time for me to make a change. I feel your company is the perfect place for me to do that.”
Read more: Reasons for Applying for This Job
4. Why do you want this job?
Recruiters might ask this question during a phone interview to understand more about your current work situation. When explaining why you want the job, remember to stay positive about your current employer if you currently have a job.
“I noticed that the parts of my previous positions I enjoyed the most were those that aligned with what’s listed in your job description, like creative writing and building relationships with stakeholders. While I am grateful for my time at my current company, I feel that it’s time to move into a role more tailored to my talents where I can continue to grow as a PR professional.”
5. Tell me what you know about the role.
Employers may ask this question to get a starting line for how much they need to tell you about the basics of the position you’re applying for. It might also tell them whether or not you’ve taken the time to carefully read the job description and research as much as possible before.
“From the job description, I understand that you are looking for a bookkeeper to provide support to the department’s financial activities primarily related to Accounts Payable and Procurement. I also understand that you require HIPAA compliance training, for which I am certified. It sounds like many of the daily tasks include processing vendor creation, journals, check requests, wire transfers and invoices for payments. Can you tell me more about why this position is open and what needs the team needs?”
6. Why do you want to work here?
Your phone interviewer might ask why you want to work at the company to get an idea of whether or not you’ve researched the company, what motivates you and whether your values align with those of the business. To answer this question, research the company by visiting their company page, their website and recent press releases or news stories. Select a few key items from your research that align with the company. For example, you might be inspired by their mission, interested in their product or excited about their growth in the industry.
“After building my career managing hospitality staff, it has been my ultimate goal to work for a hotel that not only values the growth and achievement of their employees but also maintains an exquisite, affordable experience for their guests. I read your recent press release about implementing a truly innovative rewards program for guests at all levels, even those visiting for the first time. Your company continues to set precedence for quality service and experience, and I am looking for a career working toward that kind of mission.”
7. Why are you looking for jobs?
Employers might ask this question during your phone interview to see if there are any red flags about your employment situation. If you are currently employed but are looking for new jobs, simply explain why. You should make your answer focused on your career instead of personal reasons or small preferences like hours or commute time. For example, you might be looking for new jobs because there are few opportunities for growth or movement in your current role.
If you’ve been let go for some reason, explain in a positive way that you and your employer decided it would be best for you to find a better-fitting opportunity. You should address the ways you’ve been using your time to improve your skills and work styles.
“I’m looking for opportunities to start my career as a project coordinator. Working as an executive assistant has given me abundant experience in managing and organizing schedules, so I’m ready to take the next step in my career. I feel especially qualified for this particular position because I’ve worked in the retail industry in my last two administrative roles. I’m more than ready to start my project coordination career and would be excited for it to be with your company.”
8. What are you passionate about?
Understanding what you are passionate about or what motivates you might help employers decide whether you might be a good fit for the position. If you are passionate about helping people, for example, and are interviewing for a largely independent role with little interaction with others, the position might not be a good fit for you. To answer this question, think of broad ways you are motivated both in and out of work. Consider how your passions might align with the role.
“I’m driven every day by the ability to create beautiful, innovative experiences for users all over the world. There is so much helpful, valuable digital information on the web. Designing it in a way that is easy for people to consume makes me feel like I’m truly making a difference for people to access whatever it is that helps them live to their true potential—even if only in a small way.”
9. What are your salary expectations?
Recruiters might ask this question early in the hiring process, like during a phone interview, to see if the salary you expect aligns with what they have budgeted for the role. It can also help them understand if you are over or perhaps under-qualified for the position. To answer this question, it is best to provide a range to show that you are flexible, but also that you expect to earn a certain amount.
If you’re unsure about what salary is appropriate for the position for which you’re interviewing, visit Indeed's Salary Calculator to get a free, personalized pay range based on your location, industry and experience.
Be sure that you are comfortable with making the lowest number in your range because the recruiter will likely try and start with the lowest possible number. Negotiating your salary is an acceptable and normal part of the hiring process that will come later once you’ve received an offer. For the purposes of your phone interview, they will likely tell you whether or not this position will be acceptable for the range you are given.
“For this position, my ideal salary would fall in the range of $55,000 to $65,000. I feel this is an appropriate amount for my experience level in this position.”
10. Test or scenario question.
During a phone interview, you might be asked to perform a simple test or respond to a scenario of some sort. They might be looking for something in your answer like your thought process, ability to be creative or think under pressure. While it might feel awkward to be silent on the phone, it is acceptable to ask for a moment to think about your answer.
During this time, calmly consider the steps you would take to respond to their test. Try and avoid taking more than 30 seconds to respond. You can also try asking clarifying questions to better understand what they’re looking for. Write down the question to make sure you address each part.
The employer asks you to provide ideas for marketing a local event on a tight budget. For this scenario, you might explain that grassroots marketing is both affordable and effective with local events. You would invest in strategized word-of-mouth efforts and a bold, teaser-style social media campaign. You provide examples of several local companies with the same mission that could help get the word out.
11. Are you interviewing with other companies?
You might be asked to explain where you are in the hiring process with other companies in a phone interview. This can be helpful for recruiters to understand how quickly they should move you through the process. If you are already interviewing for other positions, for example, you might be a higher risk candidate than those simply in the searching phase. To answer this question, be honest about your current situation but don’t feel the need to go into detail.
“While I feel this role is the better fit for what I’m looking for, I am in discussions with three other employers.”
12. When can you start?
One key piece of information employers may need upfront is when you would be able to start in a new role. They might be looking to fill the position quickly, so if you cannot start for another month or two they may need to look for other candidates. Take time before your interview to carefully consider the soonest date you will be able to start. Review the terms of your current role to make sure you can leave after the standard two weeks. If you are unemployed, you will likely be able to respond with “as soon as possible.”
“After getting an offer, I am able to start two weeks later to provide time for my current role to be filled.”
13. Tell me more about ...
Recruiters or hiring managers might ask about a specific item on your resume to get more details on your experience. For example, they might ask you to talk more about your achievements or responsibilities in your last job. Make sure to carefully review your resume before the phone interview—it might be helpful to have a digital or paper copy of it in front of you to refer back to. You might also write notes on your resume to highlight the experiences, education and skills that make you specially qualified for the position.
“Thanks for asking about my time at Crane & Jenkins. I was at the company for five years where I managed a team of five IT professionals to maintain, fix and improve our company systems. I developed network troubleshooting methods that reduced downtime and lower repair costs and worked closely with departmental managers to determine the maintenance and growth needs of the network. I feel that my time making innovative improvements would be particularly useful in this role as you look for candidates with experience speeding up processes.”
14. What type of management style do you prefer?
Employers may ask about your ideal management style to see whether or not you would fit well with the supervisor that will be managing you. For example, if you prefer to work with a trusting, collaborative manager that creates a calm, creative working environment, you might not work well with more fast-paced, aggressive leadership styles.
“While I’m flexible in working with many different personality types, I’ve found that the management style I thrive most under is both trusting and involved. While I don’t like to feel micromanaged, I do very much enjoy quality one-on-one time on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas for the projects I’m working on and how I can do better in my role.”
15. Do you have any questions?
It is important that when given the opportunity, you ask at least a few thoughtful questions to your phone interviewer. This shows you are engaged, actively listening and genuinely interested in the opportunity.
Researching the company is an easy way to understand the company’s history, mission and values. A great place to start is by browsing the company’s website. You can also search the internet for recent news articles. Use the information you find to help shape your questions. Your initiative will be well-received because it proves you took the time to learn about the company and industry.
Here are a few example questions you might consider asking:
What does a typical day look like for a person in this position?
How has this role grown or adapted to suit the needs of the organization?
What kind of growth does the company expect to see within the next five years?
Do you have any concerns about my experience or skill set?
Thank you for explaining the role to me in such depth. When might I hear back from you regarding next steps in the process?
Because you won't have visual cues to help you communicate, it's critical that your tone is friendly. Smile because others can hear it, even if they can't see it. Pause before speaking to avoid interrupting the interviewer. Have a copy of your resume in front of you, as well as any notes you may want to reference.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
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