Getting invited to a phone interview can feel like you’re making your first real step toward your next job.
So of course, you want to crush it. You want to go in prepared. You want to know what the interviewer is looking for, and you want to know what questions you’ll have to answer.
Usually, phone interviews are the first step in the hiring process and very high level: The interviewer is “screening for risks, they’re trying to validate your qualifications, and they want to see if you’re a fit,” says Muse career coach Tina Wascovich. “Who are you, what do you know about us, [and] why do you want to work here?”
Of course, it’s entirely possible you’ll get asked very specific questions that are unique to the job or your field. But more often than not you’ll get asked some of the the following common questions in a phone interview:
Read on to learn how to answer these questions (along with example answers), what other questions you might get, and how to prepare for your phone interview.
1. “Tell me about yourself.” Or, ”Walk me through your resume.”
These two similar (but not identical) questions are common interview openers. Asking one of these helps connect the dots between you and the position, says Muse career coach Angela Smith, a former recruiter. Sometimes the person interviewing you won’t be the hiring manager but a recruiter or someone in HR who has little background in your field. In that case, they may have zero context as to what makes your resume a good fit. “And for people who have a really diverse background or random jobs,” she adds, “it can be hard for the person reading the resume to make those connections.”
How to answer
Wascovich points out that what the interviewer is really looking for in your answer is: “Tell me about yourself as it’s relevant to the role you’re currently interviewing for.”
So focus on the skills and experiences that are most applicable. You can simplify your answer by using the “present-past-future” formula. Explain where you are and what you do now, segue into what you’ve done in the past, and end with a brief explanation of what you’re looking forward to doing in the future (and how it relates to this job!).
“Tell me about yourself” example answer
“I’ve been in the marketing industry for over five years, primarily working in account and project management roles. I most recently worked as a senior PM for a large tech company managing large marketing campaigns and overseeing other project managers. And now I’m looking to expand my experience across different industries, particularly fintech, which is why I'm so interested in joining an agency like yours.”
2. How did you find this role?
There are two reasons why someone would ask this: They’re genuinely curious (this information can be helpful for refining their recruiting process), or they want to understand why you applied and how you ended up in front of them. If you came across the job in a unique way, like through a personal connection, this can be especially important information for the interviewer to know.
How to answer
Easy—just say where you found the job (on a job board, through LinkedIn, via a networking contact) and a little bit about what made you actually apply.
“How did you find this role?” example answer
“I heard about an opening in your product department through a friend of a friend, Peyton Thomas, and since I’m a big fan of your work and have been following you for a while I decided it would be a great role for me to apply for.”
3. What do you know about our company?
The interviewer wants to know if you’ve done your research. Anyone can apply to an open job posting that’s up their alley. The right candidate will be passionate about the company itself and what it stands for.
How to answer
Don’t just regurgitate their “About” page. Rather, pick one or two qualities of the organization that resonate with you—their mission, their product, their brand, their company culture. Explain why you admire them, and provide an example of how they tie back to you.
“What do you know about our company?” example answer:
If you were applying to The Muse, you could say:
“I’ve been reading your advice articles for years, and I love your mission of helping people build careers they’re passionate about. I spent the past 10 years in roles I didn’t love before finally finding my niche in sales, and think it would be an amazing experience to help others avoid the path I took and find a job where they can thrive earlier in their careers.”
4. Why did you leave/are you leaving your last position?
While it might feel like the interviewer is digging for dirt, there’s actually a larger purpose to this question: Why you left a previous job (and how you talk about it) can say a lot about your work ethic and attitude.
This shouldn’t stop you from being honest if you were terminated for whatever reason. Being laid off or fired isn’t something to be ashamed about, nor is it always entirely your fault. And overcoming it professionally and proactively only impresses an interviewer more.
How to answer
No need to get deep in the weeds if you were let go or fired. The interviewer doesn’t want to rehash the uncomfortable details—they’d rather see what you’ve learned from the experience. Simply say, “I was let go for [reason]” and explain how this has made you a better and stronger employee.
If you’re moving on for another reason, whether you’re no longer growing, dislike your boss, or want to try something new, avoid badmouthing your past employer (even if you desperately want to) and focus instead on what you’re looking forward to accomplishing in your next role.
“Why did you leave your last position?” example answer
“I’ve been working in project management for several years now, and while I love the work I’m doing, I’d love to apply my skill set to the tech space—and believe this job would be the perfect opportunity to do so.”
5. Describe what you do in your current role.
Like the question “Tell me about yourself,” this provides context for the interviewer to get a sense of your skill set and expertise. It also shows whether or not you can effectively communicate your value proposition—as Wascovich points out, “If you can’t describe how you contribute on a daily basis, why should I hire you?”
How to answer
Don’t just focus on the “what” of your job—emphasize the impact. How do your responsibilities contribute to your team or company goals? How does your work make things more efficient or effective? What skills have you developed over time in this role, and how are they an asset to your company?
“Describe your current role” example answer:
“My day-to-day work involves analyzing our client data, which has a big impact on how the marketing and sales teams approach messaging and source new clients. I also collaborate frequently with the product team to help them understand who they’re building features for.”
6. What are you looking for in your next job?
This question “sets the expectation...in terms of what this person’s going to come in here and do for us and what they want to do for us,” Smith says. Ideally, your goals and the role’s should be aligned.
Your answer also says a lot to an interviewer about whether or not you’d be a good long-term hire. For example, you may be looking for a job where you can grow and move up in the next couple years, while this role leaves little room for mobility. Hashing this out now helps both you and the hiring manager avoid a less-than-ideal situation down the road.
How to answer
“If you already have a job and you’re looking for a different one, it’s because there’s something missing,” Smith says. “It’s OK to be honest about that. And there’s a way of doing it without badmouthing anybody or speaking poorly of your current employer.”
She suggests going with something like: “I’m at a point in my career where I’m really looking for more X.” Or you could say, “I believe I’ve really honed X skill, and as a result am excited to pursue Y.”
“What are you looking for in your next job?” example answer
“I’ve been honing my data analysis skills for a few years now and, first and foremost, I’m looking for a position where I can continue to exercise those skills. Another thing that’s important to me is that the position allows me to not only play with data, but also present my findings and suggestions directly to clients. Of course, the position is only part of the equation. Being at a company where I can grow and work toward something I care about matters, too. X Co’s goal of being the intersection between data and education inspires me, and I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
7. Why do you want this job?
Similar to some of the questions above, the interviewer asks this because they want to see if you did your research and actually care about who they are and what they do. What they don’t want to hear is, “I need a job and this one seemed cool.”
How to answer
There must be something that drew you to the role or company (besides money or perks). Focus on that. “Take a minute to go back and look at the company’s website or press releases or look at the job description again and be able to pull out a couple of specific things,” Smith says, “something that can personalize it for their recruiter a little bit so that it’s not super generic.” Then, connect that to your experience, career trajectory, and goals.
“Why do you want this job?” example answer
“Ever since my brother was diagnosed with a heart condition, I’ve been training and running with him in your annual Heart Run to raise money for your organization and help support patients with expenses not covered by insurance. Each time, I’ve been struck by how truly dedicated and happy to be there your employees have been. So when I saw this posting for a fundraising role, it felt like it was meant to be. For the last 10 years of my career I’ve been an account executive for various SaaS companies, and I’ve really honed my skills when it comes to convincing organizations to make regular payments for something over the long term. But I’ve been looking for a position in fundraising where I can use these skills to really help people and I’m highly motivated to do that with your organization.”
8. What are your salary requirements?
While it may seem presumptuous, interviewers ask this in phone interviews to quickly eliminate anyone who’s out of their budget.Oftentimes recruiters are given a certain amount per position, and rather than bring a candidate all the way through the process only to get stuck on salary, they want to ensure the person is comfortable with what they can offer.
How to answer
This isn’t meant to be a trick question, nor will shooting high necessarily put you out of the running. However, you’ll want to do your research to make sure you provide an accurate number or range that’s appropriate for the role and that you can back up with evidence of your value.
“Find out what the market bears for your particular area, and then figure out where you fit into that based on your experience and your education so that when you go into the interview and you’re asked that question you’re prepared to say, ‘Based on experience, based on this data, based on the market...my ideal salary would be in the range of X to Y,’” says Smith.
Talking salary depends heavily on where you are in the process. If this is an initial phone screen, you might have better luck keeping your answer vague, such as: “Right now I’m really interested in finding the right fit and am open to negotiating on salary.” Then, if they press you for a more specific answer you can give your range (this is why preparing ahead of time is so important!). Regardless, don’t bring up money unless they do—you’ll be in a better position to get the salary you want later on.
“What are your salary requirements?” example answer
“Taking into account my experience and Excel certifications, which you mentioned earlier would be very helpful to the team, I’m looking for somewhere between $42,000 and $46,000 annually for this role. But for me, benefits definitely matter as well. Your free on-site gym, the commuter benefits, and other perks could definitely allow me to be a bit flexible with salary.”
9. How do you like to be managed?
The manager-employee relationship is crucial for success, and the interviewer wants to be sure you’d get along and work well with your potential boss. And don’t we all want to work for a manager we jibe with?
For example, “If I know that the manager tends to be maybe a little bit more hands on and someone comes in and says that they don’t like micromanagers or that they like a manager to just trust them to do their job and back off, that might not work so well,” Smith says. She adds that this won’t necessarily sway their decision to not bring you back—rather, “It’s just another data point that I can share with whoever’s making the final decision.”
How to answer
“Don’t try to answer the question the way that you think they want to hear it. Just be honest,” Smith says. If it helps you craft a good answer, offer some examples of past good managers you’ve had or management styles you’ve come across that you’ve liked. And avoid mentioning any negative feedback or stories about old bosses or leaders.
“How do you like to be managed?” example answer
“The bosses I’ve worked best with in the past have set clear, concise, and realistic goals and expectations. I’m highly motivated by deadlines and being a part of not just my team’s success but the whole company’s, so working with someone who takes both of these things seriously and ties them back to everything they do allows me to perform at my best.”
10. Why should we hire you?
Plenty of people are qualified on paper for a single job. Interviewers want to narrow down their pool to those who stand out from the pack—and asking this question helps them do so.
How to answer
What’s great about this question is that it allows you an opportunity to really showcase what makes you special. So run with it!
What’s one thing no one else would bring to the table that you have? It could be a certain passion or skill, a connection to the company, or your experience solving a specific problem they currently have.
“Why should we hire you?” example answer
“As an executive assistant, I’ve managed schedules and booked travel. I’ve been responsible for monitoring multiple email accounts and handling expense reports. I’ve made sure everything was where it was supposed to be and found it if it wasn’t. No task is too big or too small. I’ve done it all. And actually, I’ve even done all these things in a different language. In my last role I frequently made calls and made arrangements in Spanish for international engagements. You mentioned that you have a trip coming up to Barcelona and travel to Spain often, so I’m sure my Spanish fluency would be an additional asset in this role.”
11. Are you willing to relocate?
This is a logistical question for interviewers to weed out anyone who’s immediately not a good fit purely based on where they’re located. But especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, being out of the area is not going to be an immediate disqualifier for all jobs. Depending on the company’s culture, set-up, and leadership styles, employers may consider letting you work remotely, paying for you to move, or assisting you in coming into the office every once in a while if needed. If the employer is only interested in candidates who would work in-person each day (for a role where it’s not necessary), consider what this says about organization and if it would be a good match for you.
How to answer
Simple: If you’re not in the area, tell them whether or not you’d move for the role. If it’s a bit more complicated, explain your situation succinctly and with an emphasis on how much you want the job.
“Are you willing to relocate?” example answer
“My kids just started school so we wouldn’t be able to relocate until their year is up. I’m really excited about this role, and I’d be more than willing to make it work remotely until then if you see that as a possibility.”
12. When can you start?
Sometimes a hiring manager needs to fill a position right away. In that case, they’d probably only consider you if you can start immediately. But when there’s no rush, they still ask this to strategize internally as to how long they’re willing to wait for the right hire.
How to answer
“If you’re not working, obviously [you] can say, ‘I’m free to start whenever you need me,’ and that’s always a great answer,” Smith says. But if you need to give notice at your current job, have a vacation planned, or have some other time constraint you’re working with, you can say something along the lines of, “I would be available X days/weeks after getting the offer,” or, “I can start anytime after [date].”
“When can you start?” example answer
“I’m excited for the opportunity to join your team. I plan to give two weeks’ notice at my current job to ensure a smooth transition for my coworkers and will be happy to come onboard with the team here after that time.”
13. Do you have any questions for me?
With this question, the interviewer genuinely wants to offer you the chance to get your questions and concerns addressed. Because after all, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you!
But the questions you ask also give them insight into your values and expertise—so make sure they’re thoughtful and tailored to the role, company, and person you’re speaking with.
How to answer
Prepare two to three questions ahead of time around the company or role’s goals, the team dynamic, your future manager, or the company culture. Even better, jot down any questions that pop into your head as you’re talking with them—this will show you’re paying attention and tailoring your responses accordingly. You should always try to ask specific questions, but here are some more general ones that you can sprinkle in or use as a jumping off point:
- What does a typical day or week look like in this role?
- Can you give me examples of projects I’d be working on?
- What learning and professional development opportunities are available to your employees?
- What’s your favorite part about working here?
- What’s one challenge you occasionally or regularly face in your job?
- What direction do you see this company heading in over the next few years?
- What are the next steps in the interview process?
- When can I expect to hear from you next?
Read More: 51 Great Questions to Ask in an Interview
Even more phone interview questions
Here are a few more questions that might come up in a phone interview, plus articles that will teach you more about how to answer these questions.
- What is your work style?
- What is your ideal work environment?
- What are you passionate about?
- What motivates you?
- What other companies are you interviewing with?
- What’s your greatest strength?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Have you ever worked remotely before?
- Are you able to come into the office [number] days each [week, month, etc.]?
How to prepare for a phone interview
Sometimes, you “don’t know when you’re going into the phone interview what type of interview it's going to be,” Smith says. This could be just a first-round screening call or it could be the only interview you’ll have. So it’s important to be well prepared for any scenario. Here are a few tips:
- Research the company and position beforehand. You’ve likely applied for a lot of jobs, and it’s understandable if you haven’t done all the research on every single position. But you should spend the time to look into the organization and understand what the open job entails ahead of a phone interview no matter how low stakes the conversation seems.
- Prep for job-specific questions. While we’ve gone over a lot of general interview questions that could be asked for a range of jobs, you may also get some that are specific to the position. So be ready to talk about technical skills or any specific experiences that will help show you’re qualified for this opening.
- Be ready for behavioral questions. In a similar vein, you may also get questions that start with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…”—a.k.a., behavioral interview questions. While it’s hard to predict exactly what these queries will be, you can prep several interview stories about different types of experiences and brush up on the STAR method.
- Create a phone interview cheat sheet to help you during the call. One of the advantages to a phone interview is that the person on the other end can’t see what you’re looking at (not that you can’t glance at a few notes during an in-person or video interview). Use this perk to the fullest by jotting down some of the most important points for each interview ahead of time.
- Practice. Once you’ve prepared your answers and your cheat sheet, do a mock interview with a friend or family member. Bonus points if you do it over the phone.
- Plan your environment. Plan to take the call in a quiet area with good phone reception and a low chance for interruption. Make sure you have your cheat sheet and your resume in front of you and headphones if you think you’ll need them. And for goodness’ sake, charge your phone!
- Read our list of phone interview tips for more in-depth advice. And if you’re looking for more help with interview questions, read this article on how to figure out what questions you’ll be asked and this one on common interview questions in any scenario.