Job Interviews by Phone and Video

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most interviews in the coming months will be virtual. So it’s important to know the etiquette for these types of interviews.

A phone interview is often the first step in a job interview process. A phone interview can be as short as 10 minutes, or it can last an hour. Be prepared. Treat the phone interview seriously, as it will in all likelihood determine whether you will be invited to continue to the next step in the process.

A challenge of the phone interview is that it can be difficult to gauge how the interviewer feels about your answers. You can’t read their visual cues. There may be pauses in conversation, and you may not be able to tell why. Maybe the interviewer is taking notes. The point is, it may be harder to tell how a phone interview is going, compared to an in-person interview. Be prepared for this ambiguity. If an interviewer sounds “cold,” or is taking lots of pauses, don’t assume that the interview is not going well. You might still be invited to the next interview. Additionally, be sure to tell the interviewer if you need a moment to think about a question, so they do not think the call has disconnected during a pause in conversation.

An alternative to a phone interview might be an interview using some sort of videoconference software, such as Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Before Your Phone or Virtual Interview

  • Print out the job description and a copy of your resume. Write down the interviewer’s phone number, in case you get disconnected and need to call the interviewer back.
  • Dress for an in-person interview. Wearing professional clothing can change the way you act. If you are using video, we recommend wearing dark clothes with a pop of color (e.g., tie or blouse). Keep in mind that some clothing details may not look good on screen. Avoid stripes and tight-knit patterns because the distortion might be distracting to look at. Do dress in a full professional outfit, so that if you should need to stand, you are not seen wearing your pajama bottoms.
  • Find a quiet place where you can speak at a reasonable volume. Get settled at least 15 minutes before the scheduled call time in case you are called earlier than expected. If you have roommates, pets or children, ensure they are elsewhere during your interview. If you are using video, make sure the room is well-lit and that the area in view of the camera does not have anything in it that you would not want an employer to see (inappropriate posters, for example). 
  • Avoid technical difficulties by making sure your Internet connection is reliable. If you are using Zoom, familiarize yourself with its features in advance (and choose a professional-sounding username). Make sure your headphones are plugged in securely.
  • Use a landline for phone interviews if at all possible. The sound quality will be better than on a cell phone, and you are less likely to experience delays or dropped calls.
  • Disable extra features and programs. If you are using a phone, disable extra features such as call waiting, texting, or an answering machine for an additional phone line to prevent distracting noises. Most phone companies let you disable and re-activate these features on a self-service basis. If you are interviewing over video, the only websites you should have open are the company’s homepage and the service which you are using to teleconference. Turn off all programs that might pop up with an alert, such as email or instant messaging.

During Your Telephone or Virtual Interview

  • Answer the incoming call with your name. This lets the interviewer know they have the right number and person. Know in advance exactly how you will greet the caller and start the conversation.
  • Smile. Smiling when you speak brings energy and excitement to your voice.
  • Pay attention to your body language. We recommended you sit with good posture, regardless of whether anyone can see you, because when you sit up straight, your voice is likely to project better. Do not be afraid to use your hands to be expressive, if that is normal for you. If you are using Zoom or Google Hangouts, look directly at the camera (NOT the image on the screen) and lean in slightly towards it, to convey interest.
  • Pause a second or two longer than you normally would before answering a question to make sure the interviewer has stopped speaking. That way, if there is a lag, you can avoid interrupting the interviewer. 

After Your Phone or Virtual Interview

  • Send a thank-you note, quickly. Unlike a face-to-face interview, there is no commute afterwards. Send a thank-you email an hour or two after the interview. If you cannot send the email right away, make several notes about the call. These will come in handy when you send a thank-you note later that day.

Adapted from CBS Moneywatch online article by Amy Levin-Upstein (2011) and U.S. News online article by Andrew G. Rosen (2011).

HireVue and other pre-recorded interviews

  • Just because an interview is pre-recorded does not mean you should prepare for it any less than you would an in-person interview. Not only does this include preparing for how you would answer questions, it also includes thinking through things like your wardrobe selection.
  • It is crucial that you test the technology before you start. Make sure your computer has had any and all relevant software updates. You don’t want to risk anything computer-related interfering with your virtual interview. Record a few rounds of you answering sample interview questions to make sure your laptop camera and microphone are working as they should.
  • You’ll want to position yourself so that you sit in front of a light source. If the light is behind you, your face will be shrouded in darkness. Similarly, make sure you do not sit with an open window behind you, because interviewers might be distracted by what’s going on out the window. It is best to be in a room that is well-lit and undisturbed for the duration of your virtual interview.
  • Practice making “eye contact” with the camera that’s recording you. So often, we are looking at the screen as we respond to what people ask or say to us. However, if you look at the webcam, you are simulating the act of making eye contact with your interviewers.