Phone Interviews in English: checklist

Do you have a phone interview in English soon?

Some people think that phone interviews are the easiest kind of interview because the interviewer can't see you.

Yay, you can wear jeans and use notes!

Actually, they're not easy at all.

I think phone interviews are harder for non-native English speakers because you can't see the interviewer. You have to understand their words without seeing their face or body.

How to succeed at a phone interview in English


You have to prepare for phone interviews just like you would prepare for a face-to-face interview (but don't worry about your outfit!).

So, how do you prepare?

Before the interview

Step 1. Research the school or company

Use their website, social media accounts, Google, and any hard copy marketing materials

This will make you stand out from applicants who didn’t do research and will help you answer the potential question: "Why do you want to go to this school/Why do you want to work here?"

Step 2. Research the competitors (other similar schools/companies)

If you’re interviewing at the University of Michigan, for example, you should know what similar schools are. You will probably be asked a question like, “Why do you want to go here?” This means, "Why do you want to go here and not to the University of Wisconsin?"

If you don’t know anything about the competing schools, you’ll have a hard time answering this question.

Similarly, if you're interviewing at Microsoft, you need to have specific, detailed, real reasons why you want to work there.

Of course, this should also be part of your application process – by the time you have an interview, you have probably (I hope) researched all competitors and will know why you like the company.

Step 3. Research the interviewer

You may know the name of the person interviewing you and you may not. If you know it, you should research them so you know what their interests are. This may be useful during small talk.

Use LinkedIn and Google.

Step 4. Practice answers to common interview questions

(A) Write your answers down.

(B) Say them aloud in front of a mirror or video camera.

(C) Then do a mock (practice) interview with someone.

I have my clients write the answers down for me and I correct them. Then they practice the answers in the mirror. Then they practice the answers with me and I correct them.

Too many steps?

If you're a new interviewer or if your English isn't perfect, it does take all of this to succeed.

Step 5.  Prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer

You need to ask questions during the interview and also at the end. Asking questions proves you're paying attention and shows your interest.

Step 6. Prepare for small talk in English

The interview tests your social skills. If you can’t talk about small talk topics, the interviewer will not be impressed.

Step 7. Evaluate your English

You’ve prepared for the questions and the small talk. How did you do? Were you able to say what you needed to say in English?

If not, you may need to do a quick intensive review of your English before you go for the interview. Get out your old English textbooks and study or work with a teacher for a short-term practice session.

Don’t let English problems keep you from sounding professional.

Step 8. Find a quiet place with a desk for your notes

Right before the interview starts, get your space ready:

  • Charge your phone

  • Find a quiet place to talk

  • Turn off the tv, radio, etc.

  • Have pen and paper ready - no typing during the interview (too noisy)

  • Have your CV ready - you'll be asked questions about your experiences

  • Have your notes ready

During the interview 

Step 1. Give a polite greeting

The first 15 seconds of the interview are the most important.

Be polite, professional, and friendly when you say hello.

The greeting will be something like this:

  • “Hello, this is Jennifer Scupi."

  • “Hi Jennifer, this is [interviewer] calling from [company/school].”

  • “Hi [interviewer]. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.”

Here is a list of greetings

Step 2. Don't read your answers

I know you're excited that your interview is a phone interview, because you think it will be easier. You made a list of possible questions and wrote answers to them so you can read them aloud.

After all, they can't see you, so why not?


Do not do this. If you read your answers, you'll sound like a robot.

Sounding natural is your goal (well actually you need to sound natural, smart, and professional).

So what should you do?

Practice your answers enough so that you don't need to read them. You can use notes, but don't read word for word.

Step 3. Use a natural, conversational tone

Instead of reading your answers, use notes to remind you of points you need to make and then speak naturally.

You want to sound like you're talking to a friend, not reading out loud.

Here's an example of the beginning of a response to the question, "Tell me about yourself."

"I’m from Xiamen, which is the west of China. I’m a senior at Xiamen University, one of the best engineering schools in China. I’m majoring in Chemical Engineering."

Okay, now try reading this aloud.

Did you read it with the same emphasis on each word? Most people do.

The problem with that is that all words sound the same. This is called monotone, which means same tone.

Listen to yourself when you talk to a friend. You emphasize different words in the sentence. This is normal. We naturally stress some words more.

 When you're reading, either you need to learn to read so that you sound natural, or you need to stop reading and just speak normally. 

If you are speaking normally, you will probably emphasize these words:

"I’m from Xiamen, which is the west of China. I’m a senior at Xiamen University, one of the best engineering schools in China. I’m majoring in Chemical Engineering."

This example sounds natural.

Step 4. Slow down and speak clearly

Sometimes I have a client who types their answers to me and they're perfect, but then when they say them to me over Skype I can't understand them well.

They speak too quickly and their accent makes it hard to understand.

How can you improve your speech quickly before your interview?

  • Wait 3 seconds after the interviewer stops talking before you speak.

  • Speak slowly.

  • Pronounce each word clearly.

Are you speaking clearly? 

Ask a friend to listen to you in English or send me a video/audio of you answering a common question.

Step 5. Copy your interviewer

Listen to how your interviewer is speaking and copy them.

If your interviewer speaks loudly and your voice is quiet, you need to be louder than normal.

If your interviewer speaks very softly and your natural voice is loud, speak more quietly.

If your interviewer speaks slowly and you talk and talk and talk, you need to slow down.

Matching their speed and volume will make them feel more comfortable with you.

Step 6. Don't talk too much

Some people worry about not having anything to say in an interview. Yes, that can be a problem, but I think a bigger one is talking too much.

Your answers should be about a minute to a minute and a half. Any more and you are boring the interviewer.

If you structure your answer correctly, you can deliver enough information in 90 seconds.

Step 7. Don't raise your voice at the end of a sentence

It's common for people to raise their voice at the end of a sentence.

This is normal if you're asking a question. "Are you hungry?" If you say this correctly the end of "hungry" is in a higher tone than the beginning. This is how we indicate something is a question in English.

However, if you're not asking a question, you don't want to sound like you are.

Imagine this:

"Do you know how to lead a project?"  

"Yes, I've led several projects?"

If you raise your voice on the last word it makes the sentence sound like a question. You don't want to ask a question, you want to make a statement.

Step 8. Be positive

I know you might be nervous at an interview and so you might not feel like you're happy or comfortable. However, you have to try to smile, be friendly, show that you're interested in the job, and use positive words when you answer questions.

  • Smile – Why should you smile when they can't see you? Because they will hear the smile in your voice.

  • Be friendly - Be polite, listen when they speak, and show interest in their comments.

  • Show interest – Sometimes we think people know what we're thinking but they don't. You know you want the job, but have you told them?

  • Don't be negative – Don't complain about anything. People want to work with or go to school with happy, friendly people, not ones who say negative things about their colleagues and bosses.

I know that interviewing in English is difficult for non-native speakers, but if you prepare ahead of time you can succeed in the interview and get admitted or get the job. Just remember to prepare for your phone interview the same way you prepare for an in-person interview.


 I’m happy to say that after working with me, my clients, who range from entry level to executive level, have done well in their interviews and gotten the job they wanted.

If you’d like to work with me to prepare for your interview, email me at to schedule a free 15 minute consultation or a full interview prep session.

Interview Genie is an American interview prep company specializing in interviews at American companies.