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Top 10 Phone Interview Questions

Knowing what phone interview questions you will likely be asked can reduce your anxiety about talking to prospective employers.

From an employer's perspective...

The only purpose of a phone interview is to determine whether or not it is worth their time, effort, and expense to bring you in for a face-to-face interview.

Your resume has already done it's job of convincing them you meet their minimum requirements.

Now they want to ask you some specific questions to make sure your resume isn't just a slick brochure with a lot of catchy buzz words, but without much depth behind it.

They also want to get a feel for your personality, how well you communicate, and measure your depth of knowledge on specific skill set requirements.

Short List of Phone Interview Questions...with Best Answers

  1. Why did you leave your last job? Why do you want to leave your current job?
  2. What are you currently earning?
  3. What are your salary expectations?
  4. Will you relocate?
  5. Will you travel? What % of overnight travel would you be willing to do on a monthly basis?
  6. On a scale of 1 -10, how would you rank your skill level with: (fill in the blank)? (computer programs like PowerPoint, Excel, Word, ProE; computer systems like SAP or JDE; quality systems like ISO)
  7. What are your career goals?
  8. What are your greatest strengths?
  9. What was your greatest accomplishment?
  10. When can you start?

Note: If you can't pass my Mock Job Interview Quiz, consider rescheduling your interview.

Most of the time, not always, if you are being asked phone interview questions by someone in Human Resources, you are going to feel more on the defensive.

One of HR's jobs is to verify the information you've provided on your resume and screen you out if you fall short.

At best, their attitude will be indifferent towards you.

Don't be put off by this. Many candidates are disappointed after they hang up from a phone interview and have no idea how well they did.

They often are pleasantly surprised when they are invited in for an interview.

Why are phone interviews kind of cold and all business?

Imagine if your job was to phone interview 10-20 candidates a day--every day. Believe me, it's tiresome and monotonous. HR Specialists have their phone interview questions listed on a form and they just want to get through your interview as quickly as possible.

It's a process and you're a number.

On the other hand, sometimes candidates are interviewed by a very personable, warm, engaging HR Specialist.

Too often candidates get lulled to sleep and don't do very well, but think they did great. When candidates get the news they will not be invited in for an on-site interview...they are shocked.

But, the HR Specialist was so nice!

The more job openings a company has, the more mechanical the phone interview process will be.

The fewer the job openings a company has, the warmer it will be. Either way don't judge the company or the opportunity based on how you were asked the phone interview questions.

You don't have enough information yet about the company or the people you will be working for.

If you are unemployed, you will be more anxious and emotional about things. When we are under stress or depressed we read too much into things and tend to be on the defensive and overreact.

As a general rule, try not to pre-judge any job opportunity until you've actually interviewed on site and have enough information to make your decision.

One last thing... before we dive into the phone interview questions.

If you are interviewed by the department manager (your future boss), expect fewer screening type questions and more job related discussions. Phone interviews with the department manager can run twice as long if they like you. I've seen some phone interviews go 60-90 minutes vs a typical 20-30 minutes with someone in HR.

Always find out who will be interviewing you.

Phone Interview Question 1

Why do you want to leave your current job?

This phone interview question is covered in depth under my page, frequently asked interview questions.

Before you go there, I want to share something with you.

Notice how right off the bat you're smacked with a defensive type question. If this were a face-to-face interview you would never be asked this question right away.

You would be asked something softer like, tell me about yourself, or something a little more warm and positive.

Reason I share this with you is to prepare you mentally to be more on the defensive when answering phone interview questions.

You're going to feel like you're being processed at the license bureau to renew your driver's license. Not quite--but close.

If you're prepared, fear not. Be professional and be yourself.

Your goal is to impress them enough to be invited in for an interview.

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 2

What are you currently earning?

This is one of those phone interview questions that puts you at some risk, but you really have no choice but to answer it. You don't have much wiggle room here.

If you don't tell them your current salary, they will perceive you as being uncooperative--or too headstrong.

This could hurt your chances of being invited in.

And, if you don't get invited in, you won't get to the offer stage anyway. So, you are better off answering the question.

Why do they need to know this?

After all, don't all companies have a salary range for their openings?

Pay me what I'm worth!

Why should you benchmark my potential offer from what I'm making? I don't want to get shortchanged like my last job.

You may also be thinking, who cares?,

I need a paycheck so bad right now I don't care what you pay me. But, I don't want to come across as being desperate.

Good questions and thoughts, but this is what the decision makers are asking themselves while you're going through your mental tempest.

  • Can we afford you?
  • If we hire you at the top of our salary range, how can we give you a raise unless we promote you?
  • Where is your salary in relation to others who already work here?
  • How can we work around any salary equity issues with existing employees?
  • If you make well below our salary minimum, why?

Your best approach to this phone interview question is to simply answer it and let the chips fall where they may.

If you know you are highly paid, overqualified, flat need or really want the job, it's ok to add that you are flexible on the salary.

Understand that when you add this little tidbit of information, what you are really saying is, I'll settle for less.

How do you know if they might be perfectly willing to pay you at or above your current salary?

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 3

What are your salary expectations?

Ok--you just got over the discomfort of telling them what you earn; now they want you to name your price.

I can see the beads of sweat on your brow as you reach for your handkerchief. (does anyone carry one of these anymore?)

There are ways to answer this phone interview question without taking away your negotiating leverage at the offer stage.

More on this in a minute.

Always try and find out as much as you can about a company before you interview with them. See if you have a friend who knows someone who works there or has worked there in the recent past.

Ask your friend to introduce you to this insider so you can pick up some intelligence about this company.

Sometimes insiders will actually share with you some of the company's phone interview questions.

This will be much easier to do if you are signed up with LinkedIn. This is a very powerful free networking tool for professionals at all levels.

If you are working through an Executive Recruiter, they will know the salary range and should be able to ballpark what is within the realm of possibility.

Recruiters are paid a fee based on a percentage of your offer. They have a vested interest in negotiating the best offer for you.

Unlike the previous salary question, you do have some wiggle room with this phone interview question.

As a matter of fact, you should actually try and avoid giving them a direct answer.

This isn't always possible, but you should always try before collapsing and giving them a number.

Let's listen in on a hypothetical phone interview to see how our golden candidate answers this phone interview question.

In this dialogue, let's assume the company has already asked the candidate what they are currently earning. We'll then do the same dialogue if the company didn't previously ask what they earn.

  • Company: What are your salary expectations?
  • Candidate: I'm pretty flexible and open. I'm sure you will make me a fair offer.
  • Company: Can you give me a ballpark range of where you need to be?
  • Candidate: It really depends on the value of the entire package--benefits, 401K, bonus--and the excitement level of the job. I'm not really sure at this point. I'm sure your offer will be reasonable.
  • Company: You must have some idea what you need in a base salary; what is it?
  • Candidate: Well, as we discussed, my current base salary is $75,000. It would be ideal to get a reasonable increase over my current base; but again, it depends on the entire package. I'm sure we can work something out.
  • Company: So, $77,000 to $80,000 would work for you?
  • Candidate: Perhaps...this might work. Look...I'm not trying to be evasive. I really am flexible, but I just don't have enough information about the job yet. So, I'm hoping you will invite me in for an interview so I can share with you my strengths and get a better understand the scope of the job. I'm very excited about this.

Notice in this example how the company escalates the pressure for an answer and how well the candidate handles it.

I wanted you to see this because most interviewers will not grind you this long for an answer.

Most interviewers will give up after the first 1-2 attempts and move on to other phone interview questions. However, I wanted to give you the worst case scenario just in case your interviewer is Atilla the Hun.

If the company hasn't asked you what you are currently earning and just pops the question, What are your salary expectations?, answer all the phone interview questions the same way except the last one.

Just drop the words, as we discussed. Everything else is the same.

The reason you don't want to get nailed down with a specific salary amount is it reduces your negotiating leverage at the end.

It's really premature to be discussing salary because you don't know if you really want to work there, and the company hasn't established yet the value of your service to them.

The above gambits have worked well for me over the years. Even if you collapse and blab a number you later regret, you can still recover at the offer stage--especially if the company really wants to hire you.

Obviously if this is your dream job in your dream location, you might even consider a pay cut.

On the other hand, if you are a walk on water candidate, the company might give you an unexpected generous offer with a sign-on bonus. All this value and desire is only established in the actual on-site interview.

If you can't pass my mock job interview quiz you're simply not ready for your job interview. Do you know your fatal flaws?

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 4

Will you relocate?

Even if the job you are applying for does not require relocation, you still might be asked this question.

All of the important reasons why are covered in depth on my web page common job interview questions.

When you're finished reading this, just hit the back button on your browser to return here. I'll be waiting for you.

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 5

Will you travel...and what % of overnight travel a month?

Your answer to these phone interview questions will vary depending on the following job parameters:

  • Travel is a big part of the job, i.e., sales, supply chain management, supplier quality, auditing.
  • Travel is a small part of the job, i.e., occasional trips to home office, vendors, customers, training.
  • No travel is required, i.e., administrators, coordinators, support type positions.

Let's discuss each of these travel situations in reverse order.

Why would a company ask you if you would be willing to travel if your job doesn't require you to travel?

Three reasons:

  1. There might be another position available that you are better qualified for that does require travel.
  2. Many companies like to hire people who are promotable to the next 2 levels above the position they're applying for. One of those positions may require travel. This is a good sign they see you as promotable.
  3. Some companies like to throw you a curve ball to see how flexible and adaptable you are.

Appropriate responses and questions for the travel phone interview question if the job was advertised as a non-travel position, but you still get asked anyway:

  • Ask your interviewer if this position requires travel, just to be sure.
  • If they confirm that no travel is required, ask if you are being considered for another position that does require travel.
  • If you are wide open to it, just answer the question affirmatively. Travel levels at most companies fall within these parameters:
  • Low: 10% or less
  • Moderate: 20-30%
  • High: 50-60%
  • Road Warrior: 80-90%
  • If you can't travel right now, but would consider it in the future, give them some idea when you could travel. Don't worry about nailing down how much right now. Just tell them you are flexible and open to it depending on the job.

If travel is a definite requirement for the job you are applying for, consider the following responses and questions:

  • Decide in advance your threshold of pain for travel and stick to it. You might need a job very badly and agree to Road Warrior travel, but deep in your soul you're saying to yourself, no way. Don't commit to a job with a heavy travel regimen, hate it, put your marriage at risk, have no life outside of work, then quit, making you look like a job hopper or someone who can't stick with things.
  • Find out what kind of travel you will be doing and to where. Types of travel:
  • Local: mostly driving, requiring occasional or no overnights.
  • Regional: mostly driving, requiring 10-20% overnight stays. Minimal airline travel.
  • National: most trips will be at least a week in duration, frequent airline travel, car rental.
  • International: gone 2-3 weeks at a time, different time zones.
  • Find out if the company provides you with a car or a car allowance.
  • It's too early to dig into all the nuances of a company's travel policy. Wait for the on-site interview to probe further.

Company expectations are high today. They are looking for committed, flexible, whatever-it-takes people.

Even so, to thine own self be true.

Don't be tempted to tell a company what they want to hear.

Most marriages and families can't handle the stress of a heavy travel job. If you're single, it's still challenging because you have no one at home to manage all of your personal affairs.

It's also hard to develop a serious relationship with someone if you're gone all the time.

Lastly--during your face-to-face interview, find out how long you will be expected to maintain a certain travel regimen. In other words, you might have to travel 50% of the time for the first year of your job; thereafter, your travel will throttle back to 20%.

True Story: When I was a District Sales Manager with Fleetwood I was offered a promotion to Product Sales Manager.

The overnight travel requirement was 30-40%. At the time I had 4 small children at home and this much travel stretched the limits of our tolerance.

When I was offered the promotion I was told I would be a PSM for at least 2 years, but the chances were very good that I would be promoted to a Regional Sales Director at the end of this 2 year period.

An RSD only traveled 10% of the time. Also, the pay grade for an RSD was substantially higher.

My wife and I discussed it and felt it would be worth it to make this 2 year travel sacrifice to get to the next level. It was tough, but we did it.

Almost 2 years to the day I was promoted to Regional Sales Director and my travel was very reasonable.

Jump back to short list of questions

If you, or someone you care about, has been unemployed for 6 months...or book will help you pinpoint what you're doing wrong.

Watch a short video on why this book different: Why Don't They Call Me? ~ Job Search Wisdom to Get you Unstuck.

Phone Interview Question 6

On a scale of 1 -10, rank your skill level with (fill in the blank)?

I can guarantee you will be asked this phone interview question.

If a particular level of expertise is required, you may also be asked phone interview questions about specific language, methodologies, or protocols peculiar to their system, software, or processes.

Usually there is a minimal level of competency required. So, this question could be a deal breaker as you either know something or you don't.

You simply don't have a lot of wiggle room here.

Special Tip: Companies hire people for only 3 reasons: Save money, save time, make money.

Few people meet or exceed 100% of a company's hiring requirements.

Most companies will phone interview you if you meet 8 out of 10 of their requirements. However, their flexibility to move forward with you depends on their pain level and the nature of their problems.

For example, if they are going to implement an SAP system over the next 18 months and you have no expertise with SAP...guess what?

On the other hand, if they have a mature SAP system, but are having organizational or behavioral issues in this department, your leadership skills are what they need most.

They can always teach you SAP.

Technique 1: Before your interview, try and find out what problems the company is struggling with.

If these shortcomings speak to your strengths, prepare your job interview to amplify this. You could be an answer to their prayers despite having minimal SAP or whatever experience.

Technique 2: If your phone interview results in you not being invited in for an interview, try this.

Send a short email to your interviewer thanking them for your interview, but asking for reconsideration based on...elaborate on why you still feel you are a fit.

Keep your explanation short, but include specifics or something measurable to build your credibility rather than generalities or fluff.

This is an especially powerful technique if your interview was conducted by an HR Manager or HR Specialist.

HR might have screened you out without the hiring manager ever seeing your resume or your answers to their phone interview questions.

When your email arrives HR often forwards it on to the hiring manager with a note that says something like this:

Brenda, I did a phone interview with this candidate yesterday, but feel they fall way short of your SAP requirement. They sent me this email and I thought I should run it by you just in case I missed something. Let me know if you'd like me to set up an interview for you or get more information. Thanks.

I've successfully used this technique with my candidates on numerous occasions. It works about 30% of the time.

Your phone interview mission = get an on-site interview.

No one ever hired a resume and no one has ever received an offer after a phone interview. You need to get in front of a hiring authority.

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 7

What are your career goals?

This is one of the phone interview questions that is also frequently asked in a face-to-face interview setting. For a complete discussion, go to my web page good answers to interview questions.

I'll be waiting for you when you come back.

Word to the wise: If you are a manager who is open to stepping down to an individual contributor role, be careful how you answer this phone interview question.

Always ask yourself, What is the fear behind this question?

The company is afraid you will quickly tire of this position and be out campaigning for a promotion; or, you will just mark time until you find the manager job you really want. In the meantime, you're just here for a paycheck until something better comes along.

Also, they may be thinking that you will be difficult to manage because you're use to calling the shots. Some managers may even see you as a threat. So, be sensitive to all these concerns when you answer this question.

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 8

What are your greatest strengths?

This is another question that I guarantee you will be asked. You will also be asked this question in your on-site interview....perhaps even several times by different people.

The main idea is to get you talking to assess your communication skills.

This phone interview question also tests whether or not you prepared for your phone interview....since just about everyone knows this question will be asked.

Most people who try to answer this question off the cuff struggle to promote their attributes in a fluid, seamless manner.

Tip: Find a quiet place where you will be alone and uninterrupted for at least an hour. Randomly write down everything you're good at.

I've prepared for you a checklist of 109 attributes that will help you assess all of your strengths and unique gifts.

After you've done this, study the detailed comments I've prepared on promoting your strengths at good interview questions.

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 9

What was your greatest accomplishment?

This is another very popular question that even after your phone interview you could be asked multiple times when you're face-to-face with hiring authorities.

Your response to this question has more impact than the question, What are your strengths?.

I've devoted a detailed web page on how to best answer this question at best-interview-questions.

Tip: Rehearse your answers out loud. Make sure your response is no more than 60 seconds.

Jump back to short list of questions

Phone Interview Question 10

When can you start?

This seems like a straightforward, easy question to answer. Why should you worry about this one?

Three good reasons:

  1. Companies want to fill their openings yesterday.
  2. Companies want to make sure you are a real candidate, not just someone who is seeing what is out there because you're worried about the uncertainties at your company; or, you're upset because you didn't get the raise you were expecting.
  3. If your start date is a long ways off, companies fear you might back out at the last minute or just not show up.

Let's look at each one of these company concerns in greater depth.

Urgency to fill their opening:

Most companies today are operating very lean. Employees are shouldering more work than ever before. When companies downsize, the workload is divided up among the remaining employees who already have more than they can handle.

During sluggish economies, companies would rather not hire someone unless they have no other choice.

This means that a company has to be in a significant amount of pain before they add someone to the payroll.

When they do finally decide to hire someone, they want the position filled yesterday. They don't want to hear that you will start in 3-4 weeks.

Most likely you will have a lot of competition for the job you are interviewing for.

In many cases they will have 2-3 excellent back-up candidates they can hire if the leading candidate starts sending signals that they are lukewarm about the job.

All things being equal, the one who can start in 2 weeks or less, will be the one extended an offer.

Tire kicker candidates:

When times are tough or a company is getting shakey, people get nervous and want to see what's out there.

There is nothing wrong with this; however, about half of the time these folks will not pull the trigger and go through all the trauma of resigning if a company makes them an offer.

Companies are smart enough to know this. So, if one of the phone interview questions is: When can you start?, and you hem and haw on the phone, they'll suspect you are a tire kicker.

On the other hand, if you respond with, I can start right away...or 2 weeks tops, you get a Brownie point as you sound like a serious candidate.

Shopper candidate:

The other troubling problem companies face is candidates who are actively interviewing and have other offers on the horizon.

In these cases, candidates often delay their start date to buy themselves more time to finish interviewing with other companies.

Even if you are a good actor and hide this from prospective employers, companies become suspicious when you can't start for 4 weeks for...personal reasons.

Look at it from the company's perspective. Their ideal candidate accepts their offer and then negotiates a 3-4 week start wrap up some personal things.

The company closes off their recruiting efforts, pulls their ads, tells the runner-up candidates they've hired someone else, and anxiously await their new hire to show up for work at the predetermined date.

The day before this candidate's start date, the HR Manager is greeted first thing in the morning by the following voice mail:

BEEP...Monday, October 10, 3:09AM...Ahhhh...hello Kelly. Ummm...this is Jim Backpeddler calling. I'm afraid I have some bad news. (pause) I've decided not to come to work for Gene Splicing International after all. I'm very, very sorry about this and appreciate everything you guys did for me throughout the 2 month interviewing process. But, another company approached me in the midnight hour with an offer I just couldn't refuse...and...well...I accepted it. Again, thanks for everything...have a nice life...bye.

Notice how our friend Jim conveniently leaves a voice mail at 3:09AM to avoid actually speaking to someone. Return phone calls from the company are usually ignored.

These kinds of voice mail messages are all the same. A company miraculously approached them in the midnight hour, and the offer was so unbelievable they just couldn't turn it down.

Candidates hide behind voice mail or email and leave companies in the position of having to start their job search all over again from square one.

And, companies don't appreciate it too much.

This happens more often than you would think. Once a company has been burned by this once or twice, they never want it to happen again.

So, they stick the start date question on their list of phone interview questions to gauge your motivation level.

Jump back to the short list of questions

Editorial Rant: The focus of my website is you, the job seeker.

Every once is awhile I'm going to chastise job seekers for bad behavior. I hope this doesn't offend you.

I know companies certainly aren't angels and I have plenty of stories I will share with you from time to time. But, I want you to see things from both sides of the table.

Making a job change is stressful and emotional.

Whenever you mix stress and emotions, our better judgment is vulnerable to compromise. The more awareness you have of what everyone is thinking on both sides of the table, the better you will be able to manage your own ethics.

You may also be interested in these job interview topics:

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