15 Tips to Ace Your Federal Job Phone Interview

Phone interviews can be rough. It’s difficult to determine how to respond to an interviewer’s questions when you can’t pick up on non-verbal clues, making a connection with someone on the phone is nearly impossible, and many people don’t do well “performing” when there isn’t an audience to see.

But, there are also some benefits of the phone interview that can help you perform as well as, if not better than, during an in-person interview. Below are some tips to help you prepare for and ace your next interview to move you forward in the hiring process.

  1. Do your homework: Like any job interview, you need to prepare. Review your resume to remind yourself of what you’ve highlighted, conduct background research on the agency, and re-read the job posting.
  2. Create a cheat sheet: As an extension of #1, there is something great about a phone interview in regards to all of this research: You can make yourself notes or print out important information to remind yourself to cover it during the interview. Print out your resume and highlight or underline the projects, positions, or skills you absolutely want to speak about. Do the same for the background info on the agency or the job posting. A word of caution here: Having actual printouts will serve you better than pulling up screens on your computer (which can cause you to become distracted) but you want to be sure that you aren’t shuffling papers around in the background. Either lay out your papers or tape them on the wall as a reference.
  3. Keep a pen and paper close by: Take notes as the interviewer speaks to you so that you can remember key information shared about the position or even jot down a few thoughts on the highlights you want to hit as you answer the question. This can help to keep your answers more focused, which succinct format of a phone interview.
  4. Practice with a friend: Before your phone interview, have a friend or family member call you and offer some practice questions. This can help you get more comfortable with the format and with keeping your answers brief but meaningful.
  5. Calm yourself before the interview: Because you don’t have to go into an office, you are free to use those moments before the call begins to calm yourself however you need to. Practice deep breathing, stretch, or listen to some music. Whatever works best for you.
  6. Find a quiet spot: Don’t conduct your phone interview from a coffee shop, outside, or in a room with your pets. Find a quiet space, close the door if you can, and turn off any possible interruptions such as other phones ringing, text messages buzzing, emails binging on your computer, etc.
  7. Use a landline (if possible): Even if you have the greatest service ever on your cellphone, there is always that chance that it cuts out mid-interview. If you can, use a landline.
  8. Don’t say “hello?”: Your interviewer needs to know that you’re the correct person to talk to, and they shouldn’t have to dig for an answer. Make it easy by answering the phone with a greeting such as “Hello, this is [your name].”
  9. Adopt a confident pose: Just as you would during an in-person interview, sit up straight. Don’t lay on the couch or slouch or walk around and get yourself out of breath. Envision yourself in the interview room, and behave as you would in person. And don’t forget to breathe and smile.
  10. Make use of your mute button: If you need to take a sip of water or a really deep breath, put your phone on mute for a moment (practice using this feature before the interview). Just be sure to immediately unmute the call once you’re done.
  11. Focus: It can be difficult to remain focused during a phone call. How often are you talking with someone while you’re also checking Facebook, folding clothes, or making dinner? It is important that you remain 100% focused on your interview. Don’t play on your phone or computer or let your mind wander.
  12. Get over the non-verbal clues: Sure, the general belief is that 55% of all communication is translated through body language, but guess what? Unless you’re doing a videoconference interview, you won’t have the benefit of seeing the interviewer. So you just have to make do without it. Don’t let this be a debilitating factor. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to do an even better job selling yourself (plus, you won’t have to worry about an errant coffee stain, sweating, or talking with your hands too much).
  13. Make the ends of your statements clear: When you aren’t in person, it can be difficult for the interviewer to know that you have completed your answer to a question. Don’t end your statements with phrases like “so, yeah” or “so….”. Instead, make clear that you are done with your answer by closing with something more along the lines of “and those are the key skills that I would bring to this position” or another statement that either rephrases or repeats the initial question.
  14. Tighten up your language: The point of the phone interview is to be brief. Therefore, you need to get all of the important information about yourself across to the interviewer in a direct, succinct fashion. As you’re completing your interview prep, look for keywords in the job posting and utilize those in your answers. Write out answers that you think would best answer common interview questions, then edit them down into the most efficient statement possible. Don’t read your answers during the interviews, but instead draw on what you’ve written to provide your answer.
  15. Be honest: It can be tempting to stretch the truth during an interview, especially on the phone because the interviewer won’t be able to see you fidget or break eye contact or whatever your “tell” might be. Above all, whether you’re interviewing in person or on the phone, be honest. It won’t benefit you in the long-run to lie, especially if you get the job and they realize during your probationary period that you don’t have the skill set necessary to do the work.

Have you either conducted or been interviewed over the phone? What are your tips and tricks for phone interviewees?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Yesenia Flores Diaz

These are practical, wonderful tips shared in a refreshing way. I have done mock interviews with my little brother via FaceTime and then ended the Session for a few minutes, then reconnected to debrief. Really worked to his advantage because he said it was a tougher interview than what he was experiencing and was much more poised in subsequent rounds and he got the job he wanted!

Tammy Seleski

Great tips! Knowing that a phone interview is usually a screening opportunity for the employer also helps you understand why these tips are great.
Take notes during the interview! We often lie to ourselves that we will remember the information given to us, but don’t take that risk! I once had a phone interview and the employer gave me explicit directions to her office. It involved remembering the correct door to enter in. I didn’t write down her directions–I was sure I would remember them. I got to her office and saw the two doors and panicked! I tried to recall which door the employer said to enter through. I opened a door and saw the her sitting at her desk. She looked up at me, asked if I was here for an interview. I replied yes and she said she will not hire me because I obviously couldn’t follow directions, for I had come through the wrong door. She was right–I didn’t follow directions correctly because I failed to write them down and refer to them.
I relate this story because I hope no one will have the embarrassing experience of being denied a good job simply for NOT taking down notes during a preliminary phone interview!


This is excellent advice. Don’t have a phone interview without doing these things, the difference in someone who has and hasn’t it discernible.