Acing the Phone Interview

When you are applying for internship positions away from your hometown or campus, you should expect to be asked to conduct a phone interview. Even employers hiring for full-time positions often conduct phone interviews for first-round interviews. It’s a useful way to weed out the people who look great on paper, but don’t have the needed verbal communication skills.

A phone interview can often be intimidating for many reasons. Among the trickiest is the inability to use someone’s facial expressions as a guiding point. How do you know if the person is getting bored? Do they like what you are saying? For anyone who appreciates a good “nod and smile” to confirm they are on the same page, having a conversation without non-verbal cues can definitely be a challenge.

It’s all about preparation – the more you prepare, the more comfortable you should be. Take the time to make sure that you are ready before getting on the telephone. Most importantly – be in a quiet space with a good phone connection and little to no background noise. Here are some things to keep in mind before, during and after the interview:


  • Thoroughly read the organization’s website and become familiar with their mission, goals and main programs.
  • Make sure that the voicemail messages on your home and cell phones are professional.
  • Practice your interview skills with a roommate or friend, including answers to some common interview questions (see below). Consider practicing on the phone as well.
  • Be prepared to discuss what is on your resume. Often, internship sites will ask about specific experiences indicated on your resume.


  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • What kind of internship are you looking for?
  • What do you hope to gain or learn from the internship?
  • What is your interest in our issue area (health care, environment, politics, etc)?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What kind of experience/skills can you bring to the internship?
  • What are your biggest accomplishments?
  • How do you organize and meet deadlines?
  • Do you prefer working in a team or individually?


  • Stay focused: Don’t multi-task and type e-mails or text messages.
  • Address the interviewer as Mr. or Ms. unless invited to do otherwise.
  • Don’t just keep talking because you are nervous about silences – give the interview an opportunity to respond to your statement and decide what questions to move on to.
  • Be enthusiastic about the opportunity. Even if you don’t think this is the internship you were looking for, you may be pleasantly surprised.
    Try to be as specific as possible when answering questions and use examples from previous experiences.
  • Ask questions when given the opportunity. Some examples include:
    • What are the major responsibilities of this internship?
    • What projects will I be most involved with?
    • What is a typical day like in the office?
    • What is the work environment like, including dress code?
    • What is the most important issue/project that your organization is working on right now?


It is always recommended to promptly follow up with a thank-you email or note. Re-affirm your interest in the position and mention something specific that you spoke about. Even if you don’t want to accept the position, maintain a professional relationship with your interviewer. You never know when your paths may cross again.

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