You pop open your email app and…it's finally here!
The recruiter from your dream job just got back to you asking if you're available for a phone screen. Score!
This is the moment you've been waiting for, but we're still a long way from the finish line. Now you need to dig in and prepare to make sure you nail every single phone interview question they ask and go on to score that job offer.
That's where I come in.
This article is going to walk you through the exact strategy I used to prepare for phone interview questions at Google, Microsoft, and Twitter (leading to offers from all three companies!). We're going to talk through:
- The exact phone interview preparation strategies I used to land offers from those companies
- The most common phone interview questions (breaking down what the interviewer is really looking for in your answer)
- Examples of the best answers for each of those questions (these are real answers and examples from my clients and my personal job search)
By the end of this post you're going to have everything you need to ace this phone interview and score a spot in the next round!
If you want to skip ahead to a specific section or interview questions, just click one of the links below:
+ How to prepare answers to your phone interview questions
+ How to answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
+ How to answer “Why Do You Want To Work Here?”
+ How to answer “Tell Me About A Time You Failed”
+ How to answer “Tell Me About A Time You Overcame An Obstacle”
+ How to answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
+ How to answer “Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?”
+ How to answer “How Do You Deal With A Difficult Person?”
Otherwise, we can take it from the top!
Preparing To Ace The Answers To Your Phone Interview Questions
There's a small difference between the people who turn their phone interviews into final rounds and people who constantly get rejected: preparation.
We all know that we need to prepare for our interview, but the way most people go about preparing is incredibly ineffective.
They spend a lot of time scrambling to come up with answers for every single phone interview question they could be asked and they don't do a great job of conveying their value.
Having a plan is critical and, in order to help you get laser focused, I'm going to share the preparation strategies I used to land jobs at Google, Microsoft, and Twitter.
Step 1: Prepare For The Most Common Phone Interview Questions
The first step is the most relevant to this post!
The goal of a phone screen isn't to dive deep into your esoteric knowledge and experience. It's to get an idea of who you are, what you're capable of, and whether you're worth a deeper dive from the hiring team.
Because of that, the screening process tends to be fairly standard with recruiters asking the same set of phone interview questions (which includes most of the examples you'll find below!).
If you spend time crafting, refining, and memorizing your answers to the most common phone interview questions, you'll be able to walk into almost any interview and succeed without a ton of extra preparation.
Here's the method that I used to do this:
- Open a new Google Doc and paste in the questions listed below
- Take a few hours to draft up a rough answer for each question — don't worry about refining yet, this can just be a brain dump
- Block of 60 minutes in your calendar to revise, refine, and rehearse each of your answers
- Rinse and repeat every day for the next 7 days
By the end of the week, you should have answers that offer a clear and concise illustration of the value you bring to the table!
Step 2: Memorize Your Answers Until They're Automatic
When I talked to people about their issues with interviewing, one problem seems to pop up more than anything else:
Those butterflies in your stomach that cause you to forget what you were going to say or ramble your way through an incoherent answer. Confidence is such a huge part of a successful interview and it's hard to be confident when you've got 8 Mile Syndrome (knees weak, arms heavy, Mom's spaghetti — you know what I mean!).
The absolute best way to combat nerves is through memorization. If you memorize your answers to the point where they're automatic, you can deliver them perfectly no matter how you're feeling.
The best strategy I've found for quickly memorizing and recalling answers is through a research-backed concept called Spaced Repetition.
The technique focuses on a 2x2x2 memorization pattern. You start with an initial memorization period. Then you repeat your answers 24 hours later, 48 hours later, 7-10 days, etc:
After you've spent your week refining and rehearsing your answers, here is the “practice schedule” I recommend:
Week 1: Take two days off after your final day of revisions from the first week, then spend 5 straight days rehearsing your answers (record yourself delivering them if you want to take it to the next level).
48 Hours later: Take a 48 hour break, then rehearse each of your answers three times the following day.
5 days later: Rehearse each answer at least three times.
10 days later: Rehearse each answer at least three times.
Recurring practice: Moving forward, rehearse your answers once every two – three weeks as needed. At this point they should be engrained in your brain and you should be able to deliver a clear, confident answer to any phone interview question.
Step 3: Research The Company To Understand Their Challenges & Goals
One of the biggest mistakes I see job seekers make in their phone interviews in only focusing on themselves and their past.
You've worked hard to earn your experience, but at the end of the day, the company you're interviewing with cares less about what you've done in the past and more about what you'll do for them in the future.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to be crystal clear about how your experience will help the company achieve the goals they have for this specific role.
The only way to do that is to have a deep understanding of what the company needs and that's going to come via some serious company research!
Here are three of my favorite tactics for learning everything about a company in just a few hours:
Strategy #1: Listen To Earnings Calls
Public companies are required to share information about their performance and profitability with their investors. This usually happens on an earnings call that happens every 3-6 months. The great news for us is that the companies typically record these calls and make the webcast + transcript available to the public!
All you need to do is head to Google and search for “[Company Name] Earnings Call” to find them. For example, here’s a screenshot of a Microsoft earnings webcast:
Pro Tip: Many companies let you download an MP3 version of their webcast. If you plug that into iTunes or another audio player, you can listen at 1.5x – 2x speed and speed through the info!
Strategy #2: Read Articles on Seeking Alpha
Seeking Alpha is a fantastic resource for company research.
It's kind of like a Google Finance but it has an “Analysis” section where financial analysts who spend their entire week following these companies share their thoughts. Those articles are great for learning about what's happening at the company and the general sentiment about the consequences of those initiatives/happenings.
Finally, clicking the “Add To Portfolio” button will let you sign up for email alerts. This means that Seeking Alpha will send a digest of the best articles straight to your inbox! No need to constantly dig through the site to find them:
Strategy #3: Listen To Interviews With Company Execs
Interviews are my favorite way to learn about a company.
When you get an exec talking about their business for 30+ minutes, you're going to be able to dial into the issues/initiatives they care about, hear the language they use to describe things, and pick up on nuances that aren't mentioned in a news article.
I always start by trying to find the most relevant people for the role I'm applying to. C-level folks can be good but they tend to be more high level so I also try to dig a bit deeper for VPs and Director levels too.
Let's say I wanted a Data role at AirBnB. I could look up their team on Crunchbase and see that this guy Nate Kugland is mentioned as their “Data Scientist” lead:
If I head to Google and type in “Nate Kugland AirBnB Interview” or “Nate Kugland AirBnB Podcast” I get this awesome podcast where I can listen to Nate chat about data for 40+ minutes!
Sweet! Now you have all the tools you need to make sure you're 150% prepared to crush this phone interview. If you want more, definitely check out this awesome post with tips on acing phone interviews.
With our overarching strategy in hand, we're ready to move on to the specific phone interview questions we'll be asked and the best example answers from real people:
Phone Interview Questions & Examples Of The Best Answers (From Real People)
Now we're going to dive into the most common phone interview question that employers love to ask!
I'm going to talk through the “why” behind each questions, in other words, breaking down exactly what the interviewer is looking for in your answer.
Then I'm going to share a few example answers for each phone interview question. You'll see the exact answers I used for my phone interviews at Google, Microsoft, and Twitter as well as real answers from clients I've coached who have gone on to land offers at some amazing companies:
1. Tell Me About Yourself
This is your “elevator pitch,” your chance to provide context to the interviewer and sell yourself. I always recommend using your answer to this question to:
- Handle any objections your interviewer might have (like addressing a non-traditional background)
- Show that you did your research on the company, the team, and the role
- Highlight specific examples of your accomplishments that prove out your value as it relates to the goal for the role
All great interview answers revolve around stories and your answer here is no different. I always recommend starting with a quick personal anecdote or story to kick things off.
Austin's Example Answer
I grew up with Google. When I was seven years old, I used to sneak down to my Dad’s office at five in the morning to play video games. I still remember opening the browser and seeing the bright, multi-colored letters above the search box for the first time.
I know this New Business Sales position is focused on getting more small businesses to advertise with Google. This is right in my wheelhouse despite the fact that there isn’t much “traditional” digital experience on my resume.
I come from a science/healthcare background but I've spent the past year building a digital advertising agency that centers around lead generation with Google AdWords. I specialized in using AdWords to generate leads for small businesses across the US. I managed the entire sales process from cold outreach, to closing, to servicing the accounts on the AdWords platform.
Most recently, I helped a community in South Carolina sell every listing on their site (about 15 homes) in less than 6 months. Our cost per lead was half of the competition and we did it all for less than the commission the realtor would have made on a single house (including ad spend).
Convincing small businesses to use AdWords has been my bread and butter for the past 12 months and, with the tools and resources available to full time employees at Google, I know I can beat the new business goals you have for this role.
This answer played well because it covered off on all of the bullets I mentioned above.
I opened with a story about growing up with Google and I followed up by recapping the goals for this role to the interviewer. I showed her that I knew what they wanted.
Next, I addressed the concern about my lack of experience and non-traditional background head on. Then I spun it up into a positive!
Finally, I shared some specific results I'd achieved to illustrate my value.
Structuring your answer like that will lead to some seriously awesome results. Let's check out another example from a client of mine who wanted to work in sales:
Example Answer From A Real Client
About 2 years ago, I had an epiphany. Our sales team used a highly traditional model – banging the phones day in and day out. I ended up watching a webinar by a guy who was leveraging digital marketing to drive sales. I implemented a few of his tactics and closed my largest deal ever the following month.
I’m really grateful to [Company] for awarding me the OneTeam award for the largest deal of the year, but I’m much more excited to have been able to share the techniques with the rest of our team. Since we implemented my trainings, 3 out of 4 sales teams have over indexed on their quota. Right now, there isn’t a lot of room for growth at my company.
I’m currently looking to move into a sales management role where I can share my knowledge with a new team and help a revolutionary product like [Prospective Company’s Product] into the marketplace.
2. Why Do You Want To Work For Us?
This answer is similar to Tell Me About Yourself but it places more emphasis on your knowledge of the company and role.
If you leveraged the company research strategies mentioned earlier in this article, you should have no problem talking about why you want to work for this company!
You should aim to focus on:
- Clearly illustrating the knowledge you have about the company and the role — call out specific goals, challenges, initiatives, etc.
- Aligning yourself with the company culture, again, talking about specific aspects and giving specific examples
- Tying your experience and accomplishments into both of the above
If you want to take your answer to the next level, you can work to get a testimonial story from someone who works at the company. That's exactly what I did with my answer and Google and the interviewer loved it:
Austin's Example Answer
In a nutshell, because Google creates an environment that synonymously promotes individuality and collaboration as a means for innovation and growth.
Google has the best technology products available, and has been one of the most successful companies in the world because they approached things differently, they were open minded. Google had the first “startup culture” that is present in offices around the world today.
These two things are not a coincidence and that really resonates with me. The two most valuable things for me are to always be learning and doing work that has a positive impact on people’s lives. For the former, I’ve found that the best way to learn is to surround myself with people who are a heck of a lot smarter than I am and excel at what they do. I’ve asked every Googler what their favorite part of working at Google is, and the answer is always the people. Each person lit up when they answered praising how smart, but openly willing, everyone is to learn, teach, and help.
In terms of impacting people’s lives, I wanted to recount a story from my referral Tom. He’s in the education vertical and spends a significant amount of time at rural schools. When he was down in South Carolina, a teacher asked him about the possibility of getting wifi for the town and its students. Brent said he would do his best and upon returning he asked around. He sent an email to Astro Teller who responded and they discussed the feasibility of implementing project Loon in the area. I don’t think it panned out but the fact that the communication took place over a tiny town in South Carolina sold me. That’s the kind of stuff I want to be doing.
My career is young and I believe that Google offers an exceptional place for me to learn and gain experience while adding value to people’s lives each day.
My answer here focuses on the people at Google and the impact they're making. I had many conversations with employees before this interview and I cherry picked a story from one of them that best represented those principles.
That tactic also showed that I had taken the time to research the company and do my due diligence!
Here's another example from one of my clients who wanted to work for a Data Analytics startup:
Example Answer From A Real Client
I had the opportunity to speak with current and past employees, and ask them what their favorite part of working here was. All of them said that, without a doubt, they loved the company's culture.
Everyone is very knowledgeable and eager to help out. One thing that really resonated with me was [CEO]'s new 2019 initiative to set aside time once/week to have 1:1 meetings with employees and discuss their future goals. I think that’s awesome.
The fact that the CEO is willing to sit down with his employees and build a personal relationship really shows what's important to him and this company. I want to join [Company] because these types of meaningful connections are really important to me. I want to surround myself by an intelligent team of people where I can learn a lot and add value to the company.
I also really love the product and how innovative it is. I reviewed a bunch of case studies on the site and, while they're all awesome, my favorite was how [Company]'s technology saved an F500 company millions by pinpointing the exact place where a manufacturing error occurred. I'm a big believer in the power that data has to help us drive value and increase efficiencies. This is the type of impact I want my work to have.
Finally, I just saw that you landed a huge series B investment from Georgian Partners, congrats on that! I'm super excited to bring my marketing background to a team that's on such an awesome growth trajectory.
This answer clearly demonstrates that she did a LOT of research about the company ahead of time. She cites multiple, specific examples of what current employees love about the company and why that matters to her.
3. Tell Me About A Time You Failed
Failure is inevitable.
It happens to all of us and it's a part of growth! Great companies understand this and they know that the way a person handles failure says a lot about their personality and attitude.
Bad employees shift blame to others and make excuses when they fail.
Great employees acknowledge their failures, reflect on them, and then implement strategies/steps to ensure they don't happen again.
You want your answer to show that you're not afraid to take responsibility and learn from your failures:
Austin's Example Answer
I fail every day, but I don’t tend to think of these instances as failures but rather as learning experiences.
One of the worst experiences I had came during my first job as a medical device sales rep. My job was to cover cases across North Carolina and South Carolina. On a good day, I would show up, use the local team's medical instruments, and finish up the surgical cases for the day.
Many of our hospitals had been trying to cut costs, so they made us consolidate instrument pans and keep others off site. One day I showed up to a surgery and the patient was larger than normal. Turns out he was a custom size, but we didn’t have the instrumentation on site because only ~3% of cases used that size. I had to drive across town, pick up the set, drive back, and get it sterilized. We lost an hour of case time and I got cursed out of the operating room. The doctor even had a piece of hip bone in his head looking like he was ready to throw a fastball at my head.
That was a huge lesson for me in preparation that I've carried with me since that day. Moving forward I carried around an emergency “set” of instruments in my car that saved me on several more occasions and I take the “better safe than sorry” approach to all of my work.
Here's another answer from a client of mine who was transitioning from Real Estate into managing a team of people at an Automotive Marketing Agency:
Example Answer From My Client
I experience some level of failure everyday. However, in my mind failures aren’t negative but learning experiences you can build on to ensure that those same missteps aren’t repeated. In my opinion, failure is the most powerful tool you have to improve yourself.
I empower my team everyday to make the right decisions but there are times when communication breaks down and it has lead to losing a lease, reduced renewal rate or losing a customer all together. When that happens, I set up 1:1 time with those people and work to highlight the specific breakdown and come up with processes to make sure we avoid it in the future.
I never blame my employees or get angry with them. Mistakes are part of the game. Instead, I make sure they know this is a safe space for us to identify what went wrong so we can fix it.
This recently happened with a long term customer worth about $720,000 in annual revenue to our business. They were upset about a specific line of communication they received around one of our products and they threatened to pull their spend. I sat down to chat through the issue with the account team. We identified the breakdown, came up with a new solution, and pitched it to the client. The client was super impressed with the way we handled the situation and ended up renewing their contract for 15% more.
4. Tell Me About A Time When You Overcame An Obstacle
No matter what your goals are as a team or a company, you're going to hit obstacles on the way to achieving them.
Companies want to hire people who aren't deterred by those obstacles but, instead, get proactive about finding ways to workaround them and achieve the goal anyways.
You answer here should talk about a time where you ran into a roadblock and led the charge to break through it:
Austin's Example Answer
I was working an an Account Manager for a startup in New York. One of our clients had signed on for a pilot, but we didn’t find out that they were upgrading the websites for their entire brand portfolio and their current platform didn’t allow us to capture data that was crucial to our value prop (read: 90% of what we sold them).
We had a meeting with them 4 months into the 6 month pilot and we really got torched. The client said that unless we could deliver them useful data in the next month, they would take their business elsewhere.
Since the data wasn’t readily available we needed an alternative. I set up an in person meeting with their agency and gained access to their site analytics. Then we spent the next two weeks digging into their analytics data across the 30 websites in their portfolio and manually matched it with the data on our end. Through this we were able to get some very granular data on their audience.
When we went back in we presented our findings, explained how we connected with the agency to improve tracking, and what would now be possible moving forward. That meeting resulted in a contract extension worth $600,000 (316% more than their original deal).
5. What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
Ahhh, now this one's a doozy! Companies love to ask it because it's a trap question and there definitely is a right answer.
Your interviewer wants to see that you're aware of your weaknesses and you're finding ways to actively work on them.
Here's the formula for acing the answer when asked about your biggest weakness:
- Pick a skill/trait that you’ve been actively working to improve
- Describe how that challenge/trait has been a challenge for you in the past
- Talk about the actions you’ve taken to improve it
- Showcase the results you’ve gotten from your actions
- Talk about how others have acknowledged your progress
Be careful about which skill you pick too. You don't want to choose something that's mission critical for the job. Instead you want to pick something that, when improved, will be an asset to your new role.
I personally chose public speaking:
Austin's Example Answer
In the past, public speaking was a huge challenge for me. I’d get incredibly nervous when I knew I had to get up and speak in front of a crowd. I realized this was hindering my progress as an individual and a professional so I decided to take action.
I hired a speaking coach and I asked my manager to allocate 10 minutes in our team meeting each month where I could present on something. After a few months of working through my speaking issues, I can honestly say it’s something I’m starting to enjoy.
Most recently, I co-led a pitch to one of our biggest potential prospects in the past 5 years. The stakes were high but we ended up closing them for $5.25M/year. After the deal was signed, our senior salesperson came up to me and told me that my narrative on X topic was what really sealed the deal. We wouldn’t have closed them without it.
One of my clients chose to leverage this answer to handle objections about her non-traditional background:
Example Answer From A Real Client
In the past, my biggest weakness has been not having a traditional background in development and computer science. I was a sociology major in college and I’ve been working as an account manager for the past 3 years. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy path, but front end development is what I’m passionate about.
Twelve months ago, I began teaching myself how to code. I leveraged basic resources like Free Code Camp and spent hours on Stack Exchange every day. Next, I began creating apps that solved personal problems and forced me to expand into new languages and APIs.
Most recently, I launched an app called Forest which aims to help people maintain a healthy relationship with their phone. The app allows them to plant a tree a let it grow for a certain period of time, during which their phone is completely locked. If they unlock their phone, the tree dies. I marketed it via Medium, several major publications, and Reddit and it currently has 10,000 monthly active users.
While my background and experience isn’t traditional, I know this is what I’m meant to do and I’d love to have the opportunity to learn from the amazing developers at your company.
6. Why Did You Leave Your Previous Job (Or Why Do You Want To Leave Your Current Job)?
Employers are always curious about why you want to make your next move. It's their way of “background checking” you before handing over an offer.
They want to know if you have a legitimate reason for leaving, or if you may be the problem. They'll also be curious about things that don't add up on your resume like:
- The fact that you've been unemployed for 6 months
- Why you've had 4 jobs in the last two years
Now, none of those situations are “bad” if you can explain them well. That's why this answer is so critical. You own the narrative about your situation and getting buy in from the person on the other end of the phone will boost your chances of landing in the next round.
Austin's Example Answer
My current job has been a fantastic place to learn and build a foundation in the digital marketing space. My role has allowed me to take the experience I built as a freelancer and apply it to the growth of an actual team and a “real” company.
I'm incredibly grateful for those opportunities but now I'm ready to be challenged and mentored by people with a bit more experience. That's why I'm so excited to be speaking with you about the Partner Manager role at Microsoft.
From speaking with different people on the team, it's was immediately clear that this is a group of seasoned industry veterans, people at the top of their game. That's what I want to step into and who I want to learn from.
Example Answer From A Real Client (Who Was Unemployed At The Time)
“I left my previous company after they decided to change direction and a project went south. Management was pushing us hard, we knew that there were gaps and issues but no one on the team spoke up which was a big mistake that I take full responsibility for. It was a great lesson for the future.
Having a few months to reset and focus on what I want has actually been fantastic. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on where I want to go next with my career. After having conversations with amazing people in different roles/industries and attending conferences here in NYC, it became clear to me that I'm still invested in the technology space but I'm better suited as an individual contributor than a manager. That's why I'm so excited about this role.
I did some self assessment and I knew I had a few skill gaps to make up, so I’ve spent the last 3 months strengthening those areas! I’ve taken Hubspot's Inbound Marketing Certification as well as the full suite of courses in Google Academy. I'm also currently working on completing a Front End Web Development 101 with FreeCodeCamp.
I believe my background in project management paired with my new skill set makes me a great fit for this role.
7. How Do You Deal With A Difficult Person or Customer?
You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your coworkers (or clients).
When you're stepping into a multi-hundred or multi-thousand-person organization, you're bound to run into a few people that rub you the wrong way. If you want to be successful, you need to find a way to work with them.
Companies know this and they want to see that you have the tools to diffuse the situation and create a relationship that allows you to get what you need to succeed.
Austin's Example Answer
90% of the issues I have encountered with “difficult people” can be attributed to a miscommunication or misunderstanding. I try to identify where the miscommunication/understanding occurred and then create a solution from there.
The first thing I do is let them speak their piece and, if I can’t glean this information from what they say, I follow a series of steps:
- I ask them to explain why they're frustrated / upset
- I repeat the issue back in my own words and ask if I'm understanding correctly
- I ask what they would like to have happen if we could wave a magic wand
- I digest all of that information and work to meet them in the middle given the constraints/limitations we're working with
In my opinion, the key for successfully navigating these types of situations are:
- Never tell the client/person they are wrong, no matter how small or absurd the issue is
- Asking them questions about the problem and recap what they're saying because it lets them know you’re invested in their problem and want to hear them out
- Always staying calm on your end
If you can do those things and show empathy for the person's situation without getting angry or accusing, I've found that you can resolve the large majority of these situations.
Key Takeaways For Acing Phone Interview Questions
Hey, you made it!
I hope you feel like you have a solid plan for preparing for that next phone interview along with some ideas for how you're going to answer the questions that come along with it.
Before you go, here's a quick recap of the things you need to pay attention to when you're preparing to answer these phone interview questions:
- Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. You need to put in the time before the call if you want to make it into the next round.
- Your past experience and accomplishments are awesome, but you'll truly set yourself apart by tying them into the company's goals, initiatives, challenges, and culture.
- Pay attention to why your interviewer is asking each specific question — they're not just doing it for fun. Your answer should dial into exactly what they're looking for.
- Stories sell! Anytime you can turn your answer into a story, that's a huge win
- When you're done with the interview, don't forget to send a thank you email!
If you still have questions about phone interviews and how to prepare for them, drop a comment below the article here. I read and reply to all of them and I'd be happy to help out!
4 thoughts on 20+ Phone Interview Questions & Answers [With Examples]
Hi Austin –
Thanks for the great article on interviewing. Do you offer coaching services or do you have individuals you recommend that could help me with interviewing?
I sure do Ken! Send me an email or use the contact form to reach out and we’ll talk it through!
Thank you for all your wonderful insights on interviewing. But what should I do if I performed really badly in the interview even though I have all the skills, qualifications, industry experience and competencies to perform the role. Should I send a thank you note to the interviewer and at the same time try to remediate the situation? If yes, how best should I go about doing it? Any advice will be most appreciated. Thanks
I personally recommend a value validation project in this scenario Kathleen!