When you’re transitioning out of the military, the phone interview will be an important step towards your first civilian job. Phone interviews can be tricky, especially if you are anxious about saying the right things. Compounding the challenge: you and the interviewer will not be able to physically see each other.

More than half of all communication is non-verbal, writes Dr. Albert Mehrabian in his book Silent Messages. Everything from your facial expressions to your body posture can help establish rapport with your interviewer and implicitly communicate your positive attitude towards the new position. During a phone interview, however, you won’t be able to rely on these non-verbal cues. You’ll need to get extra mileage out of what you say.

Are you new to phone interviews? Here’s how to set yourself up for success.

Preparing for the call: the basics.

  1. Make the format work for you. One strategic advantage of a phone interview over an in-person interview? You can reference notes and sample answers! Practice answering common questions in advance and outline key points to include in each answer. Have your notes organized so you can quickly reference them during the call.
  2. Choose a quiet place. For many of us, crying children and barking dogs are a fact of daily home life. However, during the phone interview, you should ensure that all distractions and background noises are muted. If possible, use a landline so you don’t have to worry about reception issues or dropped calls. If you need to use your cell phone, select a space with excellent reception. Confirm that the interviewer can hear you clearly once the call starts. If background noise becomes an issue, try to mute the call when you’re not speaking.
  3. Warm up your voice. Interviewers want to hear a strong, positive voice on the other end of the call. Practice speaking with confidence by reading your resume aloud 15 minutes prior to the call. Doing so will warm up your voice and ensure your accomplishments are top of mind. Finally, while on the call, be sure to hold the phone receiver at an appropriate distance. This will prevent the receiver from picking up any sounds like your natural breathing, which may be distracting for others on the call.

Preparing for the call: what to say.

  1. Tell your story. Interviewing is the art of storytelling. Many phone interviews start with an open-ended “tell me about yourself” question. Have a quick, 90- second story ready to go that summarizes your military experience and how it transformed you. End with a brief explanation covering how you’ll take the skills and leadership experience you gained in the military and apply them to this position.
  2. Translate your military accomplishments into civilian terms. While some hiring managers may have a military background, not all will. This means that you’ll need to translate your military experience into business-friendly terms. If you’re coming from the Marines, for example, your interviewer may not be familiar with an acronym like MEUs, but he or she will understand emergency response and global logistics. This also goes for accomplishments like zero loss of equipment or quantifying cost containment measures. Speak in clear terms your hiring manager will understand
  1. Be confident without being cocky. Don’t be afraid to take appropriate credit for your accomplishments and leadership successes. At the same time, match your tone to your interviewer. Without the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues, you’ll need to listen carefully to pick up on the conversation tone and establish rapport with your interviewer. You need to walk a fine line between being confident and too boastful.

Interviewing on the phone can be tricky for anyone. Think of interview prep as basic training: it may not be enjoyable, but it’s an essential experience that will prepare you for success on the interview battlefield.

Check back next week for tips on what to do during the call and how to position yourself for a successful follow-up interview.


To learn more about how to prepare for your first phone interview, contact me at emcmath@lucasgroup.com.