How to Pass an Unemployment Phone Interview

A week or two after you've applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in your home state, it's time for an unemployment phone interview with the local Unemployment Office. In addition to calling your former employers' staff, the Office will likely contact you, the claimant, to ensure your initial and ongoing eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. There are no right answers to an UI telephone interview, but being well prepared helps you navigate the process and hold on to your benefits. UI programs policies vary by state, so always check out your local UI website before your phone interview.

Prepare for the UI Interview

Before anything else, make sure you are available at your scheduled interview time. You will typically have a two-hour window for the phone appointment. Missing the call is not advisable and rescheduling can be difficult. Commonly, you'll receive a notice from the UI office listing the questions that may be asked during the interview. It's never a bad idea to scribble down your responses the day before and – this part is especially important – have as many records as possible on hand that verify those responses.

What to Expect

At the initial interview, you'll typically be asked about the conditions and actions that led to leaving your previous job. Plan to clearly express to the interviewer what steps you took to resolve the issues and to keep your job. If you've turned down an offer of work recently, be prepared to explain why the work was not suitable or be able to provide good cause for refusing suitable work in order to keep your benefits. Likewise, be ready to fill in the interviewer about your current schedule and general physical condition; unemployment benefits depend on your ability, willingness and availability to work.

Ongoing UI Interviews

As you continue to receive UI benefits, you'll likely have to keep picking up the phone for further interviews. These interviews aim to make sure that you're actively seeking work for each week you receive benefits. Keep detailed notes about every resumé you email or drop off and every interview you score. Be ready to provide the contact information and the location of the employers you're courting, as well as info on the position you applied for, whom you spoke to and when you made the contact.

If you're participating in UI-approved training or similar programs to help drum up job offers and potentially bolster your benefits, keep a log of all of your attendance hours and have it nearby when the phone rings.

Do's and Don'ts

You may have noticed a running theme: The more documentation and detail you can provide during your UI phone interview, the better. As a general rule, keep your answers as brief and relevant as possible. Don't vent, don't color your responses emotionally and don't ramble. Remember, you're not providing an argument – you're just providing the facts. And speaking of facts, absolutely, positively do not lie during your UI phone interview. What not to say in an unemployment interview is nearly as important as what to say, and what not to say includes any form of exaggeration or misrepresentation.

Finally, here's one key to success that should go without saying: Be polite. The person on the other end of the line is a human being, too, and at the end of the day, is only trying to help you out.


  • The key to unemployment interview success lies in good record-keeping, consistency and detailed responses.

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