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Table of Contents

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The candidate is preparing for the phone interview, and you need to as well. It may seem like an easy task to conduct a phone interview, but your preparation will determine if it is successful. Read on to learn the advantages and disadvantages of a phone interview, the process of a phone interview and tips to elevate your phone interview.

What Is a Phone Interview?

A phone interview is the first stage in the recruiting process after the recruiter reviews the candidate’s resume and application. The call allows the recruiter to better determine if the candidate is compatible with the position and the organization.

Should You Conduct an Interview on the Phone?

Yes. Phone interviews allow the recruiter to ask candidates prepared questions to narrow the candidate pool to a smaller group to be invited to an in-person interview. These candidates will be chosen on their alignment with the position requirements and the organization.

The Advantages of Phone Interviews

Conducting a phone interview has great advantages for you and your organization. Phone interviews can:

  • Eliminate geographical limits. Employers are not limited to a certain geographical area to source candidates, which leads to a larger candidate pool to find the best candidate.
  • Provide a better candidate experience. Candidates will have less anxiety over a phone interview than a face-to-face interview and will be able to speak more confidently in a comfortable environment.
  • Shorten time to hire. Phone interviews eliminate the need to schedule a convenient time for the candidate to travel into the office to interview. Hiring decisions can be made faster because interviews are completed faster.

The Disadvantages of Phone Interviews

Phone interviews may seem like they have no disadvantages but there are some to be aware of.

  • Limited time. Candidates have a small window to discuss their qualifications during a phone interview. They may not have enough time to discuss everything. The interviewer has a small window to ask prepared questions to determine if the candidate is a match for the position and the organization. There is potential for a candidate to be mislabeled as ‘not a good fit’ or a ‘good fit’ when they are not.
  • Hard to make a connection. A phone interview prevents the candidate and interviewer from assessing each other’s nonverbal language. Nonverbal language contributes to determining if a candidate will be compatible with the organization, so its absence will make it harder for both candidate and interviewer to gauge the fit.
  • A little too comfortable. Candidates get the benefit of staying home for a phone interview, which increases the possibility they may not pick up the phone or they may hang up the phone if they don’t like what they hear. This can be prevented by creating a positive candidate experience where the recruiter is warm and invites the candidate to ask any questions they may have.

How To Conduct a Phone Interview

Conducting a phone interview will add value to your organization if you are prepared. Check out the steps described below to ensure a successful experience every time.

Step 1: Plan Ahead

Meet with the hiring manager to determine the technical need for the position you’re interviewing for. Go through each duty in the job description and determine which are essential and which are nice to have. You want to confirm the candidate is compatible with the essential duties. Finally, determine how quickly this position needs to be filled. This deadline will help you build a timeline for the rest of the recruiting process.

Step 2: Schedule the Phone Interview

Be mindful of other obligations the candidate may have when scheduling the interview. It is recommended to ask them when they are available for the phone interview, even if this means that you interview outside of normal business hours.

Step 3: Prepare Your Interview Questions

The most important part of the phone interview is the questions you ask. You want each question to reveal something about the candidate you’re interviewing.

If you stay consistent with your questions during each interview, you should be able to draw some nice comparisons between your candidates. Having standard questions also decreases the potential for bias and discrimination to affect your decision-making process. 

Of course, your goal isn’t to find “the one” candidate who will be perfect for the job—at least not at this phase of the hiring process. Instead, your goal is to eliminate the people who are definitely not right for the job. With this line of thinking, you’ll be more open-minded when talking to candidates.

For a list of great questions to ask, see the section “Common Phone Interview Questions” below.

Step 4: Begin the Phone Interview

Call the candidate at the scheduled time and formally introduce yourself. Before you ask your prepared interview questions, let them know how the interview will be conducted and give them an agenda of what to expect.

As you get acquainted with the candidate, you can move into the prepared questions. Give the candidate your full attention and take thorough notes when the candidate responds to each question.

Step 5: Answer Their Questions

A prepared candidate will have one or two questions. Their questions will help you better understand them and whether or not they would fit into your organization.

Before you hang up the phone, let them know the timeline of this stage in the process and if you will reach out to them regarding the decision. Do not tell them you will contact them if you won’t, especially if they are not moving forward in the selection process. Larger companies often use the line “due to a large number of candidates, we will only reach out to those who will be moving forward in the process.” This tells the candidate that no response from you is a response that they are not being moved forward.

Tips and Best Practices to Remember

The tips provided below will help you elevate your phone interviews. It is equally important that both you and the candidate get the information needed to determine if either party wants to move forward.

Tip 1: Create the Right Environment

It doesn’t matter if you are working in an office or working remotely; make sure you are free from distractions, including your work email. In the office, you may need to schedule a conference room to be free from distractions. This ensures the candidate has your full attention and you will be able to better determine which candidates are a better match to the position and the company.

Tip 2: Take Notes During the Interview

Before the interview, determine how you will take notes. Once decided, tell the candidate you are taking notes and your responses may be delayed. Common note-taking methods are typing out notes or writing them with a pen and paper.

  • Typed notes. This method ensures you can quickly send your notes to the hiring manager for review. Nevertheless, make sure you mute the phone on your end to not distract the candidate by the sound of your keyboard.
  • Handwritten notes. A study has proven that handwriting notes improves your memory, which will be useful after the phone interview when you are reviewing your notes with the hiring manager. You may be able to remember additional details to support the decision of which candidate should move forward in the process.

Tip 3: Stick to a Schedule

You will have a long list of candidates to phone screen, so you need to determine a time limit (i.e. 30 minutes) and make sure you get the information you need within that time. Tell the candidate you have a hard stop at a certain time when you relay the agenda at the beginning of the call.

Tip 4: Feature the Company Culture

Candidates are looking for cultural alignment as much as you are as the recruiter. Before you begin asking questions, give two or three points that provide insight into what it’s like to work at your company. Examples of company culture include corporate giving programs, company diversity initiatives, or leaders promoting positive healthy relationships with their employees.

For more on what are candidates looking for in cultural alignment, check out the latest from Johnny C. Taylor.

Common Phone Interview Questions

Here’s the list of common phone interview questions that can help you get a good sense of each candidate’s interest, background, and abilities.

Tell Me About Yourself.

This is a great question to ask to start your phone interview. This question is a bit of a softball, and good applicants should be able to answer it with confidence. It’s also a great question to use in order to break the ice, because who can’t talk about themselves?

What Made You Decide to Apply For This Job?

When you ask someone directly about the specific job they’re applying for, they should be able to provide a specific answer. Look for candidates who can articulate the reasons why they’ve applied for this job in particular. If a candidate speaks in broad generalizations and doesn’t seem to know much about the position, it’s because they probably don’t know much about it. Serious candidates will know why they want the job and will be able to explain their reasoning.

Tell Me Why You’re Interested in Working for [Company].

Similar to the question about why the candidate decided to apply for this specific job, it’s also important to ask about why they want to work for your company. Of course, many of the candidates you interview are likely sending resumes and applications to multiple companies, and they may not care if they land at your organization or elsewhere. However, the best candidates will have done some background research on your business and will, at the very least, be able to pretend that they really want to work for you. They should know what your company does, they should know the reasons why you do it, and they should know how their position could impact the business.

What Relevant Skills and Experience Do You Have That Have Prepared You to Do Well in a Job Like This?

It’s important that your job applicants can articulate why they’ll be a good fit for the job. Part of being a good fit often relates to relevant past experience that has prepared the candidate to perform. Now, this past experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in the job they’re applying for. Perhaps the candidate was previously a salesperson and now they’re applying for a customer success role. While the job titles differ, there are many skills a salesperson would have that could easily be applied to the role in customer success. 

Do not focus on the details of job titles, but rather focus on relevant skills, experiences, and knowledge that will allow this candidate to do the job well. If the candidate is unable to draw on any relevant experience, they may not be the best fit.

Why Do You Think You Might Be the Best Candidate for the Job? 

It’s always good to give a candidate a chance to brag about themselves. This is the moment where they can bring up impressive accomplishments, feats, achievements, or skills that may not come up otherwise. Allow the candidate to sell themselves and listen to see if you’re convinced by what they say.

What Are Your Career Goals? Where Do You See Yourself in the Next Five Years? 

For some jobs, a candidate’s goals really matter. If you’re hiring a new head of marketing and the candidate you’re interviewing eventually has the goal to be an accountant, then they might not be a great fit for what you’re trying to accomplish. However, if you’re mostly hiring college students for call center positions, it’ll be understandable if their career goal isn’t to become the manager of that call center. While every situation is unique, it never hurts to listen to a candidate describe what they hope to become and where they hope to be in the future. 

Are You Currently Employed? If Yes, Why Are You Looking for a New Position?

Having context into the world of your candidate is important. If they’re currently employed, it’s important to understand why they’d want to leave their current position. Do they hop from job to job frequently? Do they simply have a bad boss? Are they stuck in a dead-end career path? Really try to understand the reason they’d like to jump ship for a new job at a different company. If they’re unemployed and applying for your position, ask follow up questions about why they’re currently unemployed and what they’re doing to get back into the job market.

How Would Your Co-Workers (or Former Co-Workers) Describe You? 

This is a great question for two reasons. First, you’ll likely be able to sense if the candidate hesitates before they respond. If they are pleasant to work with and get along with others easily, they’ll tell this to you right away. If, however, they know that they’ve been difficult to work with in the past and perhaps they don’t have the best reputation at their previous company, they may try to preface their response or even try to dodge the question.  Second, this question is something that you can verify. You can ask the candidate to provide references for you, and you can follow up with the co-workers at a later time.

If We Decided to Hire You, How Soon Could You Start? 

Timing is important when hiring. If you need someone to start immediately but they won’t be able to start for two or three weeks because of their current employment commitments, they may not be a fit. It’s always good to ask this question just to ensure that the candidate’s timeline aligns with that of the company.

In Terms of Salary, What Range Would You Like to Fall Into?

Salary can be a touchy subject, and now is not the time for excessive salary negotiations. However, it is a good time to see if the candidate’s salary expectations align (or at least are in the ballpark) of what the company plans to pay. During the phone interview, it’s most helpful to ask for salary expectations in terms of ranges. Most candidates do not know exactly how much they want to make, but they typically know a range of numbers that they’d be willing to work for. Remember, don’t negotiate here. Just collect the information and see if it’s in a viable range.

Additional Questions

  • Have you ever been involuntarily terminated? If yes, explain.
  • What would your previous supervisors say are your strengths? What about your weaknesses?
  • What work accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • This position is [full-time/part-time] with an expectation to work [40] hours per week. Are you able to work that schedule?
  • What questions can I answer for you?

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Phone Interviews

The average phone interview should last between 15-30 minutes.

The recruiter should call the candidate at the scheduled time. Include this information when you confirm the date and time for the phone interview.

Leave the candidate a voicemail and ask them to call you back within 24 hours. This gives the candidate a chance to still be considered without sacrificing your schedule to fill the position.

Thank the candidate for their time and give them an accurate time frame when you will contact them regarding if they will move forward in the process.

Ryan is an HR Director with four years of experience and three masters degrees. One accomplishment he is proud of is the design and launch of a learning and development program for 800+ employees.

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