While there’s no replacement for getting to know a job candidate through an in-person interview, time, distance, and other logistics may require you to conduct a phone interview. What questions should you ask? Are there best practices for ensuring it goes well? See how a phone interview can add to your applicant screening process and what tips could make it a more fruitful experience.
Sample Phone Interview Questions
The questions you or your hiring manager ask a candidate will depend on the job type, their experience, and what you’re looking for in a new hire. However, there are some common phone interview questions you can start with. Use these as a launching off point for more in-depth, follow-up inquiries:
1. What salary do you hope to make at this job?
This question tells you a few things about the candidate, including their career aspirations, what they were likely paid at their last job, and if they fit into your budget.
2. Why do you want to work for us?
A suitable answer will tell you that they have researched your company and know what you make or sell. They should have an idea of how their own personal values align with your company’s mission. Failure to answer shows that they didn’t prepare for the interview.
3. Why did you leave your last job?
Be on the alert for dramatic or detailed answers that place blame on past bosses or workplaces. Their answer should be brief, show maturity, and explain the facts of the situation. If they can’t tell you why they were let go or if they show hostility when answering, this could be a red flag.
4. What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
Everyone should have an answer to this one. It provides insight into what they define as “success” and can lead you to an idea of what they value in a career. Compare this insight to what you plan on offering with the new hire position.
5. How did you hear about the job?
This is an excellent way to learn about your hiring process and reputation. Even if the previous questions didn’t qualify the candidate for further interviews, you’ll get some feedback on your methods. This is also where you’ll find out about referrals from within your company.
Red Flags to Watch for During a Phone Interview
A phone interview can tip you off to problem applicants. Any of the following interview red flags for employers should be considered a potential issue and may need further investigation:
- Inconsistencies between their resume or application and what they tell you on the phone
- An inappropriate level of eagerness to start the job, obsession over money, or inappropriate questions relating to when they’ll get their first check
- Disinterest in the job or the duties of employment
- Unwillingness to answer the questions given
- Bad manners, such as interrupting, chewing gum loudly, or swearing
Because many people aren’t accustomed to talking on the phone, you will have to use your instincts to determine if an odd answer or hesitant response was due to nerves or something else.
Best Phone Interview Tips to Improve Your Process
If you’re unsure about how to conduct a phone interview, the best advice is to start with a plan of action. Document what you hope to get out of the interview. Are you trying to learn about the applicant’s experience? Is it an exercise in learning how they communicate? Determine your goals and make sure that your questions are aligned.
Practice Your Questions
Practice asking your questions before the call. If the questions are overly technical, know about the tech you are describing. If the applicant requires further clarification or asks for the question to be presented in another way, be prepared to provide that.
Print the list of questions and have it on hand along with the applicant’s resume, LinkedIn profile, and applications. Take notes during the call and cross off questions that are no longer relevant based on answers. You may also consider creating a scoring model or scale to rank the applicant and help you compare them to other short-list candidates later.
Scripted vs Freestyle
The best phone interview is a combination of both scripted and freestyle. Your list of pre-written questions should give you a place to start, but don’t feel that you can’t adapt these questions or add new ones. They are merely a way to remember the fundamentals.
Should You Do a Phone Screening Interview?
There are some things you can’t learn by just hearing someone’s voice, but the phone interview plays a vital role in narrowing down your long list of candidates. A phone interview can save you time and money by reducing on-site interviews. It can also alert you to problems before you lead an unqualified candidate further down the hiring path. If you can seamlessly fit phone screening into your hiring plan, use it as part of your interview process.
Are there any illegal phone screen interview questions I should be looking out for?
Don’t ask any questions that would run afoul of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or that would appear to be discriminatory. These would include questions about race, age, nationality, sex, or medical conditions.
What are some good phone interview questions for checking skills?
Ask them to describe an experience where they used the skill in question. What did they like most about using that skill? Did they learn anything new? By presenting leading, open-ended questions (instead of “yes or no” inquiries), you can get a better idea of how much the candidate knows.
What phone screening interview questions do you recommend for unskilled jobs?
Jobs at every level require skills. Use the job description to develop questions about the soft skills needed for these jobs. Soft skills include listening, problem-solving, and teamwork.
What are the pre phone screening tips if there are too many candidates?
Your first communication with a candidate should give them instructions to follow. Examples include replying to an email with specific information or answering a few pre-screening questions. Those who cannot or do not follow these instructions should be taken off the interview list.
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