Phone Interviews

Make Them Useful!

Phone interviews are an excellent tool to screen candidates if done correctly. When conducting a phone screen, it is not about making friends, it is about gathering information. Too many companies do them almost just to verify information but they can be quite useful as part of an effective overall interview and recruiting process.

Note: This pages is intended for hiring managers. If you are a candidate looking for information on phone interviews, feel free to use the search tool below for more relevant information.


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If done properly, it can help you assess whether or not to move forward with a candidate, separating the possibles from the probables. Should you choose to bring in a candidate, it will improve the interview process. Below is a list of interview topics routinely asked of candidates over the phone. Additionally, there is some reasoning as to why they the questions are being asked.

Job History

Assuming you have a current resume in hand, cover job history over the last 5-10 years. Especially look for any gaps in employment or jobs that don't fit with the general skill set. Ask for explanations when something doesn't make sense. Ask them to describe their responsibilities and accomplishments.

Be sure and keep good notes.

Reason for Change

What is their reason for looking at changing positions? What would they look for in a new opportunity? Why are they dissatisfied with in their current position?

Phone Interviews

You need to listen closely to the answer here. Often, if the reason is fairly superficial, like looking for more money or a better title, then it is fairly reasonable that they will probably make a move again for the same reason in another year or two. If there are other reasons like not enough challenge, no room for advancement, life/work balance style issues (ex. too much travel and time away from the family) etc. Then you have a candidate more likely to stay a while ... assuming the position is a good match for the candidate! Listen carefully.

Recent Job Search Activity

Ask them to tell you about their job search activity going back the last 2 years. What have they done? Are they working with a recruiter? Where have they submitted their resume? Who have they interviewed with? Have they gotten any offers? If so, why did they not accept?

This is to give you a sense of where the candidate is in their job search, if at all. If they have been given an offer and not taken it, this is a possible red flag for someone who has taken a counter offer. This needs to be dealt with right there and then. You need to assess if this candidate is serious or just looking for a salary bump at his current job.

Describe Yourself

The last part deals with their perception of themselves and their work habits. Often times when you ask someone about themselves, they get a bit shy because many do not like to brag about themselves. So turn it around and ask them what others would say about them. Ask about how they perform their job, what others would say about their strengths, and so on.

Note: Don't bother to ask someone about their weaknesses even indirectly. It is often a throw away question that does not reveal much. The one suggestion I've come across a couple times is to ask where they would benefit from some extra training. Use this if you are at all inclined to ask about 'weaknesses'.

Match Skills to Job

The last series of phone interview questions is where you assess their match for the position. You have heard the candidate tell you about their skills and accomplishments. Now find out if they would be a match to your position.

To do this, ask open ended probing questions that help you assess the fitness of the candidate to the position. For example, if you are looking for a sales position that requires international travel, say something like, 'Tell me your thoughts on international travel.' Then get out of the way and let them answer. Again, take good notes!

Wrap Up

Finally, it is a courtesy to end a phone screen or interview

Note: What's the difference between a phone screen and a phone interview? Find out in phone interview tips page.

the with some sense of when the candidate should expect to hear back about possible interviews. The whole phone interview should take no more than 30 minutes and keep those notes, they will be valuable in the interview process.

Final Thoughts on Phone Interviews

If course it even though you are conducting phone interviews, you can still not ask illegal interview quesitons so you must steer clear of these types of topics. There are of course some good answers and some bad answers to phone questions. You have to use your instinct. For example if you have scheduled the interview beforehand and you call that the agreed time and the candidate is not in a quiet place or not available that should set off an alarm bell. So it is not always just the words but also the behavior that you can gauge during phone interviews. Use this valuable tool as part of your interview process and you will attract and hire better candidates.

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