9 Essential Phone Interview Questions

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It happens. You post your job advert, and a few hours later, you’re swamped with applications. How are you going to sort through all those CV’s (and candidates) crying out for your attention?

With the job market more competitive than ever, speed and urgency become essential if you are going to reach the best talent first. You need to be screening more people faster and more efficiently before committing to face to face interviews.

Why not save time, money, and stress for everyone involved? Make the telephone interview your foolproof way to screen for basic suitability.


Using Phone Screening Successfully

It’s a powerful tool in the recruitment process, saving you and your candidate’s plenty of time and hassle. And because the phone interview is short – usually 15-30 minutes – it’s easier to get more hiring managers involved in the process.

Conducting the perfect phone interview also has other advantages. Hiring managers can communicate with candidates without any visual bias, and both parties can screen for basic fit.

Make your life and the candidate’s a lot easier when scheduling using tools like Calendly or Simply Book Me. Remember to keep things even by giving each candidate the same questions.

Keep a record of all the people you speak to, write down their answers,  and mark their performance out of ten with general notes for each candidate. This lets you have a fair assessment at the end of the phone interview process and remove any bias. It’s easy to fall into the trap of favouring those candidates you have most recently spoken to as they are freshest in your mind.

Don’t forget to sell your company, too! It’s a competitive marketplace out there, and solid candidates will have other offers. As much as they need to impress you, it’s also your job to convince them what a great firm you have by briefly mentioning key points around culture, work environment, project work, etc that makes your company stand out.

Now let’s look at nine essential questions to incorporate into your phone interviews.


1. Why are you interested in this particular role and how did you hear about it?

This is a great way to get the ball rolling, and it helps you understand why the candidate was drawn to this job. Finding out where they first heard about the vacancy will give you some insights into how your adverts are working.

Does the candidate understand what the role involves? Why do they believe the position is the right one for them? How does will it mesh with their strengths, skills, and talents?

Most importantly, are they enthusiastic about the position? Hiring mistakes are expensive. Extend offers to people you are confident want to come aboard.

2. What do you know and like about our company?  

Here, you are looking for the candidate that has gone beyond what the company homepage can tell them.

Do they know what the firm does? What it sells? Find out if this applicant has seen any news or press releases about the company. Do they give you the impression that they’d like nothing better than being part of your organisation’s future?

They should know something about the role for which they are being interviewed as well as the firm itself. Who is the competition? Do they understand the company’s position in the marketplace?


3. Why are you moving on from your present position or why did you leave your last job?

Building a picture of your applicant’s work history gives you insights into their motivations. Understanding what they did before and why they chose to leave alerts you to potential future conflicts.



4. What sort of role/company/position are you looking for?

Once you understand what attracted them to your position, you can get an inkling of what they expect from their next role.

If they were to make up a wishlist for their ideal job, what would it look like? Ask the candidate to tell you how they would like their next position to play out.

Do they want fast progress? On-the-job training? What kind of manager is ideal? Are flexible working options important?


5. What’s your current pay? What salary and benefits are you expecting?

Industry experts say many candidates “embellish” the truth when responding to this question. But determining what salary your applicant currently receives is important.

Not asking this question – even if your advert specifies a salary range – can result in skewed expectations and a wasted face-to-face interview.


6. What are your career goals?

This question gives further insight into your candidate’s character and expectations. Many applicants don’t have a plan. Depending on the type of role you are hiring for, this is either a big alarm bell or not such an issue. Use your judgement.

Are they proud of their job performance? Asking about their career goals will give you a window into what drives them.


7. What is their notice period?

The notice period is a crucial factor to consider before an applicant makes it onto your shortlist.

Is the applicant available immediately? Here’s a potential red flag. You need to find out why. Likewise, do you need to fill the position quickly? If so, you will want someone with a fairly short notice period.

Candidates with a long notice period will suit some hiring managers, while others can’t afford to wait too long.



8. Ask the candidate to describe an aspect of their role or a project they were involved in.

This is a good way to check their communication skills and get insights into how they view themselves. You can also glean other useful information from their answer. Is the candidate a team player? Are they self-motivated? Is the process as important as the results?


9. Have you any questions?

An engaged candidate will have jotted down some follow-up questions. Any hint of a blasé attitude here is a big red flag! Do you get the idea that the applicant has given their full attention to the interview?  

This is where the candidate has an opportunity to show they care about the job. By asking questions, they can learn about the facets of the firm that matter most to them.

Conducting the perfect phone interview is a two-way process. You may be deciding if you want to offer them a face-to-face interview. At the same time, the job-seeker wants to be sure the job and organisation will be the right fit.


Final Thoughts

Determining if a candidate is right for your role is hard enough.  Phone interviews are a powerful way to help you quickly determine if the applicant warrants a face-to-face interview.

Asking the right questions turns a telephone interview into an important tool for HR and hiring managers alike. Weeding out unsuitable candidates at the beginning of the process saves everyone valuable time and effort.

Next time you are hiring, consider these nine essential telephone interview questions to help streamline your recruitment process.


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