How to Conduct a Phone Interview (Do's and Don'ts)

September 11, 2019 4 Corner Resources 4 Corner Resources

Whether you are a recruiter or hiring manager, there is no doubt that phone interviews are an essential part of the hiring process. Like them or not, they are here to stay. That’s where we come in. 

With years of experience running a top staffing agency in Florida, we know how to conduct phone interviews that leave candidates excited and eager to move forward in the interview process. Below we will share the benefits of conducting a phone interview, tips on preparing for a phone interview, sample questions to ask during a phone interview, and some potentially negative interview questions that you may want to avoid.

Benefits of Conducting a Phone Interview

If you are on the fence about conducting a phone interview, don’t be! Phone interviews are an essential part of the hiring process which provides convenience for both the job seeker and hiring manager or HR recruiter. While in-person interviews will remain an essential part of the hiring process, most applicants have come to expect an initial phone screening prior to an in-person visit. Some of the benefits of conducting a phone interview are:

  • Convenience in scheduling. It’s much easier for someone to find 30-minutes to conduct a phone interview than to find the time to go into an office for an in-person interview. 
  • Higher volume screening. By starting the interview process with a phone interview, you are able to filter through a higher volume of candidates in a shorter period of time.
  • Decreased travel expenses. It’s not uncommon for multiple people to be a part of a phone interview. If different members of your organization are in different locations, a phone interview quickly becomes the most convenient solution.

There are a handful of benefits when it comes to conducting a phone interview. Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what makes the most sense for your organization. 

Preparing for a Phone Interview

Hopefully by now you are convinced of the benefits that conducting phone interviews can provide. The next step is learning how to prepare for a successful phone interview.

Research the interviewee

To prepare for a phone interview, start by doing some research on the individual who you will be interviewing.  We recommend pulling up their resume, LinkedIn profile, the job description they applied to, and any other supplemental information that they may have provided. This will come in handy later when you are preparing some interview questions to ask your candidate.

Find a quiet place.

If possible, conduct your phone interview in a quiet space. Conducting a phone interview while in the car or on the train is not recommended. Not only does this open you up to variables that could interrupt your interview, but it can be seen as disrespectful to the interviewee and a poor reflection of your company as a whole. These background noises might be okay for you, but they may be distracting to the applicant, causing them to stumble in what otherwise could have been an excellent interview.

Prepare interview questions

While there is definitely some value in preparing general interview questions to ask all of your applicants, but it’s also recommended to prepare a few candidate-specific questions. Preparing candidate-specific questions allows you to dig deeper into the information on their resume. It also shows the applicant that you have done your homework. We’ll share more about the best interview questions to ask during a phone interview below.

Good Phone Interview Questions

When conducting a phone interview, the questions you ask will either make it worthwhile or a complete waste of time. By asking good interview questions, you should be able to learn enough about the candidate to decide whether or not they should move forward in the interview process. 

The goal of your phone interview should be to gain a deeper understanding of the candidate’s background, credentials, and career expectations. If all of these align with what you have to offer, you have a great match! Below are a handful of useful questions to ask during a phone interview screening.

Why are you looking for a new position?

Understanding why the applicant is looking for a new position is a crucial part of the interview process. No, this isn’t meant to be a catch-all where the applicant is forced to disclose that they were recently fired or laid off. While that may come up, there is a more important reason to ask this question. That is, to determine if they will be happy in the position you are interviewing for. If they just left their job because they hated working long hours, and you know your job requires long hours, it’s probably not a good fit. On the flip side, if they left because they felt they hit a glass ceiling, and you know the position you are hiring for has a ton of room for growth, it could be a great opportunity to sell the role.

What are your salary expectations for this role?

While this usually wouldn’t be the first question you’d ask in an interview, it can be a great filter to narrow down a large list of potential candidates. It would be a huge waste of time to go through multiple rounds of interviews only to find out that the salary expectations were not in alignment. This happens time and time again, but in most cases can easily be avoided.

Your resume mentions that you were responsible for a 60% increase in sales at your last company. How did you achieve that?

This is an example of a custom interview question. Like we mentioned above, it’s important to review the interviewee’s information and prepare a couple of questions that are completely unique to them. This allows you to gain a better understanding of their background, and fact check some of their statements.

For a more detailed list of interview questions, check out our article on the best interview questions to ask candidates.

Bad Phone Interview Questions

Bad phone interview questions can create a poor candidate experience, waste hours of time, and even have negative legal implications. With such a serious downside, it’s worth spending a few minutes learning how to avoid these potentially damaging interview questions.

Questions that ask for personal information

You must avoid asking questions that are related to the candidate’s age, marital status, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, disability status, sexual orientation, plans to conceive, etc. In addition, you should avoid sharing any of this information about yourself. Doing so may make the candidate feel uncomfortable and could also open you or your company up to legal risks.

Questions asked for the sake of passing time.

While this is rarely intentional, and typically happens due to a lack of preparation, it’s important not to ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. It can be tempting to go online and Google “interview questions to ask candidates” and then incorporate those questions into your phone interview. However, think about each question and what significance it plays in the interview process. There are enough quality interview questions out there to fill a 30-minute time slot. Don’t ask meaningless questions just for the sake of passing time.

For a more detailed list of interview questions, check out our article on the worst interview questions to ask candidates.

Phone Interview FAQs

We are regularly asked questions related to phone interviews. For your convenience, we have compiled some frequently asked questions as well as our answers.

How long does the average phone interview last?

The average phone interview lasts ~30 minutes. Of course, this can range wildly. At Amazon, it is not uncommon for a final stage phone interview to consist of 5 back to back 45-minute interviews. Granted, these are 45-minute interviews with 5 different individuals at the organization. For a 1-on-1 phone interview, 30-minutes is usually plenty of time.

Who should call who to initiate the phone interview?

Typically, it is the hiring manager, headhunter, or recruiter’s responsibility to arrange the phone interview (confirm candidates’ availability, send out calendar invites, etc.), and make the call.  

What percentage of the time should I be talking or listening?

Interviews are intended to be conversational. Remember, this is not an interrogation. A quality applicant should be just as concerned about joining the right company, as you are about hiring the right talent. Try to keep the interview as close as possible to a 50/50 taking to listening ratio. Sharing extensively about the role and not allowing the candidate to share about themselves will do a great job of informing them of the job but a lousy job at informing you if they are a quality candidate. Conversely, only asking questions without giving the applicant a chance to learn about the role may help you with screening, but does a poor job at ensuring the applicant is able to make a well-informed decision.

What happens if the interviewee does not answer their phone?

If the interviewee does not answer their phone when you call, leave a voicemail. Some people like to screen their calls. This can be avoided by scheduling the call ahead of time and providing the phone number that you will be calling from. If the applicant does not call back within a few minutes, it’s time to move on with your day.

How should I conclude the phone interview?

The best way to conclude a phone interview is with some level of transparency. If you thought the applicant was great and worthy of moving forward to the next round, let them know someone will be contacting them to schedule the next round. If you felt they were not a fit for the role, let them know why or tell them that you have other candidates who are a closer match. If you truly have mixed feelings and need some time to think about it, let your applicant know a definitive time frame when you will get back to them with an update. Interviewing is a two-way street. Assuming that an applicant is going to wait for your response and not continue interviewing elsewhere (and potentially accept another offer) is foolish. It happens all the time.

Need Help Hiring?

Here at 4 Corner Resources, we are eager to assist your company with its hiring needs. We offer professional staffing services that will save you time and effort in your hiring process! With our personal approach, we will find you not only a qualified candidate but also a culture fit that will make a great addition to your team. Our specialties consist of IT recruiting, marketing &  creative headhunting, legal staffing, finance & accounting recruiting, non-clinical healthcare headhunting, and call center staffing across multiple industries

Check out our blog to learn more interview tips and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions! 


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