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

Female professional taking notes about how to conduct a phone interview

Whether you’re a Recruiter or Hiring Manager, knowing how to conduct a phone interview is an essential part of the screening process. In a matter of 30 minutes, you can uncover whether or not a candidate has the right skills and experience for the job. However, you can also gauge other vital factors, such as team fit, attitude, and ethics.

Below, we share the benefits of conducting a phone interview, tips on preparing for a phone interview, sample questions to ask, and those to avoid.

Benefits of Conducting a Phone Interview

Phone interviews are a vital part of the modern hiring process, offering convenience for both the jobseeker and hiring manager alike. While in-person interviews will remain an essential part of the hiring process, most applicants have come to expect an initial phone screening before an in-person visit. 

Being able to conduct a phone interview offers the following advantages. 

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 can filter through a higher volume of candidates in a shorter period of time.

Decreased travel expenses

It’s not uncommon for multiple people to participate in a phone interview. If different members of your organization are in other locations, a phone interview quickly becomes the most convenient solution.

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. 

Preparing to Conduct a Phone Interview

Hopefully, by now, you have a clear view of the benefits of a phone interview. The next step is learning how to prepare yourself or your team to conduct successful interviews via the phone.

1. Research the interviewee

To prepare for a phone interview, start by researching the individual you will be interviewing. We recommend reviewing their resume, LinkedIn profile, job description, and any other supplemental information provided. This will come in handy later when you are preparing phone interview questions to ask.

2. Find a quiet place

Conduct your phone interview in a quiet space. Conducting a phone interview while in a public or noisy space is not advisable. You could be interrupted, and it could be viewed as disrespectful to the interviewee. These background noises might be okay for you, but they may distract the applicant. This could cause them to stumble in what otherwise could have been an excellent interview. 

3. Prepare relevant interview questions

While there is definitely some value in preparing general interview questions to ask all of your applicants, candidate-specific questions are highly advisable. Candidate-specific questions allow you to dig deeper into the information on their resume. It also shows the applicant that you have done your homework and that you’re seriously considering their request to work for you. 

Related: How to Prepare for a Phone Screen as a Hiring Manager

Good Phone Interview Questions

When conducting a phone interview, your questions will either make it worthwhile or a complete waste of time. By asking good interview questions, you should 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 your offer, you have a great match! 

1. Why are you looking for a new position?

Understanding why the applicant is looking for a new position is crucial to 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 arise, 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 much room for growth, it could be an excellent opportunity to sell the role.

2. What prior experience has prepared you for this role?

Relevant experience is a significant predictor of likely success. So, you want to understand whether a candidate has experience with similar or adjacent duties to the ones they’d be responsible for in the role. This question gives the candidate a chance to tell you about their background in their own words, which can be more informative than merely reading a list of jobs on their resume. Pay attention to the experiences they point out, as this will be a clue to the type of duties they feel most comfortable and confident with. 

3. What is your preferred work environment?

With this question, you’re looking to identify the defining workplace characteristics that a candidate sees as ideal: collaborative versus independent, quiet versus bustling, conventional versus creative, traditional versus nontraditional, and so on. While you don’t have to be an exact fit for all of a candidate’s preferences, you want to ensure that most of them align with the company’s actual work environment to prevent a hiring mismatch. 

4. What is your biggest professional accomplishment?

This question serves three purposes. First, it gives you a chance to hear about the accomplishment itself, which on its own may be an impressive reason to hire them. Second, it gives you perspective on what kind of achievements the candidate views as valuable, which will help you decide whether they can accomplish the goals you need them to meet in the position. Finally, it tells you whether a candidate has researched the position. The accomplishment they mention should be something that’s relevant to the job. If they describe something that seems totally unrelated, it’s a good sign they didn’t research the job thoroughly or have an incorrect understanding of what the responsibilities are. 

5. 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 an excellent filter to narrow down an extensive list of potential candidates. It would be a massive waste of time to go through multiple interviews only to discover that the salary expectations were not aligned. This happens repeatedly but, in most cases, can easily be avoided.

6. 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. As we mentioned above, it’s important to review the interviewee’s information and prepare a couple of completely unique questions. This allows you to gain a better understanding of their background and fact-check some of their statements.

7. Are you interviewing with other companies?

A cat-and-mouse element to hiring can complicate the process. On one hand, if a candidate is interviewing elsewhere, it could indicate that they’re a desirable asset and increase their value in your eyes. On the other hand, it also increases the likelihood that you’ll face competition to get them to accept an offer, which could be more expensive and time-consuming. Either way, it’s an important question to ask so that you have all of the details necessary to make an informed and strategic hiring decision.

If you would like to get help with the recruitment process and relieve your team of the initial hiring administrative tasks, such as conducting first-round phone interviews, we can help.

Related: The Best Behavioral Questions to Ask Candidates

Phone interview questions to avoid

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

Questions that ask for personal information

You must avoid asking questions 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 action.

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. It can be tempting to go online and Google “interview questions to ask candidates” and then incorporate those questions into your phone interview. However, consider each question and its significance in the interview process. There are enough quality interview questions to fill a 30-minute time slot. 

Related: The Best and Worst Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Tips for Conducting a Phone Interview

Schedule interviews promptly

Speed is a great asset when you’re competing for top talent, and phone interviews are conducive to moving quickly. Scheduling interviews on the same day or the next day helps you engage qualified applicants while their interest level is high and also reduces your hiring time.

Set candidate expectations

If you set up the interview with vague language like “Do you have a few minutes to chat?” the candidate might incorrectly assume it’s a quick, casual conversation when it’s really a full-length, formal interview. Avoid this–and give them adequate opportunity to prepare—by setting clear expectations ahead of time. Explicitly state that the call will be an interview. Tell them how long you expect the call to take and who they will speak with. 

Review resumes ahead of time

While phone interviews may feel more informal than in-person interviews, the stakes are just as high. So, you owe it to the candidate and your company to thoroughly prepare. Review resumes and application materials ahead of time versus glancing at them as you dial the phone number. This will help you ask more focused questions and have a full picture of the applicant you’re speaking with. 

Use standardized questions

Avoid the urge to ‘wing it’ and ask questions on the fly. It’s much easier to assess all candidates equally when you ask each of them the same set of questions. This will ensure you gather all of the relevant information and help you avoid veering off-topic or going over your allotted time frame.

Related: Guide to Interview Scoring Sheets

Keep the conversation focused

With phone interviews, time management is paramount. It’s too easy for attention and energy levels to drop when you’re not sitting face-to-face with a candidate. Stay focused by sticking to the questions you’ve decided on ahead of time and try to keep the call from dragging on too long; 20 to 30 minutes is a good benchmark. 

How to Conclude a Phone Interview

The best way to conclude a phone interview is with some level of transparency. If the applicant is worthy of moving forward to the next round, let them know someone will contact them to schedule a follow-up. Should they not be deemed a good fit for the position, tell them why or tell them that you have other candidates who are a closer match. When you 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. Refrain from assuming an applicant will wait for your response and not continue interviewing elsewhere.

Need Help Hiring?

Here at 4 Corner Resources, we are eager to assist your company with any 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 a qualified candidate and a culture fit that will make a great addition to your team. Our specialties include IT recruiting, marketing &  creative headhunting, legal staffing, finance & accounting recruiting, non-clinical healthcare headhunting, and call center staffing across multiple industries.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.

Conduct a 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 for around 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 five different individuals at the organization. For a 1-on-1 phone interview, 30 minutes is enough time.

Who should call who to initiate the phone interview?

Typically, the hiring manager, headhunter, or recruiter is responsible for arranging the phone interview (confirming candidates’ availability, sending out calendar invites, etc.) and making 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 candidates to share about themselves will do a great job of informing them of the job but a lousy job of 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 could do a better job at ensuring the applicant can make a well-informed decision.

What happens if the interviewee does not answer their phone?

Leave a voicemail if the interviewee does not answer their phone when you call. 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.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn