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10 Essential Phone Interview Questions You Need to be Asking

10 Essential Phone Interview Questions You Need to be Asking

Doing interviews over the phone is the most popular way to interview candidates and a great preliminary screening process.

This article will provide you with a comprehensive list of questions as well as tips you can use to conduct better phone interviews that will improve your hiring process.

Use the links below to quickly jump to different sections:

Should you do phone interviews?

Phone interviews are a great option, especially for preliminary interviews. Interviewing over the phone allows you to get a quick overview and evaluation of a candidate to determine if they are worth bringing in for future interviews or relevant pre-employment tests.

For example, in just a few minutes on the phone, you can learn over the phone if the applicants meets your basic requirements, that they understand the position and what it entails, what their salary expectation is, a general understanding of their personality, and more.

If the phone interview goes well, you can invite candidates in for an in-person interview, have them complete other pre-employment requirements, etc.

It is worth noting that phone interviews have their weaknesses. You’ll want to avoid using phone interviews as your only interview during the hiring process because a lack of body language and in person communication makes it difficult to make a great decision over the phone.

How do you conduct a good phone interview?

A good phone interview should be relatively quick, probably no more than 15 minutes and should be designed to understand if the candidate merits a second, in person, interview.

You’ll always want to begin the interview with two to three minutes of introductions. First, introduce yourself, your company, and explain a bit about the position that is available. Then, allow the candidate to introduce themselves and explain why they are interested in the position and the company.

Once you’ve covered the introduction and assuming there will be a couple minutes at the end of the call to answer any questions the candidate has, you’ll only have approximately ten minutes to ask questions.

As a result, you’ll want to start off with the most important questions and figure out the information you’re trying to obtain as quickly as possible. You don’t want to waste time with open ended and less relevant questions that ultimately lead to a lack of understanding of the candidate’s skillset.

Also, you’ll want to ask questions that have a clear answer so you can record the response and make a less biased decision later on about who should receive a second round interview.

Finally, in order to conduct a good phone interview, communication is key. You’ll want to communicate to the candidate before the interview starts that they will need to be in a quiet place, when exactly the interview starts with the correct timezone (and ideally send a calendar invite), and finally that it is an interview and you will be asking them questions.

Communicating effectively before the interview will ensure that everything goes smoothly and common mistakes like having the candidate in a crowded place, miss the time, or not understand it’s a formal interview will be avoided.

Phone Interview Tips

1. Offer Calls Outside of Normal Business Hours

Many candidates already have jobs and are in the process of looking for new jobs. Offering calls outside of normal business hours will make it easier for them to do the phone interview.

2. Check the Facts

Checking figures and facts on a candidate’s resume is a great way to ensure they haven’t exaggerated their results and performance at previous employers. If you’re unsure, ask about the same fact twice in the interview, candidates are unlikely to remember made up figures.

3. Listen

When interviewing over the phone or in person, it’s critical to listen to the interviewee. Although it can be tempting to chime in, the best thing to do is to ask a question, sit back and listen.

4. Avoid Burning Out

It’s probably tempting to knock out all your phone interviews in one day. However, you should try to limit the amount of interviews you do to a reasonable number. Having too many calls in one day can lead to burnout which makes you less engaged with candidates and can lead to poor hiring decisions.

5. Take Notes

The human memory is not very good and is often biased. To accurately remember each interview and compare them later on, you’ll want to take detailed notes about each of the candidate’s responses. When you’re looking back after all of your phone interviewers, these notes will help you make a better decision about who gets hired!

6. Use Your Calendar

Effective scheduling is critically important if you want to have successful phone interviews. Make sure to agree on a time, send a calendar invite and ideally set an automatic reminder. This will ensure there is no confusion about when the interview is happening.

7. Tell the Candidate What to Expect

Sending a brief summary of what to expect during the interview can help make the candidate less nervous which will lead to a more comfortable and effective interview.

8. Schedule Short Calls

Even if you plan on having 30 minute or hour long calls, schedule them for 15 minutes. If you have a great call you will be able to extend it longer and if the call goes poorly, you can end it early without having to explain why it didn’t last the scheduled hour.

9. Plan Your Questions

Although you may decide to go off script during the interview, having a few questions and things you want to find out written down in advance will help ensure the interview goes smoothly and you are able to gather the information you need!

10. Leave Time for the Interviewee

During the initial phone interview, the candidate is also trying to learn if your company is a good fit for them. As a result, you’ll always want to leave 5 minutes to see if your candidates have any questions for you.

11. Speak Slowly

When you’re on the phone, it’s always better to speak slowly. Connection issues and lack of visual information can make it difficult to understand especially if you speak quickly naturally.

12. Avoid Interviewing First Thing in the Morning

Although you may have to do a phone interview first thing in the morning, try to avoid it. Spend some time instead talking to colleagues and getting into your day. This will prevent you from being groggy or not fully ready for the interview.

The Top 10 Phone Interview Questions

We’ve explained how to conduct a great phone interview, so let’s get down to brass tacks, what are the best ten phone interview questions and why?

1. Why are you interested in the position?

Although candidates are interested in your company because they need to eat, there are lots of places they can go to get a job so that they can eat. It is important to understand why a candidate is choosing to apply to your position versus the alternatives. If they have a good reason, it’s likely they will be a good, reliable employee. If they applied on a whim because they stumbled across your job posting, they may still be a good employee but might not be dedicated or in it for the long haul, they might be more into the job for the paycheck.

2. Why are you interested in this company and not one of our competitors?

This is a great question because it tests both if a candidate has done their research and knows about your company and if they have chosen to work for your company or are simply looking for a paycheck with no interest for your company’s mission.

3. An important skill for this job is x, can you tell me about your experience with x skill at y company?

With every position there are key skills which are important. If a candidate lists one of these skills on their resume, you’ll want to explore their experience with that skill to really understand the experience they have to offer. This question allows a candidate to discuss their skillset along with their real world experience.

4. What would your expected salary be for this type of position?

If you’re hiring a for a position and you only are looking to pay approximately $60,000 and the candidate expects $150,000, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to hire them since your expectations are so different. Getting this information out of the way will prevent you from going through the entire interview process and then being unable to reach an agreement.

5. Why are you leaving your current position?

There are many good reasons for a candidate to leave a position but there are also a number of reasons that are potentially red flags. Understanding why a candidate is transitioning jobs is important to make sure they will be a good fit.

6. What do you hope to learn/gain by getting this position?

Understanding what an employee is looking to learn is critical because if you are unable to offer them what their looking for, it’s unlikely they will stick around for very long or be a good hire.

7. What did you like and dislike about the culture of your last company?

Ensuring candidates are a cultural fit is arguably the most important thing to consider when hiring. If a candidate is a bad cultural fit, it doesn’t matter how talented they are, they will perform poorly and won’t stick around as long. This question will allow you to understand what they like and didn’t like about another company’s culture so you can make a more educated guess if they will fit your company’s specific culture!

8. Specific resume clarification questions.

For example: It says you have experience with Javascript, what sort of experience do you have and what would you say your skill level is from beginner to advanced?

Although a resume often lists a candidate’s experience and skills, if you have any questions about specific sections or skillsets, spend some time digging in deeper. A great way to phrase the question is: can you tell me a bit more about [Insert Resume Information].

9. If you got the position, when would you be available? (if relevant)

Knowing when a candidate can start will also prevent wasting time during the interview process. If you need someone tomorrow and they can’t work for three months, you might not be able to make the hire and should not waste time interviewing them as a result.

10. Do you have any questions about our company or the position?

You’ll always want to end interviews by asking if the candidate has any questions. This is important because it creates an open dialogue allowing candidates to express any concerns or find out any information they are unclear on.

Phone Interview Red Flags

When you’re interviewing a candidate on the phone, you’re trying to determine if they would be a good fit for a second interview. Here are some red flags that mean it’s probably best to avoid the second interview:

1. Limited knowledge of your company or the position

If a candidate has very little knowledge about your company it’s a red flag that they might not be that serious about the position or are unprepared, both of which are bad.

2. Most interest in talking about money

Salary is an important part of a job but there are many places a candidate could go to earn money. As a result, if all a candidate wants to talk about is money it could be they are joining for the wrong reason and could even leave as soon as they find a better offer elsewhere.

3. No reasons for leaving past company or joining yours

If a candidate doesn’t have any explanation as to why they are doing what they’re doing, it’s likely they haven’t really thought through why they want a job at your company and thus are likely not as good of a hire as someone who has strong reasons for their change in jobs.

4. Low energy or not talkative

Although some people are naturally more reserved, someone who seems to have low energy and is not excited to be there is not someone you want on your team.

5. Late or missed the interview

There are some legitimate reasons for being late or missing an interview, but if this happens, it is a strong red flag that the candidate is not interested, disorganized, and likely not a good hire.

6. Rude or uninterested

It goes without saying that if a candidate acts rude or uninterested in an interview, it doesn’t matter what skills they have, they likely won’t be a very good employee.

7. Exaggerated experience

If during the course of the phone interview it becomes apparent that the information on a candidate’s resume is wildly exaggerated, it’s a good sign that applicant is at best unqualified for the position and at worst untrustworthy.

8. Trust your gut

At the end of the day, trust your gut with phone interviews, if you have a bad feeling about a candidate even if you can’t identify why, it might be best to move forward with other candidates.

9. Negative views about previous employer

There are plenty of bad companies out there, but, if a candidate speaks badly about their previous employer or blames them for their departure, it is a red flag. This could signal that the candidate gossipy or will speak poorly about your company after they leave.

Twenty Five More Great Phone Interview Questions

  1. How do you keep track of what you need to do…do you have a system in place?
  2. What makes you a strong candidate for this specific position?
  3. What sort of oversight and action would a great boss provide for you?
  4. What are the first three things you would do if hired?
  5. How do you work to continue to develop your professional skills?
  6. How would this position get you closer to where you want to be in 5-10 years?
  7. What is something you’re working on improving professionally?
  8. How would pass co-workers and bosses describe you?
  9. What one accomplishment are you most proud of?
  10. What do you like to do outside of work?
  11. What would make you love coming to work here each day?
  12. What is your greatest fear about getting this job?
  13. Who is your role model and why?
  14. What sort of tasks do you not enjoy?
  15. What sort of tasks do you enjoy that other people don’t?
  16. Can you tell me about a skill or experience you have that will make you thrive in this company?
  17. If you were paid the salary you asked for and got the job, what offer would make you decide to leave?
  18. What motivates you?
  19. Tell me about a time you failed to meet a deadline and how you responded to it.
  20. Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss and how you handled it.
  21. How did you find out about this opening?
  22. What are your goals?
  23. How do you get along with your co-workers? Is there anything other co-workers do that you can’t stand?
  24. What sort of position would be ideal for you?
  25. How many hours per week would you expect to work?

Need Candidates to Interview?

To conduct phone interviews, first you need candidates. The best place to start looking is locally amongst co-workers, friends, and family.

If however, you need some outside help, you can use Proven to post your job to over one hundred different job sites with one click!


Will Zimmerman

Will is a content marketer for Proven. He is from Boulder, Colorado and when not writing awesome content, he enjoys all things outdoors, including but certainly not limited to skiing, camping, hiking, and surfing.

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