How to Conduct a Phone Interview

how to conduct a phone interview
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Phone screening is a common part of many interview processes. Phone interviews have become popular because, nowadays, everyone has a cell phone and the interviews are very easy to coordinate. It is a great first step in the interview process. However, some crucial components of an in-person interview are lost when an interview is conducted over the phone.

With that in mind, we’ve laid out just how to conduct a phone interview. For example, when do you conduct a phone interview? What are the best practices and preparation involved? What should you ask and what should you be wary of in a candidate?

Where Does A Phone Interview Fit Into The Hiring Process?

A phone interview, or phone screen, is a method for learning more about an applicant and determining which job candidates should be further considered for a role. If a resume or cover letter piques the interest of an employer or hiring manager, a phone interview is a great next step. It is a chance to speak with candidates and give them a chance to speak on their own behalf. Generally, a phone interview lasts about 15 – 30 minutes. The goal of the phone screening is to understand the applicant’s qualifications, work experience, and desired salary. From here, you can choose which candidates should and should not move forward in the interview process. For the candidates you are impressed with, you will likely want to invite them to a more extensive, in-person interview.

While a normal interview can be accomplish all of this, a phone interview has added benefits. Phone screens allow you to eliminate unqualified applicants earlier in the hiring process, saving you time and money. They are easier for everyone to schedule since travel and location are no longer factors. And, due to the lack of visual interfacing, there are subconscious biases that are circumvented with a phone interview.

Preparing For A Phone Interview – For Interviewers

There aren’t hard and fast rules for how to conduct a phone interview. That said, there are some generally agreed upon best practices.

  • Prepare a scorecard. While candidates shouldn’t be considered on a score alone, it’s a convenient way to remain objective and see how candidates stack up against each other. Following a general script of questions is good practice in this early stage.
  • Work to prevent subconscious bias. You won’t be able to establish a visual or physical rapport with a candidate. This means you’re often going off of just a name and a voice. Don’t draw too many conclusions based off of limited information.
  • Find a quiet place for the interview. DO NOT conduct a phone interview on the go! Get somewhere quiet and avoid interruptions.
  • Focus time on the candidate. Don’t oversell the job. You do not have a lot of time to learn all you need about a candidate. Focus on asking questions, listening to answers, and giving succinct replies to their questions.

What Are The Best Questions To Ask In A Phone Interview?

The questions you ask should reflect the goal of the phone screening. Because phone interviews are generally used to make early cuts, your questions need to address qualifications, salary expectations, and work history. While many interview questions are universal, some are particularly useful to ask at this stage, and over the phone. Here is what you want to learn during the short time you spend conducting a phone interview.

  • What are the candidate’s current and expected salary? This question covers a lot of ground. For jobs with less flexible compensation, it either eliminates candidates or lets employers know they should adjust their offer. For more flexible jobs, it establishes which candidates are less experienced but cheaper labor, and vice versa.
  • Why is the candidate leaving their previous job for this one? This covers several basics, like why a company and candidate are good fits for each other, and what they want out of a workplace. This also gauges their interest and how much research they’ve done.
  • What was the candidate’s most successful project in a previous position? This covers their skills, self-assessment, involvement, and leadership qualities in one question.
  • What are common mistakes people make in this work? By not targeting the candidate’s weaknesses directly, one can learn a lot about their work style and what sets them apart.
  • ALWAYS ask about issues or inconsistencies in the resume. If a candidate is looking solid except for one or two concerns, this gives them a chance to justify themselves.

What Are Some Red Flags To Look Out For?

There may be a fine line between the candidates that move on in the hiring process and those eliminated by a phone interview. Knowing what to look out for during a phone screening will help make this line clear and provide reassurance that you are making the right choice.

For one, pay attention to where the candidate’s interests lie. If the majority of their focus is on compensation and perks, they may not truly be interested in this work. It’s one thing to ask about the day-to-day of the job, it’s another to only ask about vacation and breaks.

This leads nicely into a second red flag: General disinterest or lack of questions. Candidates should be researching how to conduct a phone interview on their end, as well. If they come in without their own questions or curiosities, they aren’t putting the work in. They probably won’t ask everything they want to know in a shorter interview, and that’s ok, but they should have something to ask on their mind.

Perhaps the biggest red flag is one we touched on above: Gaps or inconsistencies in a candidate’s application. A candidate’s LinkedIn may say one thing and their resume another. They might also have some employment gaps. If an applicant is unable to satisfactorily answer reasonable concerns about discrepancies or employment gaps, that should serve as an easy deal breaker. 

More On How To Conduct A Phone Interview

While this article absolutely covers the basics, and then some, you can always improve your interviewing skills. Knowing some of the generally used interview questions is a good next step for developing your personal interview process. Since some candidates will be cut after a phone interview, knowing how to write a graceful rejection letter is also an extremely useful skill. For any further advice, be sure to check out our other articles.

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