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Phone Interview Questions To Find Qualified Candidates

Phone Interview Questions To Find Qualified Candidates

By: Dona DeZube

As a business owner or manager, time is your most precious resource. Preserve it by using phone interview questions to discover the job candidates who are most deserving of a face-to-face interview.

Just how much time can you save using phone interviews? Suppose you have five candidates who seem right for the job. A 15-minute telephone interview with each candidate instead of a one-hour interview could save you 3+ hours.

“Schedule all your interviews for the same day, if possible,” recommends Peggy McKee, CEO of Career Confidential in Gunter, Texas, and author of How to Ace Your Phone Interview. “Having conversations close to each other helps you remember things you liked and didn’t like about the answers you hear from candidates.”

Engage Candidates in a Conversation
The efficiency of phone interviews will enable you to narrow down your candidate pool more quickly. But don’t overlook the opportunity to create a connection with every candidate you speak with.

“When you first reach out to a candidate, your goal should be to build a rapport with them before asking technical or in-depth questions about their experience,” says Amanda Read, recruiter with Talent FusionTM by Monster .

Keep in mind that the onboarding process starts with your first conversation with the candidate. Just as you are assessing their job skills during this initial chat, keep in mind that they are also assessing your organization.

Focusing your Phone Interview Questions
Once you've established some rapport with the interviewee, focus your questions on the position’s most critical skills and knowledge.

“There are certain things that are must-haves for you to make any hiring decision,” says McKee. “Ask phone interview questions about those deal-breakers: a bachelor’s degree, salary expectation, four years’ experience selling in a B2B environment or a willingness to travel two days each week.”

Once you’ve gotten answers to those initial skills screening questions, gracefully end the phone interview with candidates who don’t meet your requirements. “A candidate that does now qualify may do so in the future,” says Read. She also recommends asking all candidates if they know someone else they can refer to you.

For candidates who answered the skills-based questions satisfactorily, you can move on to the behavioral-based interview questions that delve deeper into the way the job seeker has used each critical skill in past positions.

“Knowing the typical problems presented by each of the job’s deliverables, you’ll ask candidates how they do their work to anticipate and prevent those problems from arriving and how they solve them when they cannot be prevented,” says Martin Yate, author of the New York Times’ best seller, Knock 'em Dead Hiring the Best: Proven Tactics for Successful Employee Selection .

Phone Interview Strategies
Many of the strategies you employ in in-person interviews also work well in phone interviews. For example, use strategic pauses, as you would when interviewing face-to-face, recommends interview expert Doug Hardy. “Say, ‘Tell me more about that,’ and be silent. The candidate will feel an urge to fill that silence, and what they say at that point is often unguarded, candid and revealing.”

Hardy recommends going beyond your list of phone interview questions if you need to. “When asking screening questions, we all tend to stop listening, and we don’t pick up on clues that might otherwise be revealing.”

By staying focused, adds Hardy, you’re likely to cull more from your phone interviews. 

“I like to stand up and smile during phone interviews,” he says. “The physical change from sitting makes me more alert and authoritative, and that comes through in my voice.”

If you do stand, Hardy offers one note of caution: Don’t become distracted by objects or people you typically don’t see when sitting. “If you start dusting the top of your monitor, you’re not interviewing, you’re multitasking,” he says.

McKee suggests you also:

  • Have your thoughts organized and ready to go.
  • Call the applicant on time.
  • Do the interview in a quiet space.
  • Use a headset instead of speakerphone.
  • Don’t use your cellphone unless you want to give up that personal number. Use your switchboard at work.
  • Be ready to record answers in an open Word document.
  • Ask job candidates if they have questions about the job or your firm.
  • Call those you’re not bringing back, or have your assistant do it.

Close out the phone interview by letting the job seeker know what they can expect. For example, you could say: “Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it. I have other interviews to conduct. In three days, I’m going to make a decision about who to bring in for an on-site interview.”

Once you’re comfortable with the phone interview process, consider handing off these duties to your managers who need to learn hiring skills. Phone interviews can be a great first step to develop your staff’s interviewing abilities.