How to Conduct a Phone Interview: 5 Tips

A telemarketer works at his office.

As more businesses shift to a remote workforce and generally look for efficient ways to recruit top talent, in-person interviews have become less commonplace. If this is new for your organization, you’ll want to understand how to conduct a phone interview that gives you clear insight into whether a given candidate is the right fit.

It can be challenging as a hiring manager or recruiter to get the same results over the phone, which conceal important cues such as body language and interaction with others in the office. However, if done right, phone interviews can still reveal much more about a candidate than you already gleaned from their resume or social media profile.

The following five tips for helping employers learn how to conduct a phone interview that will net positive results are covered in greater detail below:

  1. Schedule phone interviews on the same day.
  2. Engage candidates in a conversation.
  3. Ask focused phone interview questions.
  4. Apply in-person interview strategies on the phone.
  5. Don’t multitask during the interview.

1. Schedule Telephone Interviews on the Same Day

When scheduling your interviews, evaluate your phone interview questions and estimate how much time you’ll need with each candidate. Provide a little extra room in your schedule, in case the candidate is especially talkative or has more questions than you anticipate. You don’t want to rush through them or cut them off abruptly if you can help it.

As with any interview, it’s best to ask the candidate for their availability first and try to work around it. This could mean being available during the lunch hour, or outside of normal business hours. This may be more common if you’re interviewing candidates across multiple time zones.

If possible, schedule all your interviews for the same day. Having conversations close to each other helps you remember things you liked and didn’t like about each candidate’s answers, and also allows you to evaluate them on a more equal footing.

2. Engage Candidates in a Conversation

Once you learn how to conduct a phone interview in the most effective manner possible, you’ll be better able to narrow down your candidate pool more quickly. But don’t overlook the opportunity to create a connection with every candidate. Your initial goal should be to build rapport with candidates before asking technical or in-depth questions about their experience.

While you may get well-worn responses, consider icebreaker-type questions that build rapport, such as:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What do you know about this company?
  • What attracted you to this job?

Keep in mind that your role in the onboarding process starts with the interview. Just as you are assessing the candidates’ job skills over the phone, they are also assessing your organization.

3. Ask Focused Interview Questions

Once you’ve established some rapport with the interviewee, focus your questions on the position’s most critical skills and knowledge. The questions you ask should help determine whether a candidate’s qualifications, experience, workplace preferences, cultural fit, and salary requirements align with the position and your organization.

There are certain things that are must-haves for you to make any hiring decision. After starting off with the ice-breakers discussed earlier, you’ll want to ask questions that reveal deal-breakers. Do they have a bachelor’s degree? What are their salary expectation? Have they worked in a B2B sales environment for at least three years? Are they willing to travel two days each week.?

If the candidate doesn’t pass muster with those initial screening questions (which will vary for every organization), gracefully end the phone interview. For candidates who answered the questions satisfactorily, you can move on to the behavioral-based interview questions that delve deeper into the way the job seeker has used critical skills 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 arising and how they solve them when they do arise. These types of questions go beyond skills and experience and get at the heart of how they conduct themselves at work.

4. Apply in-Person Interview Strategies on the Phone

Many of the strategies you employ during in-person interviews will also come into play as you figure out how to conduct a phone interview. For example, use strategic pauses as you would when interviewing face-to-face. For instances, 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. But, be sure to give them time to think of their response.

As with any interview, you’ll want to “read the room” and go beyond your list of phone interview questions if you need to. When asking screening questions, interviewers have the tendency to stop listening, which makes it difficult to pick up on clues that might otherwise be revealing. It is a two-way conversation, after all.

Even body language can work in a phone interview. For instance, standing up and smiling during phone interviews may translate into being more alert and authoritative, which ideally would come through in your voice.

5. Don’t Multitask During the Interview

It can be challenging to stay focused on the phone interview when the candidate isn’t directly in front of you, but it’s important not to become distracted. If you start dusting the top of your monitor, for example, you’re not interviewing, you’re multitasking. You’re also running out of time. Knowing how to conduct a phone interview includes using tactics to help you stay focused, including the following:

  • Have your thoughts organized.
  • Do the interview in a quiet space.
  • Use a headset instead of a speakerphone.
  • Be ready to record answers in an open document.

Close out the interview by letting the job seeker know what to expect. For example, you could say: “Thank you for your time. In three days, I’m going to make a decision about whom to move forward with in the interview process.”

While it may be easier to “ghost” a candidate you haven’t met in person, it’s always a bad idea to ignore them after a phone interview. Call everybody back—even those you’re not bringing back. It’s not only professional, but also smart—you may need them in the future and it’s good practice when building a talent pipeline.

Learn How to Conduct a Phone Interview and Build a Winning Team

When your interview options are limited to the telephone, it’s crucial to make the most out of phone interview questions. With engaging, focused interviews, you can find the right pool of qualified candidates for the job, but you also need to have the right hiring strategy in place. Get the resources you need, including expert recruiting insights and the latest hiring trends, delivered free to your inbox.