10 Best Phone Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Image of black woman sitting at desk, wearing a headset, asking phone interview questions. Yellow graphic background.

You’ve read the resumes, cover letters, portfolios, and more. You’ve successfully narrowed down your field of applicants, but what’s the next step?

A phone interview is an efficient and effective way to screen candidates. Phone interviews are relatively easy to schedule, and they don’t take up too much time. However, it’s still important to ask the right phone interview questions to vet candidates.

How to Conduct a Phone Interview

Approach a phone interview with the same level of professionalism as an in-person interview. This includes:

  • Respecting the candidate’s time by calling them when scheduled.
  • Being in a quiet space without any distractions.
  • Having the candidate’s resume pulled up in front of you.
  • Paying attention to the candidate and their responses.

If possible, avoid scheduling phone interviews back-to-back. If you feel stressed by the time, you might inadvertently rush each candidate. Give yourself some breathing room between screening calls.

You should also write down the phone interview questions you plan to ask each candidate. Ideally, you will use the same questions for each candidate, making it easier to compare candidates.

Best Phone Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

While the best phone interview questions will depend on your specific industry and the role you’re looking to fill, here are some ideas to get you started.

1) How Did You Hear About This Position?

This is a great phone interview question to start with. It’s a simple question that puts the candidate at ease, allowing them to be more comfortable with other questions. It also gives you valuable information about your company’s outreach efforts. If most candidates found the job listing on a certain job board, but not another, then you know where to focus your attention going forward.

2) Tell Me About Yourself

This is a standard opening interview question, for good reason! You want to get an idea of the candidate’s experience and skills beyond what’s on their resume. Listen for an answer that connects their work experience to the job description.

3) Why Are You Looking for a New Job?

By asking this phone interview question, you ascertain not just the candidate’s motivation to find a new job, but also their diplomatic skills.

If there’s a problem with their current job, look for an answer that explains the issue without badmouthing their current employer. Or if they are currently unemployed, give them a chance to explain why.

4) Why Are You Interested in This Position?

The ideal candidate is interested in this particular job, at this particular company. Listen for an enthusiastic response that indicates the candidate did their research on your company. Pay attention to any cues that indicate they will add to your company culture.

5) Tell Me About Your Most Recent Role and Responsibilities

By asking about their most recent role instead of their current job, you make it easier for unemployed candidates to respond. Pay attention to how they describe their job duties and achievements. Do they line up with your expectations for this role?

White woman sitting at desk, looking at laptop, talking on mobile phone

6) Do You Prefer to Work Remotely or in the Office?

With many businesses offering fully remote options and hybrid options, it’s important to know what a job candidate expects in their next role. Listen to their answer, and then honestly explain the options offered by your company.

7) As an Employee, What’s Your Preferred Management Style?

This question is important, especially if you’re interviewing for a direct report. You need to know if your own management style will work well with your potential employee. However, focus more on the candidate’s honesty and candor. Even if your current way of managing doesn’t align with their preferences, you can adapt for the right candidate.

8) What Is Your Availability?

Some positions need to be filled immediately. Others have a more flexible start date. You need to know when a candidate is available to start to see if it matches your timeline. It’s also helpful to know if they already have a vacation booked soon, in case that creates a challenge for your team.

Even if the start date is flexible for the company, be wary of a candidate who asks for more than four weeks’ leeway, unless they offer a reasonable explanation. Some top candidates might be in the middle of a big project at their current job, and they don’t want to leave their co-workers in a bind. If you’re recruiting broadly for a role, then your ideal candidate might need to move cross-country to work for you. If a candidate doesn’t have a good reason for needing extra time, that could indicate a lack of commitment.

9) What Are Your Salary Expectations?

Not everyone wants to talk about salary right away, but it’s helpful if you can find out a candidate’s expected salary range. Be understanding if they hesitate to give a firm response, since they might be worried about undervaluing themselves or pricing themselves out of consideration.

Ideally, you will also provide the job’s salary range to all candidates. This helps you and the candidates know if their expectations are within your company’s budget.

10) What Questions Do You Have for Me?

Always save time during a phone interview to allow the candidate to ask you questions. Be prepared for common questions, such as:

  • What do you enjoy most about working for the company?
  • How did you get started at this organization?
  • What are some of the challenges you face in your role?

Strong candidates will have at least one question for you at the end of a phone interview. But pay attention throughout the call; they might find ways to ask questions organically before reaching the end.

Phone Interview Next Steps

The phone interview is just one step in the overall hiring process. After you complete all your phone interviews with potential candidates, you need to narrow down your list for the next round of interviews.

Contact successful candidates as soon as possible to schedule their next interview. If a remote interview is the next step, check out our tips for effective remote interviewing.

You should also reach out to unsuccessful candidates, thanking them for their time, and letting them know you’re going in a different direction.

Phone Interview FAQs

Here are a few more questions about conducting a phone interview.

What is the Purpose of a Phone Interview?

A phone interview is a relatively quick and easy way to screen candidates early in the hiring process. It helps hiring managers narrow down the pool of applicants by checking candidates’ basic qualifications for the job.

How Long is a Phone Interview?

A phone interview typically lasts just 15 to 30 minutes. A phone interview with a recruiter is generally shorter than a phone interview with a hiring manager. When you set up a phone interview with a candidate, let them know the expected time in advance so they can block off their schedule.

What are Red Flags in a Phone Interview?

An unexpected distraction during a phone interview, like noise due to weather or someone at the door, should be overlooked. Look out for unprofessional behavior instead, like negative comments about former employers or the use of curse words.

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