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The Art of the Phone Interview

A man sits at a desk conducting a phone interview

A phone interview is an imperative part of the recruitment process. It’s that first step towards realizing the vision you’ve developed in your head of that potentially perfect candidate. And as tempted as you might be to just bring them into the office, a phone interview gives you the opportunity to ensure the competency, availability, and honesty from a less awkward distance. It saves time for you and for them as well. In fact, it’s just plain courteous for candidates who have to endure the stress of coming up with excuses for their current employer, researching your organization, figuring out what to wear, and practicing being mindful of their body language whenever they have an in-person interview. Besides, chances are you still have too many candidates you’re unsure about. A phone interview allows you to narrow your selection even further.

As with any job interview, the impression many have of a phone interview is that the pressure is on the candidate, not the employer – and the fact that it’s over the phone seems to imply that both parties can relax a little more than usual. But in reality, a phone interview, like any job interview, is a two-way street on which either party, whether amazing employer or cutting-edge candidate, can be off-roaded. An employer needs to be prepared, diligent, alert, and organized while conducting a phone interview, and they also need to be careful about what they say and how they act. The following are some tips to ensure you conduct an impeccable phone interview every time.

  • Make a check list

    Make a list of everything you want to find out about the candidate beyond their resume, including anything you want elaborated, verified, or established. Develop questions around each of these elements and tick them off as you go along so that you don’t get sidetracked by any divergences and so that you don’t become disorganized, which can look bad in the candidate’s eyes.

  • Keep their resume in front of you

    As good as your memory may be, it’s best to keep the candidate’s resume in front of you just in case. Bringing something up with a candidate over the phone that isn’t in fact on their resume – only to have them correct you – isn’t just awkward, it sends the candidate’s mind racing with questions: Why aren’t they organized? Do they know who they’re talking to? Do they think they’re talking to the candidate they want – and that isn’t me? Not the best first impression.

  • Ask these tried and true phone interview questions

    Although the questions you ask will be heavily customized according to your needs, there are a few that you should definitely ask to ensure whether the person you’re talking to is in-person interview worthy. These questions include:

    • What is the minimum salary you would accept to leave your current position?
    • Why do you want to leave your current position/Why did you leave your current position?
    • When would you be available to start if you were offered the role?
    • What is it you like about the role and the organization?
    • What is/was the corporate culture like where you currently/most recently worked?
    • Do you have any vacation or other events coming up that might delay your start time?

    In addition to these questions, it’s important to ask the candidate to summarize their experiences, from duties, to job history, to education. Seeing how quickly, easily, and accurately they answer these questions helps ensure everything on their resume is genuine. Just be sure to have it in front of you to follow along (see above).

  • Let them ask questions too

    Remember that it’s not all about you. While you’re trying to figure out if the candidate is a good fit for your organization, the candidate is trying to figure out if your organization is a good fit for them. Besides, allowing candidates to ask questions can be revealing regarding just how interested they are in the role and whether they’ve been paying attention to you.

  • Remember: Smartphones aren’t so smart

    Regardless of who your provider is, cell phones generally have less reliable signals than landlines. Losing your connection only to have to call back – while the candidate may be trying to phone you back at the same time – is annoying for both of you. Besides, if you’re wandering about on a cell phone, all sorts of background noise can prove distracting, from gusts of wind to the din of the food court. Still, even if you lock yourself away in privacy, do it in a room with good old-fashioned “dumb” phone. It’s the smarter choice.

  • Keep it as short and sweet as possible

    How long you take to conduct a phone interview can depend on your specific needs, but typically they should last about half an hour. Some hiring managers and recruiters follow a 5-20-5 rule, meaning the first five minutes are spend providing the candidate an overview of the job and the company, 20 minutes are spent asking questions, and five minutes are spent answering the candidate’s questions. Finally, at the very end, let them know what the next steps will be, for instance, by saying how much longer you have to interview other candidates and at what date they can expect to hear back from you should they move on in the process. This way, you’re not bombarded with follow-ups and the candidates aren’t left in the dark.


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