10 Common Phone Interview Questions to Find the Right Candidate

Each stage in the hiring process is important, and the phone interview stage is no exception. The phone interview will help you determine who is worthy of an in-person interview, and who does not qualify to take up more of your time. Getting this interview right comes down to asking the right questions. Here are 10 common phone interview questions to find the right candidate.
10 Common Phone Interview Questions to Find the Right Candidate
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The phone interview. A moment of time to ask a few questions in order to determine if the person you’re speaking with is worthy of an in-person interview. Although many of these interviews don’t last more than 10-15 minutes, there is a lot to glean in this short period of time. Getting the phone interview right is critical because you don’t want to waste your time with unqualified or unimpressive applicants. Therefore, the phone interview questions you decide to ask are important. Asking the right questions can help you get to the right candidates faster than the competition.

Why Conduct a Phone Interview?

The phone interview is a common step in the hiring process. Typically, phone interviews will follow the initial application screening. Once a hiring manager or recruiter has had the chance to review the resumes and applications submitted by job seekers, they’ll then tag 25-50% of their best applicants to move forward in the process.

The next step is to reach out and schedule phone interviews with the selected applicants. These phone interviews are commonly scheduled for 10-15 minutes and are (obviously) conducted over the phone. Some interviewers may also choose to conduct these interviews over Zoom as it allows them a more complete view of the interviewee rather than simply hearing their voice over the phone.

The purpose of the phone interview is to narrow in on the best candidates and determine who you think might be eligible for an in-person interview.

How to Conduct a Phone Interview

When conducting interviews over the phone, it is critically important to be consistent with the questions you ask. While your conversations with job candidates may take different turns and result in different topics, you should do your best to give each interviewee an unbiased, standardized set of questions to answer. By standardizing the interview process, you’ll be able to rate and evaluate each of your candidates on an equal playing field. If you ask different questions to all your applicants, there will be no way to determine a baseline for what a “successful” interview looks like.

"By standardizing the interview process, you’ll be able to rate and evaluate each of your candidates on an equal playing field."

Need more tips on improving your hiring process? Check out this article on how to write the perfect job description.

10 Common Phone Interview Questions

The most important part of the phone interview is the questions you ask. You want each question to reveal something about the candidate you’re interviewing. And, if you stay consistent with your questions during each interview, you should be able to draw some nice comparisons between your candidates.

Of course, your goal isn’t to find “the one” candidate who will be perfect for the job–at least not at this phase of the hiring process. Instead, your goal is to eliminate the people who are definitely not “the one” for the job. With this line of thinking, you’ll be more open-minded when talking to candidates.

So here’s the list of common phone interview questions that we recommend asking when conducting a job interview over the phone:

1. Tell me about yourself?

This question’s purpose: This is a great question to ask to start your phone interview. This question is a bit of a softball and good applicants should be able to answer it with confidence. It’s also a great question to use in order to break the ice because who can’t talk about themselves?

2. What made you decide to apply for this job?

This question’s purpose: When you ask someone directly about the specific job they’re applying for, they should be able to provide a specific answer. Look for candidates who can articulate the reasons why they’ve applied for this job in particular. If a candidate speaks in broad generalizations and doesn’t seem to know much about the position, it’s because they probably don’t know much about it. Serious candidates will know why they want the job and will be able to explain their reasoning.

3. Tell me why you’re interested in working for [Company Name]?

This question’s purpose: Similar to the question about why the candidate decided to apply for this specific job, it’s also important to ask about why they want to work for your company. Of course, many of the candidates you interview are likely sending resumes and applications to multiple companies and they may not care if they land at your organization or elsewhere. However, the best candidates will have done some background research on your business and will, at the very least, be able to pretend that they really want to work for you. They should know what your company does, they should know the reasons why you do it, and they should know how their position could impact the business.

4. What relevant experience do you have that has prepared you to do well in a job like this?

This question’s purpose: It’s important that your job applicants can articulate why they’ll be a good fit for the job. Part of being a good fit often relates to relevant past experience that has prepared the candidate to perform. Now, this past experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in the job they’re applying for. Perhaps the candidate was previously a salesperson and now they’re applying for a Customer Success role. While the job titles differ, there are many skills a salesperson would have that could easily be applied to the role in Customer Success. 

Do not focus on the details of job titles, but rather focus on relevant skills, experiences, and knowledge that will allow this candidate to do the job well. If the candidate is unable to draw on any relevant experience, they may not be the best fit.

"Do not focus on the details of job titles, but rather focus on relevant skills, experiences, and knowledge that will allow this candidate to do the job well."

5. Tell me why you think you might be the best candidate for the job?

This question’s purpose: It’s always good to give a candidate a chance to brag about themselves. This is the moment where they can bring up impressives accomplishments, feats, achievements, or skills that may not come up otherwise. Allow the candidate to sell themselves and listen to see if you’re convinced by what they say.

6. What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

This question’s purpose: For some jobs, a candidate’s goals really matter. If you’re hiring a new Head of Marketing and the candidate you’re interviewing eventually has the goal to be an accountant, then they might not be a great fit for what you’re trying to accomplish. However, if you’re mostly hiring college students for call center positions, it’ll be understandable if their career goal isn’t to become the manager of that call center. While every situation is unique, it never hurts to listen to a candidate describe what they hope to become and where they hope to be in the future. 

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7. Are you currently employed? (If yes), why are you looking for a new position?

This question’s purpose: Having context into the world of your candidate is important. If they’re currently employed then it’s important to understand why they’d want to leave their current position? Do they hop from job to job frequently? Do they simply have a bad boss? Are they stuck in a dead-end career path? Really try to understand the reason they’d like to jump ship for a new job at a different company. If they’re unemployed and applying for your position, ask follow up questions about why they’re currently unemployed and what they’re doing to get back into the job market.

8. How would your co-workers (or former co-workers) describe you?

This question’s purpose: This is a great question for two reasons. First, you’ll likely be able to sense if the candidate hesitates before they respond. If they are pleasant to work with and get along with others easily, they’ll tell this to you right away. If, however, they know that they’ve been difficult to work with in the past and perhaps they don’t have the best reputation at their previous company, they may try to preface their response or even try to dodge the question.  Second, we also like this question because it’s something that you can verify. You can ask the candidate to provide references for you and you can follow up with the co-workers at a later time.

9. If we decided to hire you, how soon could you start?

This question’s purpose: Timing is important when hiring. If you need someone to start immediately but they won’t be able to start for two or three weeks because of their current employment commitments, they may not be a fit. It’s always good to ask this question just to ensure that the candidate’s timeline aligns with that of the company.

10. In terms of salary, what range would you like to fall into?

This question’s purpose: Salary can be a touchy subject, and now is not the time for excessive salary negotiations. However, it is a good time to see if the candidate’s salary expectations align (or at least are in the ballpark) of what the company plans to pay. For example, if you’re hiring for a $15/hour position and the candidate you’re interviewing asks for an $80,000 salary, it’s best to immediately set expectations and let them know that this position won’t pay anywhere near that. During the phone interview, we like to ask for salary in terms of ranges. Most candidates do not know exactly how much they want to make, but they typically know a range of numbers that they’d be willing to work for. Remember, don’t negotiate here. Just collect the information and see if it’s in a viable range.

Conclusion

Learning how to conduct a proper phone interview will give your company a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring. These 10 common phone interview questions can be used to get to know candidates, eliminate applicants who are clearly not a good fit, and move forward with the ones who have potential. If you are consistent throughout the interview process and conduct each phone interview in a standardized way, you’ll be able to compare and contrast your candidates quickly and fairly.

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