How to Conduct Effective Phone Interviews

Our thoughts, tips and questions on holding good phone interviews.
How to Conduct Effective Phone Interviews

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The telephone interview is a great first stage in the interview process. They save time and allow you to assess whether a candidate, their work history and career goals are a good match for the position that you’re looking to fill. But when phone interviews aren’t done right, you risk wasting your time and letting a great candidate slip through your fingers. In this post we explore the Do’s, and Don’ts, of conducting good phone interviews, and we do so by thinking about the following things:

  • What to Focus On, And Not Focus On
  • The Types of Questions to Ask

We also look at some additional considerations, so you can not only conduct effective phone interviews, but hire the best candidate for the job.

What to Focus On, And Not Focus On in Your Phone Interview

Every interview can be a dialogue between you and the candidate, but phone interviews play a particular role in terms of screening the candidate before you go any further in the process and take up more of your time and those you work with. With that in mind, we encourage you to focus on the following:

Craft a Plan

How do you intend to approach the phone interview? It’s tempting to say, I got this, because you feel confident about your interviewing skills, it’s on the phone, and the bar feels lower. But when you take the time to plan how you will guide the conversation, you come to the call better prepared to gather the information you want, while not missing the information you need to hire the best candidate.  

Assess Viability

A significant element to the phone interview is assessing the candidate for this particular job and your office culture based on their work history and career goals (more on this below). And so as you take the time to craft your approach to the phone interview, take time as well to study the candidate’s resume and familiarize yourself with what they’ve accomplished prior to this, and where.

Address Concerns

This is also your opportunity to address any concerns you have about whether the candidate has the right skills or is the right fit for your organizational culture. And while you want to come prepared to ask these questions, you also want to be prepared for concerns that emerge during the call. When this occurs, ask follow up questions, and probe further. Too often strong candidates are rejected because of assumptions or misunderstandings, and it’s your responsibility to address this as well.

Think Structure

In terms of structuring the interview we suggest the 80/20 rule: 80% of the time spent on the interview is for you to learn about the job seeker and determine if they have the right skills, while 20% is selling the role/opportunity to the candidate. Also, consider giving information (20%) before asking for information (80%). Passive job seekers are harder to engage with, breaking the ice and sharing information leads to further engagement. Plus, giving information can easily be overlooked, but it’s important to remember that part of your responsibility is selling them on the organization and the position itself. This also requires you to understand the role and the need the organization is looking to address by filling it. 

Don’t Multi-Task

We know that sounds pushy, but we also know how easy it is to be on the phone and still peruse email, Facebook, Twitter, shop or check the sports scores. We are encouraging you not to do so. To assess a candidate is to focus on each response, to ask follow-up questions and recognize concerns that emerge in the course of the dialogue. All of this potentially undermined when you are distracted and your focus is elsewhere.  

The Types of Questions to Ask in an Interview

The phone interview is about viability, fit and addressing concerns, and so the questions you want to ask to be about these things too. We recommend organizing your thinking in these areas:  

Career Plans

Questions pertaining to the candidate’s career plans allow you to open an interview as a dialogue. They also let you better assess fit and whether this is someone who can grow with the company.

What They’re Best At, and What They Don’t Like

Again, this is about fit, but it’s also about recognizing that these interviews serve to screen whether candidates should move forward to the next stage of the process. If the candidate provides answers to questions about what they’re best at or don’t like about a job, which don’t fit your needs or vision for the position, or if in doing they can’t assuage your concerns about their resume, you now know you can move on without them.

Job History

This is where you evaluate if the candidate’s job history is aligned with where you want them to be for your position. If the candidate is invited to the next stage you can dig into the minutiae of their day-to-day experiences then, but at this stage you want to get a feel for how these jobs went, what they accomplished and their perceptions of what those organizations think of their performance.

Additional Considerations for Your Interview Questions

Having explored the questions to focus on and the need for a plan, we also suggest you think about the following:

  1. If you are not conducting the phone interviews yourself, make sure the interviewers you use have been trained and that you are using use a small pool of people to conduct the interviews. Consistency in the interview panel will ensure that all candidates are measured in the same fashion.
  2. Similarly, whether you are conducting the interviews, or assigning others to do so, seek consistency in the questions being asked as well. Again, the focus here is on being able to measure the candidates in a way that allows for an equal comparison. It starts with a consistent pool of interviewers, it continues with a consistent group of questions.
  3. Ideally, the interview is a dialogue between the interviewer and candidate, and while you want to ask the questions you need to ask, you want to be sure you ask the candidates if they have questions for you. You’re responsible for selling them on the position as well and answering their questions will help you do so. It will also give you a chance to learn more about them, for example, whether they are curious, passionate about their work or the work of your organization and whether they’ve done their homework.
  4. Not all information needs to be covered in the first conversation. That's not to say you are not hammering at the essentials, but leaving a more sensitive or direct question to a follow-up interview shortly after you schedule them for the next round, or see their resume, puts you in a position to open the candidate up.
  5. In a similar vein, engage the candidates enough to drive the additional interviews/conversations with the executive team. Leave some room for ambiguity, it's exciting for the candidate to not perceive that they think they know everything about the environment/opportunity. Give them just enough to keep the conversations open.
  6. But ultimately recognize, that not every phone interview leads to interest in the first job you discuss with a candidate. Trying to sell too hard is a red flag. Play it cool and provide a consultative approach. The perception on talent acquisition/recruiters is not always the best. Being a good person doesn’t cost you anything and you will be noticed for your actions.

Final Thoughts

Phone interviews are a great first stage in the interview process, but they are only as good as your ability to:

Craft a plan for how you intend to run the interview.

Assess the candidate’s viability and address concerns you may have about them by doing your homework and understanding where the candidates have been and what they’ve done.

Focus on questions that have the most impact in telephone interviews, and then make sure to ask them consistently across the same pool of interviewers.

Sell the position, while also ensuring the candidate is invited to ask questions of you as well.

When you’ve done all of this, you will put yourself in the best position to hire the candidate you need.

However, if you have any questions, please let us know.

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