The best phone interview questions
So you’ve got some candidates you want to reach out to. The next task at hand may seem even more daunting — how do you know what the best phone interview questions are to separate the wheat from the chaff? How do you ensure that you’re getting genuine and informative answers, not just canned scripts? (e.g., I think my greatest weakness is that I’m too much of a perfectionist)
There are key questions to ask so you can bring in the best people for face-to-face interviews. And don’t forget to download our “Best Phone Interview Questions” template at the bottom!
1. What attracted them to the position?
It is critical to probe into a candidate’s attraction to the job and to your company. This is probably the best question to start the interview with. First of all, you’re hearing how the candidate articulates themselves, especially when it comes to their passions and skills. How eloquent and specific can they be from the get-go? Secondly, you gain a ton of information just from their tone of voice. Do the candidates sound like they just woke up, or would rather be anywhere else than on the phone with you? It’s a fairly strong predictor of how the rest of the conversation will go.
Finally, you absolutely want someone who is already really fired up about this position! The ideal candidate won’t only be able to draw links between their past experience and this position. They’ll go out of their way to talk about the research they did on your company, what inspired them, and what they want to learn more about. If they don’t sound excited, or if they have no idea what your company even does, you can start planning your exit strategy.
2. Clearing up any deal-breakers
If you hadn’t already done so in the application stage, dedicate some phone interview questions to clearing up any logistical or skill-related deal-breakers so nobody’s time is wasted. For a software-related position, this may include the technology stack they need to come in knowing; for a travel-based position, making sure they have their own vehicle and insurance; and so on.
You can also take this time to ask what salary range the candidate is looking for in for their next position. Be very careful and intentional with how you phrase this question. In some jurisdictions, it is (or will be) illegal to ask what a candidate is currently making or used to make. In contrast, it is still acceptable to ask the candidate what salary range they would be looking forward to.
3. The “relevant experience” questions
A must for any position — and one of the primary goals of the phone screen — is to figure out how well the candidate’s past experience aligns with the job at hand. Beyond learning about the nitty-gritty, however, this question serves as another great litmus test for their communication skills and how aware they are of the most critical demands of your job. If you’re hiring for an extremely team-oriented position and they keep talking about their highly independent roles, the disconnect will reveal itself immediately.
There are a number of important follow-up questions you’ll want to ask too. These include why they left certain positions, or why there may be gaps in their resume. If you’re hiring for a project-based role, ask probing questions into a project they loved working on, and what their accomplishments/challenges were.
4. Non-leading, behavioral questions
Many can run through their job history without much trouble. However, how do they fare with on-the-spot questions about how they’ve handled situations relevant to your company? Your ideal candidate should be able to recall a time where they overcame a certain challenge, while identifying what they did right, what they could have done better, and/or how they improved a process moving forward. (Hint: The best candidate will provide all of that!)
Being non-leading, however, is the true secret ingredient. If you’re asking somebody “Are you good at working under pressure?” you’ve already given them everything they need to answer the question “correctly.” At most, they’ll provide some vague context to qualify what they’re saying. But if you ask, “Can you tell me about a time when you felt like you had a full workload, but then something else was dropped on your desk?” the candidate needs to be specific. You’ve put the choice in their hands in terms of what direction they go. They may reveal a situation in which they felt panicked (and will struggle to answer the question convincingly). Or it may reveal someone who has a great organizational system in place. You’ll learn what their general attitude is to these types of situations, and if they happen in your own organization, this vetting will be extremely valuable.
5. See what questions they have for you
The phone interview isn’t just for you — it’s for the candidate too! Save one of your phone interview questions to focus on what the candidate wants to know. The more you’re able to put your company in a positive light with a great team culture, the more excited you’ll make them. If you’re feeling good about this candidate, this will be all the more important. It’s also a great way to re-confirm who has a genuine interest in learning more about your company/product, and who might just be throwing their resume out to anywhere that sticks.