Phone interviewing is an excellent way to quickly and efficiently pare down your larger list of applicants to a short list of qualified candidates that you will then invite for more detailed, in-person interviews.
But if you want to make the most of these long-distance and often slightly stilted conversations, you need to know what telling questions you can pack into the typical 30- to 45-minute period.
From my previous experiences, as well as talking with a few key recruiters, I have developed 10 questions you should consider asking your applicants; of course, not all 10 need to be asked, but this list provides you some good food for thought.
Remember to start the process with that vision of what the ideal candidate looks like, a topic I discussed in a previous phone screening strategy blog post, so that you can tweak some of these questions to directly address your needs and concerns. Furthermore, to make sure that you’re conducting structured and objective interviews, you should ask the same questions to every applicant you interview.
10 Best Phone Interview Screening Questions
After briefly introducing yourself and the company—and ensuring that the candidate has the time to chat—launch into your preset list of interview questions.
- Are you still interested and available for the job? It makes sense to ask this question right off the bat so you can determine if the person has found another job or is otherwise out of the market. That way you have only spent a few minutes in closing the case on this applicant.
- Can you tell me what attracted you to apply for this position? This question is a wonderful litmus test that you can use to evaluate how your job opening ranks with the applicant. If the applicant can enthusiastically provide key details about why they applied for your role, you can bet your opportunity is one of only a handful the applicant has applied for – or cares about.
- Here are the (3-4) key requirements for this job. Can you confirm – with specific details – that you meet these requirements? This question gives you key insight into whether or not the applicant has the core qualities you seek from the ideal candidate.
- What are your biggest accomplishments related to this job? Please be specific, describing your role in achieving the accomplishment and key outcomes, quantified when possible. Because many jobseekers are not very good at tracking and recording accomplishments on their resumes, this question forces applicants to provide detailed information about what they consider most important – and what they achieved. Furthermore, as countless academic studies have confirmed that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior, if an applicant can articulate how they’ve achieved success before, you can assume that they will be able to contribute to your company’s success again in times to come.
- Can you tell me about where you are in your job search – and what you hope to accomplish? The answer to this question can provide many insights. First, you’ll learn whether the applicant has applied to multiple positions, whether they have had interviews – and/or job offers, and what the timetable might need to be if you want to bring in this applicant for an on-site interview.
- Describe your ideal working situation (work environment, hours, travel, and the like). A candidate can have the perfect qualifications for a position, but they may want a completely different work/culture/team environment than what you have. Knowing their expectations can help you determine fit. A variation on this question comes from Michael VanDervort, executive director of CUE. Inc.: “What do you look for in your employer, and what do you EXPECT from your employer?”
- What are your salary expectations? From my experience coaching jobseekers, I can assure you many applicants will be unprepared to fully answer this question, but the response will certainly give you an idea of their interest, insights, and self-worth. Not to mention, if their expectations are completely out of line with what’s allocated for the position, you can eliminate them from the pool.
- What is your availability for an interview in the next week to 10 days? This question can result in two pieces of key information. First, how hungry is the applicant? Will they push for an interview sooner? Second, if the applicant is unavailable for your timetable (regardless of the reasons), they may be need to be eliminated.
- Is there anything else relevant to the job and your candidacy that we have not discussed that you want to discuss? This question provides an open door for the jobseeker to make a strong closing argument/case for hire…or to say nothing more. Shannon Randlett, senior manager at Channel Marketing, the Americas, has a slight twist, asking candidates: “Let’s forget our conversation happened, what is the #1 thing you want me to remember about you as it relates to this role?”
- What questions can I answer for you? The response to this question is seen by many as another litmus test. If the applicant has no questions for you, it’s time to consider whether you were the perfect interviewer or whether the applicant is just not that into you. Your intuition here may be critical.
Additional Job-Specific Phone Interview Screening Questions
Karen Mattonen, executive recruiter at Advanced Career Solutions, targets questions to the job she is recruiting for. She suggests these:
- For project manager candidates: What tools do you use? How do quantify and qualify what makes you better or stronger than your competitor? How much did you save the company? Did you bring the job in on time?
- For sales and management candidates: How do you measure performance? How do you measure your performance?
- For sales candidates: What is your greatest obstacle in closing a sale?
- For management candidates: How do you prefer to manage?
Other Fallback Phone Interview Screening Questions
Of course, you can supplement some of these 10 questions with some standard-issue interview questions, such as:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your key strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What would your current boss say about you?
- Why are you leaving your current job?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
And if you still have time for more, consider asking one of these essential 27 behavioral interview questions.