The 7 Phone Interview Questions You Need to Ask Candidates

A key part of an interview is getting the right information from a candidate to decide if they are right for the job. Here are the seven questions you need to ask to effectively screen applicants.

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To attract, recruit, and retain top talent, you need to create an efficient, cost-effective hiring process that prioritizes sourcing the right applicants and providing a superior candidate experience.

It’s a two-way process, not just about candidates having to convince you to hire them — you also have to sell the company to talented candidates. Don’t waste candidates’ time or you’ll miss out on the most talented people and earn your company a bad reputation.

An effective phone interview process should be a major part of your recruitment strategy. It should quickly screen out unsuitable candidates while getting the information to help your team decide whether to advance to the next stage.

Asking the right questions is key to a successful phone interview. Here are seven questions we recommend asking all candidates during a phone interview.


1. Screening questions

While your HR or recruitment software can normally screen out candidates before they reach the phone interview stage, you may need to clarify additional points when speaking to an applicant. These questions normally just require a yes/no answer.

These phone screen interview questions include:

  • Do you have a clean driving license?
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • What salary are you looking for?
  • Are there any specific benefits you want to have?

2. Why do you want to work for this company?

If a candidate wants to work for your company, they will have researched what you do and will have prepared an answer that reflects the work they’ve put in. If they care about your company and feel it’s a good fit, they’re more likely to stick around and go above and beyond.

Here is what you should look for in an answer:

  • Specifics they could only have found from reading your website
  • Passion for your company
  • An explanation of why they think your company is right for them and why they would be a good cultural fit

3. Why did you decide to apply for this position?

This question ensures the candidate has read the job ad, that they fully understand the role, and that they’ve thought about what qualities they can bring to the company.

A misunderstanding of a job ad doesn’t always mean a lack of phone interview prep. Sometimes job ads aren’t clear and the role may differ from what the candidate has understood, especially since job titles these days don’t necessarily reflect what the position requires.

For example, if you advertise a position with the word “manager” in the title, the candidate may assume they will be managing people, which might not be the case. Or the candidate might want a varied workload or a lot of freedom to make their own decisions, but the position doesn’t allow for that.

This question can be useful for both the recruiter and the candidate as both can work out whether this job would be right for them.


4. What are the most important skills you’ve learned in your current role?

You need to get an idea of a candidate’s strengths, so you can assess if they have the necessary skills to do the job. This can include both technical skills, such as social media marketing and email marketing experience, as well as soft skills, such as communication and persuasion.

Push candidates to give examples of how they have applied those skills and the results achieved. If you’re interviewing for a sales or marketing role, you could ask for numerical data on targets. For example, what return on investment have their email campaigns delivered?


5. What type of work environment do you perform best in?

Cultural and workplace fit are very important when finding the right candidate. Even if they have the right skills, a candidate might not fit in well with the team or the way you work might pose problems.

These issues could lead to an early exit for a new hire, which means you have to start the recruitment process all over again.

That’s why you need to discover what kind of working environment suits them. Do you offer flexible working? What about working from home? How do you communicate with your coworkers and managers?

What kind of perks do you offer — are they looking for foosball tables, Nespresso coffee machines, and Guitar Hero? Do they like to socialize with their coworkers or prefer to go home on time?

Many candidates will be flexible on these factors if they like your company and the job role, but you need to work out if there are any deal breakers before moving them on to the next stage of the hiring process.


6. Tell me about a goal you set and reached and how you achieved it.

It’s important to include behavioral interview questions during the interview so you can work out how candidates will respond in certain situations.

Either you can present candidates with a real-life scenario and ask them how they would handle it, or you can allow them to discuss how they have handled this situation in the past.

These questions give you an insight into their personality and skills and how well they work in a team and under pressure.

Here are some other behavioral interview questions to consider:

  • Tell me about a time you motivated a coworker or your team.
  • Share a time when you had to deliver difficult feedback and explain what the response was to this feedback.
  • Tell me how you work under pressure.

7. What questions do you have for me?

If a candidate doesn’t have questions, it isn’t a deal breaker. Maybe you covered all the questions they had earlier on in the phone interview, or maybe they asked questions during the conversation. And sometimes candidates will ask questions just because they’ve read or heard that it’s a good interview technique.

However, it does show they have an interest in the company and the role if they ask for additional information. It displays they are seriously considering working at your company and are investigating if it’s a good fit for them.


A note on questions not to ask

Recruiters have to move with the times and keep up to date with hiring best practices. In this context, it means thinking about the questions that are relevant to candidates today and which questions get the answers you need to be able to properly evaluate a candidate.

Here are some common phone interview questions you should avoid:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s that making a plan for that far ahead and sticking to it is impossible.
  • What are some of your negative qualities? No candidate wants to tell you about their shortcomings in an interview, so they’ll likely give you the usual perfectionist answer.
  • Tell me about yourself. This is too vague and can lead to a lengthy answer that doesn’t tell you anything you want to know. Stay focused on the information you need to know.
  • Why did you leave your last job? That’s none of your business. People leave jobs for a multitude of reasons, and it’s not always pretty, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the applicant.

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