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Successful phone interview tips and questions


Catching up with your mom on the phone every Sunday is one thing. But interviewing a prospective job candidate on the telephone is quite another. You’ll need to know the best phone interview tips and questions to ensure a productive conversation.

Today, the sheer number of job applicants is often overwhelming. It’s not unusual to have 100 to 200 applicants for a single position. Some of them are qualified, but others use software to search keywords in job postings to load their resume and may not have the skills required.

While a face-to-face interview is always preferred for a final hiring decision, a phone interview can be a valuable first step in the screening process of a potential candidate.

Phone interviews help focus your attention on applicants worthy of your time and that of others involved in the hiring process. They’re huge time savers that can result in fewer, but higher quality, interviews.

During a phone interview, you’ll have some of the same tasks as in any interview. But since you won’t receive any visual clues and the pressure is on to ask the right questions, your listening and concentration levels need to be a bit sharper to decide if this person is one to pursue. Here are some phone interview tips and questions to help you with this step.

Maximize your phone interview

When you conduct phone interviews, you want to determine if candidates are qualified for the position, get a sense of their personalities and what drives them, and find out what is really being said in their resumes.

The amount of time it takes depends on the candidate’s level of expertise, seniority and requirements of the position. Block off 30 minutes to be safe, but it is pretty standard for phone interviews to last about 15 minutes.

Use a script.

Never work on the fly. Come up with key questions before the call and keep them consistent across applicants. Stay away from stock questions that the applicant can research and prepare answers to before the call.

Build comfort.

Don’t just jump into grilling the candidate. Like a salesperson, your first task is to build comfort. If you can put the person at ease, you will get better, more honest answers to your questions.

Comb candidates’ resumes for a nugget or two of personal information. Maybe you know someone at their workplace or in their neighborhood. One of the most basic conversation starters can be where a person went to school.

Summarize your needs.

You want to find out fairly quickly if applicants meet the requirements for the job so you don’t waste valuable time. Be succinct and direct. State the requirements and ask questions to gauge their level of expertise.

Discuss salary early in the conversation.

After you’ve established a rapport and found out if they’re qualified, cut to the chase about money. You need to know if you can afford them, but you also need to know if they are driven only by money or are looking for a career.

Make the questions positive. Say something like: “You seem qualified on paper. Now, most people I know like to pay their bills and eat. What would you need as a minimum to even consider this position?”

Take notes.

If you bring candidates into the office for an interview, you can repeat some of their phone responses to see if their answers line up. Also, carefully documented interviews may help protect your company against charges of discrimination.

6 ways to listen between the lines 

If you listen carefully, you can learn a lot about a person by what they say and don’t say – and how they say it. 

Speech mirroring

During a phone interview, deliberately slow your speech at times to see if applicants match it. If they keep talking quickly, it may indicate nervousness or an anxious personality, or it may mean they have difficulty concentrating and picking up verbal cues. If they mirror your speech, it’s a good indication they’re smarter than the average person.

Rehearsed answers

If answers are given too quickly, they may be rehearsed. Look for a brief pause, which may show they’re thinking of the best answer. Also try to stay away from stock questions.

Speech patterns

Notice if a person overuses clichés, curses or uses stalling words such as “like” or “you know.” This may be a sign of weak communication skills.

Listening skills

Beware if you have to repeat too many questions, or if the candidate forgets questions or hits way off-center too often. It could mean he or she is not a good listener or has poor concentration.

Active listening

If a person restates your question in slightly different words, summarizing before answering, that means he or she is a good listener and attuned to your statements. 


Phone interviews are stressful, but listen for a smile in the applicant’s voice. Does he or she have a sense of humor?

Like everything else, phone interviews get easier with practice. Do your homework, listen closely and follow these phone interview tips and questions; you’ll be an expert in no time.

Want more tips to finding and keeping the best employees? Download our complimentary e-book, Building a better team: how to attract, recruit and hire top talent.