Phone interviews offer an effective way for hiring managers to screen job candidates, move them forward in the application process, and set expectations for the face-to-face interview, all without investing too much time on unlikely candidates. Phone interviews are easy to arrange, require little lead time, and are ideal for accommodating applicants in distant cities or other states.
As with face-to-face applicant meetings, phone interviews require hiring managers to ask some industry-specific questions. But before launching into the details, go after some general background knowledge. The following seven phone interview questions — and their answers — can help hiring managers to zero in on star potential or red-flag a candidate even before drilling into the job description:
- Can you tell me more about your education and previous work experience?
Job seekers tailor their applications to mirror keywords on job posts, but any bullet points must be backed by real-life experience.
Confirm the must-haves. If the position requires a master’s degree and minimum of five years of on-the-job experience, ask the candidate pointedly. Sometimes that particular deal breaker isn’t obvious on a résumé.
- Why did you leave your current position?
Nobody ever changed jobs because they loved the place they used to work, but few candidates will go out of their way to badmouth their former employer, even if they were completely fed up and miserable there. Recruiters should look to flesh out the story behind the transition as much as possible.
If an applicant says she is “looking for a new challenge,” try to establish why he/she soured on her current objectives. Is the work too repetitive, too rote, too difficult, too stressful? A bit of prodding with an understanding tone can go a long way toward getting genuine answers.
- What part of your work experience did you really dislike?
Asking directly about a candidate’s dislikes is one way to circumvent scripted answers. Interviewees seldom prepare to discuss their negative feelings. Whether candidates deflect the question, throw out a perfunctory answer or choose to lead with honesty reveals a lot about their personality, regardless of what they choose to say.
- Why do you want this job?
Gauging candidates’ interest tests their knowledge of the company and measures their initiative. It’s difficult to fake enthusiasm. Subpar candidates may be able to speak with poise and confidence about personal accomplishments and skills, but they can also struggle when asked to draw a connection between the value they bring and their level of commitment.
Listen for an answer that does more than just repeat job duties. A candidate who can speak intelligently about what a company does and how they would fit into the larger culture has probably done a fair amount of preparation and research, a good sign they will become a contributing member of the organization.
- How would your co-workers describe you?
This co-worker perception question aims to strike at the core of a candidate’s emotional intelligence. Of course, no applicant is going to volunteer adjectives like “moody” or “sloppy,” but it’s harder to claim false attributes when filtering them through the opinions of other co-workers. For example, a candidate is probably less likely to claim she is detail-oriented or a good collaborator if she’s never displayed these traits to colleagues.
- Tell me about a time when you really came through for a company you worked for.
In order to gain a clearer picture of how candidates contributed in past work environments, sometimes you need to put them back there. This question attempts to resurrect a specific moment in time for the candidate to relive: What was happening at the company? What needed to be fixed? How did their efforts change things, and what was the reaction?
This question should be a slam dunk for anyone with at least two or three years of experience in the working world. If an applicant draws a complete blank, that’s a big red flag.
- How much direction or autonomy do you want to receive? Give some examples from your work experience.
This is a tough question for candidates to fudge because there is no right answer. In explaining their ideal management scenario, they’ll also have to define what “direction” and “autonomy” look like in their minds. Are they used to following an enumerated checklist for every project, or do they speak positively about being left alone for the entire work day?
Their answers will say much about how candidates have been managed in the past and whether they might be a good fit in the future. There’s a place in the market for just about any preferred work style; it just might not be in your office.
Don’t just ask: listen, write and reflect.
Hiring the right people isn’t easy, but neither is convincing someone you’re the right person for the job. Recruiters should give job seekers enough time to answer each question, take good notes, and make sure to conclude with clear next steps.
Phone interviews are an opportunity to throw the door wide open for a candidate, so give them every opportunity to impress you while prodding them with good questions. Remember that these people will be someone’s future co-workers, perhaps even your own.
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