phone interview

10 Tips for Conducting a Productive Phone Interview


Phone interviews can sometimes feel limiting for hiring managers. For example, you don’t have the opportunity to assess a candidate’s body language or personal presentation. At the same time, interacting face to face with hundreds of applicants is time consuming. Phone interviews are far more efficient for first round screening. They provide the opportunity to sort through candidates and market your company in less than 30 minutes. If hiring managers make strategic use of this small window of time, a phone screen interview can be a highly efficient step in the hiring process. Here are 10 phone interview tips to maximize productivity.

1. Make Time for Interview Preparation

Give a telephone interview the same attention and respect that you would for an in person interview. Familiarize yourself with the candidate’s resume, cover letter, and social media. Know their background, and prepare a cheat sheet of relevant notes. With limited time for the interview, you’ll want to get straight to business.

2. Remember Phone Etiquette

Both candidates and hiring managers alike often fail to set aside the time and space for telephone interviews. Give yourself a few extra minutes prior to the interview to find a quiet place for the phone call, remove distractions, lay out their resume and your notes, and get in the right head space to give your full attention.

Following phone interview etiquette is crucial for three reasons. First, it’s respectful to potential hires. Second, it gives you a clear mind to assess the candidate. Third, it’s necessary to uphold your company’s reputation. With the rise of social media, candidates now have the ability to post online or talk to other candidates when they have disappointing interactions with companies. Make a good impression by being attentive and prepared. That way, your warm and receptive company culture can attract future talent. This is especially important for a phone conversation where you can’t show courtesy through your actions or physical demeanor.

3. Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

Over the phone, you don’t have the luxury of communicating through facial expression or body language. Because many people are highly expressive and receptive of body language, phone conversations are not many people’s strengths. To overcome this barrier, use your tone of voice to establish an atmosphere that is welcoming and engaging. As the interviewer, you have the power to set the tone that is encouraging rather than awkward for the rest of the conversation.

4. Balance the Conversation

50% of the interview is to gather information about the person and evaluate fit. The other 50% is to give them a sneak peek into your company and the industry as a whole. To accomplish both goals, strike a balance in the conversation. Listen as much as you talk. Ask insightful follow-up questions and fully answer any questions they have, as well. A back and forth conversation will provide both parties with far more insight than a one-sided conversation, especially when time is limited.

5. Figure Out Where the Candidate Stands

Ask the person, “What do you know about the role and the company?” as well as, “What do you know about the industry?” The first question determines if the candidate has done their research and if they are on the same page as you about the position. The answer to the second question shows how informed a candidate is about industry trends, competitors, and the unique value your company adds to the industry. If there are large gaps in understanding, they may not be a great fit. While the answers to these broad questions are not the be-all-end-all of hiring, they might help determine whether further interviewing is worth the time and resources.

6. Ask the Right Questions

While phone interviews leave room for open-ended conversation, interviewing strategically can clarify their skills and experience.

Ask about previous roles, even if they’re already listed on their resume. While it sounds like one of the most common phone interview questions, many find it worthwhile. How people describe their skills and experience on a resume is often very different from how they describe it verbally — for better or for worse. Resumes are broad and objective, so this question provides insight into their work ethic and ability to evaluate career progress.

Furthermore, ask the tough questions. Have them validate claims from their cover letter and talk about challenges they’ve faced. These are the questions that differentiate candidates. If a person can answer gracefully over the phone, then it may be worth it to continue in the interview process.

7. Get Help from a Recruiter

Sometimes, it’s small hiccups in candidacy that are the hardest for hiring managers to identify. When handling this level of detail, it’s often smart to turn to recruiting firms. A recruiter understands the nuances of different positions and rapidly changing industries. From their pool of talent, they can pull individuals who are well worth the first phone interview. With the help of a recruiter, you can make sure that first round screening is as efficient as possible so that you have top talent when moving on to in person interviews.

8. Sell the Position

While part of a phone interview’s purpose is to screen out unqualified candidates, these beginning stages are also your opportunity to sell the role to potential hires. You want to maintain a recruiting mindset instead of a hiring mindset. Motivate candidates by highlighting your company’s social impact. How does your company positively impact the community, and how does this role contribute to that change? The significance of communicating this information in a phone interview is twofold. First, it effectively markets the position. Second, it sparks a light in candidates who resonate with your mission, giving them a chance to set themselves apart with passionate and dedicated answers.

9. Save Time for the Q&A

The question and answer section at the end gives candidates a chance to breath and turn the microscope away from themselves for a bit. In addition, their questions are one of the most productive ways to gauge their level of interest. In person, it’s easier because they’ve been exposed to more elements of the company which might spark curiosity. Over the phone, however, it’s far more difficult to pull insightful questions out of a twenty-minute remote conversation. So when candidates do, this is a sure sign of dedication.

10. Close with Gratitude

Exiting gracefully is more complicated when you don’t have a receptionist to say goodbye or even a warm handshake to wish them farewell. Leave a good impression with a genuine and thorough thank you. Also keep in mind that the best way to show gratitude is with your honesty. Provide them with the next steps in the hiring process and be transparent about when they should be hearing back from you.

A productive phone interview should accomplish two main goals in the early screening process. It should provide a hiring manager with enough information to screen out any candidates who aren’t a great fit. It should also leave a positive, lasting impression on candidates about the industry and your company’s value to it.

Ty Culver headshot
Written by

Ty Culver is the Client Development Director of CulverCareers focusing on talent acquisition and workforce solutions with a wide variety of local, national and global clients.

Ty has been working in various aspects of the industry for over 10 years and developed deep expertise in Executive Search, Executive Benefit and Talent Acquisition Programs along the way. He has a range of experience from SMB to Enterprise clients and hyper specific executive searches to high volume recruiting with companies in a dynamic state of flux.

Today, Ty leads a talented team of Talent Acquisition Specialists, Executive Recruiters and Client Success Managers at one of the most respected Recruiting Firms in the Nation, CulverCareers. While leadership is a key aspect of his role, Ty still enjoys working with clients on recruiting strategies, executive benefit solutions and workforce solutions to help clients build a holistic approach to talent acquisition and talent retention.

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