10 Illuminating Questions to Ask on Phone Interviews

If you’ve worked in recruiting for any length of time, you’ll know that just because a job candidate looks like a good fit on paper,  doesn’t mean they’ll wow you in person.

For this reason, a quick phone interview is the best way to familiarize yourself with a candidate’s qualifications and personality without wasting your time or their time.

But, in order to get the most out of a brief phone screening, you must ask the right questions. Today’s blog post will help you do just that! Keep reading to find out what questions you must ask during phone interviews to better identify high-quality job candidates.

10 Must-Ask Phone Interview Questions for Recruiters

1. What interests you most about this position?

If a person took the time to apply for a role, you can assume they’re interested. But, use your phone screening to delve deeper into why this position interests them more than the others they’ve encountered during their job search.

For example, say you’re interviewing for a marketing copywriter position. A strong candidate might say they’re excited to work in a position where they can leverage their writing skills and passion for creating content while also learning new marketing tactics, including SEO and social media. Conversely, a less qualified candidate might simply say they enjoy writing without providing any additional details.

Tip: A strong candidate won’t just perform well in a position, but will feel happy and fulfilled doing so. Identify candidates who discuss a personal passion or interest that aligns with the requirements of the role they’re interviewing for. Using the above example, you’d want to find a candidate that loves writing, rather than one who says they can write.

2. Why are you leaving your current job?

It’s important to know why a candidate wants to work for your company— but you must also understand why they’re choosing to leave their current job. Of course, there are many valid reasons for a person to want to change jobs. For example, their current employer might not offer the kinds of growth opportunities the candidate is seeking.

But, a candidate’s answer to this question may expose some red flags. For instance, a candidate might say they don’t have enough independence to do things their own way in their current job. But, the position they’re interviewing for requires someone who can follow a strict, predetermined workflow and stick to specific guidelines— which means they may carry the same struggles into their next role.

Tip: Be transparent and ask follow-up questions if the candidate’s response does raise any red flags. You can never know the full scope of the candidate’s experience with their previous employer, so don’t pass judgment or make any assumptions without getting more details.

3. What do you know about our company?

A phone interview is a conversation, not a test— but you should still ask at least one question to gauge the candidate’s knowledge about your company. Does it seem like they conducted research prior to the interview? Or does it seem like they only read the job listing?

Tip: Don’t expect candidates to be absolute experts on your company. But, if they don’t do enough research to gain a general idea of who your company is and what you do, they’re demonstrating a lack of initiative or even a lack of interest in the job.

4. How does this role fit into your long-term career plan?

One of the most common interview questions is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But, the generality of that question often leads to general answers. You’ll get more useful responses by putting the candidate’s long-term goals in the context of the job they’re interviewing for.

Tip: Try to identify whether the candidate wants to grow and progress within your company, or just looking for to achieve the next step in their career. If it’s clear that the candidate views this opportunity as a stepping stone, you should probe a little deeper into the issue before hiring them in an important position.

5. What is the achievement you’re most proud of?

Learn more about the candidate by asking them to single out some of their past accomplishments. People who take pride in their work will likely have a number of achievements that stick out in their memory. Even better, a high-quality candidate may discuss an accomplishment that aligns with the kind of work they’d be doing at your company.

Tip: Pay attention to the candidate’s tone and energy when answering this question. Do they sound genuinely excited to talk about their past achievements? Or do they sound like they’re just rephrasing items on their resume to sound more compelling?

6. What kind of environment do you work best in?

A candidate may be qualified for an open role, but not a great fit for your company. You want to find candidates who will thrive in your environment and mesh well with your overall company culture.

For example, a candidate might say they prefer a quiet environment where they can work independently throughout the day. You may view this answer as a red flag if your office environment is fast-paced, collaborative, and often noisy.

Tip: Again, transparency is key. Don’t hide your concerns if you suspect your company isn’t what the candidate is looking for. Be clear and thorough in explaining the day-to-day environment so the candidate has a realistic picture of what it would be like to work at your company.

7. What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

This question may seem a bit outside-the-box, but it serves a purpose. You’re interviewing human beings, not just potential employees. Learn more about the candidate on a personal level and introduce some levity to the conversation by asking what they like to do besides work. The candidate’s response will likely give you more information about what kind of person they are.

Tip: Because this is a more personal question, ask it in an informal context or during small-talk. If you group this question in with your more job-related inquiries, the candidate might think there’s a right or wrong answer and only tell you what they think you want to hear.

8. How far along in your job search are you?

It’s important to understand how long the candidate has been job-hunting, how many other companies they’ve interviewed with, and when they can start in a new position. If you want to hire quickly, you might rule out a candidate that is only casually exploring different opportunities. On the other hand, if the perfect candidate says they’ve already gotten a compelling offer, you may speed up the process to avoid losing them to another company.

Tip: Be transparent about your hiring process and any timelines you’re hoping to meet. If a candidate’s plans don’t fit into your timeline, let them know. But, if you feel strongly about a particular candidate, don’t be afraid to adjust your plans to accommodate them. It’ll be worth it in the long run if you end up with the perfect hire.

9. What are your salary expectations?

Whether you like it or not, the dreaded “salary” question is an important part of the phone screening process. If an applicant’s salary expectations are far outside the ballpark of what your company plans to offer, you can rule them out right away. Otherwise, you run the risk of a candidate dropping out right at the finish line because they expected a higher offer.

Tip: Keep track of candidates’ responses to this particular question. If a large number of candidates have higher salary requirements than you expected, it may be a sign that you need to reconsider your offer.

10. Do you have any questions?

A candidate can tell you just as much, if not more, by asking questions as they can by answering them. Candidates who ask questions demonstrate a genuine interest in the role and want to learn as much as possible about your company.

Tip: Prepared questions are great, as they show the candidate took the time to think about the role and your company. But, take note of candidates who ask questions on the fly, based on what you’ve told them during the interview. This is a tell-tale sign that a candidate pays attention to detail, can adapt well, and communicates effectively— all great qualities for a potential employee.

Final Thoughts About Phone Interview Questions for Recruiters

Phone screenings can seem like an annoying formality, but they’re critical to the hiring process. Yes, phone interviews can help you rule out unqualified candidates and save both parties a lot of time and energy. But, they can also help you discover amazing candidates who go on to become great employees.

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