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Top questions to ask candidates on a telephone interview

Telephone interviews are a great way to screen applicants before a face-face interview. Here's what you should ask

They may not be everyone's cup of tea, but telephone interviews have a lot of advantages. They are fast, easy to arrange and arm you with just the right level of information to begin whittling down your applicants.

Of course phone interviews present challenges too. Mostly arising from the fact that you can't see the person you are talking to. Here's a primer on the kind of questions you should ask to get the best out of your phone interviews.

Keep things simple...

It's important not to get carried away with telephone interviews. Remember they are intended as a screening measure to decide who to invite for a face-face interview. You don't need your candidate's entire life story. Simple questions are the best policy.

Candidates can often be nervous, which can make for an uncomfortable conversation where you fail to get the insight you need on your candidate. Put interviewees at ease by introducing yourself, explaining how long the interview will last and telling them how it will be structured.

What type of questions should you ask?

Remember to keep things simple. The lack of visual interaction means that phone interviews are not suited to complex questions that require lengthy answers. Of course, you want your candidates to be thorough with their answers - but don't attempt to ask anything too brow-furrowing.

Questions should be geared to find out more about the applicant - expanding on the information supplied on a CV and cover letter and assessing whether their professional experience is suited to the role. Here are our tips for the best phone interview questions to ask candidates.

1. What made you apply for this position?

Does your candidate sound like they want the job? Look for a passionate answer. You want a candidate who really cares about getting hired by you, rather than someone who sounds indifferent and apathetic. Genuine enthusiasm shows that your candidate believes they have what it takes to succeed in the role.

2. Screening questions

Screening questions allow you to gauge whether an applicant has the essential minimum experience or skills required for the role - such as expertise with a certain piece of software or a key qualification. Example screening questions might be:

  • Are you willing to travel?
  • Do you have a clear driving license?
  • Do you have PRINCE2 certification?

Screening questions will always be determined by the type of role you are recruiting for - and should be led by the job description. They are a simple way to make sure no unsuitable applicants make it through to an in-person interview and can be as simple as yes/no questions.

3. What experience do you have that will help you succeed in this role?

Look for evidence that the applicant has studied the job description. They should provide concrete examples that prove they have the experience required. Ideally their answers will also show how they have applied their knowledge/experience to provide tangible, measurable results.

4. Why are you leaving your current job/Why did you leave your previous job?

If your candidate launches a full scale diatribe about how much they dislike their current employer, it should probably set your alarm bells ringing. Seek out candidates who are hungry for a fresh challenge or who have been waiting for an opening in this particular field or - even better - with this organisation.

5. What challenges are you looking for in a post?

6. What is important to you from a job?

7. How would you describe your approach to work?

This set of questions is great for finding out more about the professional mindset of your applicant. How ambitious are they? Are they looking for professional development? What's their self-discipline like? Listen carefully to how they structure their answers and look for similarities with the person specification document.

8. What motivates you?

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

These questions allow you to assess how well the candidate will fit with your organisation's environment. Do they need a lot of assistance or are they self-starters? Do they prefer working alone or are they great collaborators? Sometimes individuals simply aren't suited to certain working environments, no matter how talented they are.

10. What are your hobbies outside of work?

It can be easy to forget that your candidate is a person first and a professional second. Look for signs that the person on the end of the line will click with other members of the team.

11. Do you have any questions?

It's important to field any queries your candidate may have, whether about the job or the recruitment process. Once you have answered any questions, close the interview by thanking the candidate for their time and giving them your contact details - they will appreciate being able to get in touch should they think of any further questions.

Getting the information you need from telephone interviews is about keeping things simple and looking for evidence that your candidates have the essentials required for the role. Come the face-to-face interviews you will have saved a lot of time by filtering out unsuitable applicants, meaning less time asking basic questions and more time deep-diving into the people behind the CVs. Just the way it should be.

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