How to prepare for phone screen interviews
According to a survey of over 2,000 job seekers, more than 1 in 3 prefer interviews via phone and/or video.
When you plan ahead for your phone interview, you’re more likely to get the information you need to help you make important hiring decisions. Here are some tips to help you prepare for an upcoming phone interview:
Create a shortlist of candidates to screen. Before scheduling any phone interviews, review each applicant’s resume to see if they meet your list of must-have requirements. If they do, add them to your shortlist. If they don’t meet the minimum requirements, consider sending a candidate rejection email to let them know they didn’t make it to the next round.
Determine your needs (beyond the job description). When preparing a list of phone interview questions, think about what matters beyond experience, education and skills. For example, do you need someone who is available to start working immediately, or can you wait a few weeks or months? Do you need someone who is open to relocation or travel?
Be ready to discuss the role and company. Phone interviews are as much about the candidate interviewing your company as they are about you interviewing them. Candidates will likely ask you questions about the role and company, including details about the job, as well as the company’s culture, values or mission.
Find a quiet, comfortable space. Make sure there’s no background noise or distractions that can impact a candidates’ first impression of you and the company you’re representing.
Phone interview questions
Here are nine phone interview questions to ask candidates to help you determine who should move on to the next round:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Do you have the proper certification, license or degree for this position?
- Are you willing and able to travel?
- What are you looking for in your next role?
- What type of work environment is best for you?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Why are you leaving your current employer?
- If offered a position, how soon would you be able to start?
- Do you have any questions?
1. Tell me about yourself.
Even though it’s not a formal interview, a phone screen interview can still be nerve wracking for many candidates. Kick off the interview with this classic question that eases them into the conversation (and that many candidates will be expecting as an opener).
You’ll likely get a variety of answers for this phone interview question. Some candidates may focus on their professional background and relevant experience, while others may talk about personal details that can help you get a better picture of who the candidate is. “Tell me about yourself” can also reveal a candidate’s career highlights, including what they believe is their biggest accomplishment or proudest achievement.
2. Do you have the proper certification, license or degree for this position?
While you’ve probably listed education or certification requirements in the job description it’s a good idea to verify that applicants actually have the necessary credentials they say they have on their resume.
For example, if you’re hiring a delivery truck driver, it’s important to make sure they have the proper type of driver’s license. If you’re hiring a dental hygienist, you’d want to make sure candidates have a degree in dental hygiene and are licensed within your state.
3. Are you willing and able to travel?
If the role requires any travel, explain these expectations to candidates immediately. Some people are comfortable traveling as much as necessary, while others may prefer a job where they never have to leave town. Let candidates know the percentage of travel the role demands, as well as the kind of travel they can expect (e.g., leaving the state, international flights, long-term business trips).
4. What are you looking for in your next role?
This is one of the most common phone interview questions because it can help you determine whether the position aligns with the candidate’s personality, work style and career goals. By asking early in the process, you can identify which applicants will enjoy the role and which may not be a good match.
5. What type of work environment is best for you?
This phone interview question can help you identify whether or not your company’s work environment offers the candidate what they need to be happy, productive and successful.
Some professionals, for instance, prefer to work in an autonomous setting that offers remote work and flexible hours, while others prefer strict process and oversight in a traditional 9-to-5 job. If a candidate is seeking a role that offers a lot of collaboration and teamwork, they may be less motivated and interested in a role that requires them to work independently.
6. What are your salary expectations?
While it can feel awkward to talk about salary early in the interview process, asking about salary range in a phone screen interview can help you determine two things:
- If the candidate’s compensation requirements align with the salary you’ve budgeted for the role.
- Whether or not the candidate is at the appropriate professional level for the job. For example, if the applicant is asking for an annual salary of $150,000, but you’ve only budgeted $80,000, then they may be too senior for the position.
7. Why are you leaving your current employer?
This is one of the best questions to ask in a phone interview because it helps accomplish two goals.
First, if the reason the applicant is leaving their current role is something they may also encounter in the position you’re hiring for, then it may not be a good fit. For example, if the candidate says they’re leaving their current role because they weren’t able to move up, a position that doesn’t offer much opportunity for career growth and upward mobility may not be the right job for them.
Second, it can help you get a feel for the candidate’s personality and ability to keep their emotions in check. If the candidate is respectful of their current employer and avoids personal attacks, it shows maturity and professionalism.
8. If offered a position, how soon would you be able to start?
Candidates will often need to give their current employers at least two weeks’ notice before they can begin a new job. However, if someone is in a contract position, needs to relocate or has other conflicts, they may require additional time. You’ll have to decide whether you’re willing to be flexible on a start date for the right candidate or if you need someone to start immediately.
A phone screening is a critical part of the hiring process because it helps you identify which applicants stand out as the best fit for the company and the position. By using these phone interview questions, you can gather the information you need to decide which applicants you should move on to the next round and begin scheduling face-to-face interviews.
9. Do you have any questions?
Give candidates the opportunity to ask questions. Not only is this a good way for candidates to figure out if the role and company is right for them, but it can also give you an idea about how interested and engaged they are. Did the candidate take the time to do a little research about the company or are they completely clueless?
Pay attention to what they’re interested in learning about most. Do they ask about career growth opportunities? Are they interested in finding out more about the company culture? These questions can reveal a lot about a candidate’s motivations.
If a candidate doesn’t ask any questions, it could be a red flag.
Phone screen interview tips
- Fact-check and verify. Ask the candidate to verify the experience, skills and education listed on their resume.
- Try to listen more than you speak. While you should share details about the position and company, make sure you give the candidate plenty of time to talk.
- Listen closely for any red flags. Potential warning signs include the candidate speaking negatively about a former employer, getting distracted, focusing too much on money, a lack of enthusiasm and having no basic knowledge of the job description or company
- Stay focused on the interview. While you might occasionally become sidetracked while talking to the candidate, you always want to bring the conversation back to the job.
- Be consistent with what you ask each candidate. While it’s natural to come up with a variety of follow-up questions during your phone conversation, it’s important to create a list of phone interview questions that you plan on asking all candidates to help you avoid bias and make fairer evaluations and comparisons.
Phone screening FAQs
How many questions should be in a phone screen interview?
The number of questions you should ask in a phone screening is around 5 to 10. Prepare at least 10 ahead of time, but be open to asking follow-up questions based on how your conversation goes.
What questions should be asked at an in-person interview instead of a phone screen interview?
Any in-depth questions that may require longer answers should be saved for an in-person interview. Additionally, interview questions that involve personality or personal stories, such as “What is your communication style?” or “Can you tell me about a time you overcame a challenge at work?” work best for in-person interviews.
Why is a phone screening necessary if a candidate meets requirements on paper?
You want to make sure that qualified candidates are also the best fit for the job and company. A phone screening can answer questions about the candidate’s schedule, expectations and willingness to travel. These details are not always clear in a resume or cover letter.
A phone screening is a critical part of the candidate vetting and hiring process because it helps you identify which applicants stand out as the best fit for the role and company. By using these phone interview questions, you can gather the information you need to decide which applicants should move on to face-to-face interviews.