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Phoning It In: Hiring Managers Reveal the Best Phone Interview Strategies

The phone screen is a tried and true method of recruiting as it allows you to quickly gauge a candidate’s fit for and interest in the position. In my last post I wrote about better interview questions for the in-person interview, but let’s take a look at the phone screen which is your initial contact with the candidate:

1. Sell the job and the company
Your first task is to properly pitch the company and the job in question. Regardless of whether the candidate may be right for the job, you’ll want to paint a positive first impression of your organization. This is your chance to go beyond what the candidate may have read on your company website and social media posts.

Once you sell the company, briefly explain the job and why you are hiring for it. Be sure to explain why the job will be rewarding and how it fits into your company’s challenges for growth. Candidates are always looking for growth opportunities so if there is a chance to learn new skills, make that clear.

2. Have your questions ready
After introductions and pitching the job, get right into the questions. I recommend using the same set of questions for every phone screen so each candidate gets the same treatment.
Crystal Nixon, a recruiter for West Sound Workforce says never to ask, “Tell me about yourself.” That opens the door for the candidate to disclose information regarding protected class issues: religious preferences, age, family status, etc. Narrow it down to relevant job-specific questioning: “Tell me about how you got started in this field” “Tell me about your experience and why this job interested you.”

Focus on questions like these…

  • What prompted you to apply for this job? (get an idea about their motivation)
  • What are your career goals? (so you can align your job to their aspirations)
  • What are your core strengths in your current role?
  • What are you not good at?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • How would you describe your work style? (see how they like to be managed)
  • Tell me about a specific project and what you learned through it?
  • How do you see yourself contributing in this position?
  • Have you worked in metrics-driven environment? If not, how do you measure your success?
  • What do you hope to get out of this job?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Recruiter Jim Durbin from Brandstorming Digital Marketing also told me this, “All questions should guide towards answers you want to hear. Open-ended questions, or questions where you assume that the candidate knows what you’re asking are traps.”

Sandra Mccartt, a recruiter from Texas takes a slightly different approach. “I take the resume and ask them to start with why they picked their degree field then walk me through their career starting with the first job out of college, why they took it, what they learned, why they left, then move to the next one . As they go over their career I make notes and ask questions along the way.”

She goes on to say, “When our trip through career progression is finished I have a pretty good picture of my candidate. Then I ask, ‘what does John do for fun? Bring this resume and career to life for me’. I had one candidate who raised piranhas in his fish tank. It made for an interesting talking point when he interviewed. People have patterns. If I let them talk about their career, I learn a lot more than asking a bunch of canned questions that they have to struggle to answer. They will tell me what I want to know if I listen.”

3. Set their expectations
End the call by setting their expectations and see if they have any further questions. Let them know what the next steps are and when they can expect to get an in-person interview. Providing this information is all part of the candidate experience and creates a positive interaction for your company.

While you’ll want to learn as much as possible about your candidate, you may also want to set a time limit, perhaps 30 minutes. You’ll be less tempted to stray off-topic, or let the candidate do so by setting a time limit. Don’t forget to take detailed notes to their answers. Notes can be valuable reference points for the in person interview and/or to share with the hiring manager.