How to Use a Phone Interview as a Job Applicant Screening Tool

What questions are asked in a phone screen interview?

A woman is holding a phone intervew with a prospective employee.
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Phone interviews allow you to call your most promising job applicants before bringing them in for more in-depth, in-person job interviews. This screening process enables you to assess an applicant's skills, knowledge, experience, and salary expectations before you invest company time in onsite interviews.

Phone conversations can quickly identify applicants who seemed qualified on paper but lack the skills you seek or appear to be poor cultural fits for your organization.

Phone interviews save companies time, money, and energy by helping to eliminate unqualified candidates early in the process.

You can fast track your most qualified applicants by identifying those who stand out during the phone screening process.

Conducting a Phone Interview

The best employee to conduct a phone interview typically is the hiring manager. He is most in tune with the qualifications, experience, and technical knowledge necessary for successfully performing the job in question.

If the hiring manager has limited technical expertise related to the job in question, it's a good idea to bring in a technical expert as a third person for the phone interview to ensure that only highly qualified candidates advance to the next step in the hiring process.

Hiring managers often have to work most closely with a selected employee and is best qualified to assess the social skills of applicants and whether or not they are a good cultural fit.

Human Resources Phone Interviews

As a second choice, a representative from human resources can conduct phone interviews with candidates, but it is difficult for HR staff members to know exactly what hiring managers need. If technical skills are paramount for success in the position, the HR staff is not the first choice.

However, if the most significant component of a phone screen is the cultural fit of the applicant, the HR recruiter is qualified. In fact, she may be the best person to conduct the phone interview. As well, having HR handle this step in the process saves the hiring manager additional time.

Questions for a Phone Interview

Basic questions for a phone interview should be the same for each prospective employee and designed to establish a broad sense of whether or not candidates are a good fit. Follow-up questions to clarify or obtain more information obviously will vary based on candidates' initial responses. Follow-up questions also can address anything from application materials that may need further clarification.

Employees who conduct the interview should take detailed interview notes just as they would for onsite interviews.

A phone screen usually takes half an hour to an hour depending on the questions and responses. You can cut down on this time if you start with several questions that can narrow your field of candidates.

Specific questions to ask during a phone interview:

  • What attracted you to apply for the position?
  • What are the key qualifications that make the role a good fit for your skills and experiences?
  • Describe in detail what you do in your current or most recent job.
  • Describe your most significant contributions in the role.
  • What three contributions would you expect to make to the company if offered the job?
  • What is the salary range you hope to receive in a job offer?

After the Phone Interview

Review and assess the qualifications and responses of each candidate with HR staff and other members of the recruiting team to determine which candidates to involve in your onsite interview process and when.

A question about salary expectations is a good example of something that can help determine whether or not a candidate is worth pursuing. Candidates will express a desired salary or tell you what their compensation package is worth in their current role. If it is significantly higher than what you have budgeted for the position, it's probably not worth spending time on the candidate.