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Phone Interview Questions to Ask Job Candidates

As a hiring manager, you know what a good resume and cover letter look like. You also know that despite their promises, they might fail to be the candidate you need. Questions for a screening interview will touch on whether a candidate's hard skills, experience, education and certifications are right for the open position. At the end of a phone screen interview, you want to be confident a candidate can do the job and also mesh well with your organizational culture.

As you would for any business conversation, you want to practice good etiquette when scheduling and conducting a phone screen interview. Respect the interviewee’s time by keeping to the schedule. Respect their availability for the phone call, too. Candidates who are working, even if it's from home, may not be able to talk until after business hours. Follow this list of five phone interview tips:

1. The basics Keep it simple and start with questions that will set the job candidate at ease. A screening interview can be stressful for many people. Start it off easy for them, and you’ll get a truer picture of what they can bring to the table.

  • Can you tell me about your background?

  • Why are you looking for a new job?

  • Where are you in your job search?

  • When could you start working?

Even simple questions can help determine whether to move forward with a candidate. For example, are they available when you want to hire? Candidates who say they can’t start the job for a month aren’t going to work out when you need to someone in the position right now.

2. Salary expectations Money can be an awkward topic to bring up — if not for you, then certainly for many candidates. But you want to know whether the candidate’s salary expectations are in the ballpark of what you can offer.

  • How much would you like to earn in this position?

  • Are there specific benefits that are important to you?

  • Would it be a deal breaker for you if we don’t offer _____ (benefit) or the salary figure you quoted?

Many candidates are reluctant to give anything more than a salary range this early on. If you can’t get a clear idea of whether there’s a financial fit, you can revisit the topic of salary later. But don’t waste the candidate’s time, or yours, if you suspect there’s a gaping difference between their salary expectations and the budget you’re working with. Let them know the range you’re considering and ask whether they’re still interested in the position. 3. Desire for the job Before discussing skills and training, your phone interview questions should gauge a candidate’s interest in the position. Questions about the role they have now — and why they want to leave it — can also tell you about their suitability for the one you’re hiring for.

  • Why do you want to leave your current job?

  • What attracted you to apply for this position?

  • Describe your current job responsibilities.

  • What motivates you in a job?

PHONE INTERVIEW TIP: Listen for workplace cultural preferences as well as interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, initiative and other soft skills. A candidate who’s looking for a greater challenge, for instance, might give you reason to consider them for a job that’s more demanding than their current role. 4. Knowledge of the company You can’t expect candidates to have read your annual report or know the history of your company, but anyone who’s serious about the position you’re hiring for will have prepared for the interview by doing some research.

  • What attracted you to our organization?

  • What do you know about our products or services?

  • Do you use our products or services?

Candidates who support your company’s mission, and who are interested in its product, can be gold. Just as you want employees who are interested in the job, not just the paycheck, you also want professionals who have a positive view of the company itself.

5. Resume details This part of the phone screen interview will likely take up most of the scheduled time. Ask candidates what they hope to get out of the job — and how they see themselves contributing to the role and the company. Do they have the skills, experience and aptitude you’re looking for? Also, raise any questions you have about the job candidate's resume and cover letter.

  • What skills have you recently gained or strengthened?

  • How are your skills a match for this job?

  • What did you do during the yearlong gap in your employment (and why did you leave your last employer)?

  • Did your internship at _____ give you specific experience that you can apply to this job?

  • What questions do you have for me?

Give the candidate some space to talk here. You want to allow them to fill in their resume gaps, be it their work history, skills section, or education and training. Ask follow-up questions when you need more clarity.

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