This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Although phone screens are often ignored, they can provide valuable insight into a candidate who appears good on paper. Asking the right phone interview questions helps you vet applicants and narrow your field of potential new hires down. Phone screen interviews last about 30 minutes and cover only general topics, as in-depth discussions are reserved for later interviews.
Regardless of the position you’re hiring for, the following phone interview questions will help you spot red flags and avoid a bad hire.
1. What are you looking for in total compensation?
Money can be a difficult topic to discuss, but it is one of the best interview questions. To be the right fit for the job, the candidate and the employer need alignment on salary. We recommend ripping off the bandage at the beginning of the interview process. Many companies save this question for later interviews, but if you’re way apart on salary, the other questions don’t matter.
Importance: Many applicants will try to dance around this question, and if you really like a candidate, you may be able to bend your budget. But don’t waste your time, or the applicant’s, if they expect way beyond your budget. In some states, you may be required to post the salary range in your job ad, but it’s still good to confirm the applicant’s expectations.
2. Why are you looking for a new job?
After you’ve tackled a tough question like salary, move to a much easier question for the job seeker. This question comes in several forms, and you may want to ask them all.
- Have you just started your job search, or are you interviewing elsewhere?
- What makes you want to leave your current job?
- What are you looking for in a new job?
Importance: Asking these questions will give you insight into why the candidate is looking. Maybe they’re just testing the waters, in which case they might not be serious about taking a new job—or they could be in a toxic environment and want to leave. In either case, you gain crucial insight into the candidate’s level of interest in the job.
3. What is your background, and how does it make you a good fit for this role?
One of the best interview practices requires active listening when a candidate responds. While generally avoiding open-ended questions in a phone screening interview is a good idea, this one is targeted and should elicit a short but direct response.
Importance: As the employer, it’s important to listen for how much research the candidate has done on your organization and the position. It’s also essential that you pay attention to the description of their current job duties and how that aligns with those of your position. Keep your ears open for clues about how they interact with colleagues, their problem-solving skills, and their other soft skills.
4. What made you want to apply for a position with our company?
Phone screen interview questions should always involve some discussion of the company. Anyone who is serious about a position and not just a tire kicker will have prepared for a phone screen by reviewing the company website and looking for information about company initiatives and other important details.
Importance: This question lets you gauge the applicant’s seriousness for the job. If they have done zero research, it shows that they may not be invested in getting the job or they’re not really serious about leaving their current company. Many job applicants will passively job search and take interviews to use as leverage for a raise with their current employer. If you spot this red flag, it’s a good idea to eliminate this candidate and move on.
5. What skills have you recently learned or strengthened?
The candidate should absolutely discuss how their skills align with the job posting. They may naturally talk about new skills they’ve gained, but it’s a good question to ask if they do not. Especially if their skills do not exactly match what you need, this gives the applicant a chance to show what they can do by adding new skills or enhancing existing skills.
Importance: This question helps you understand the candidate’s skill level and how it matches with the qualifications for the job you need to fill. You’ll also see whether the individual is actively seeking to improve their skill set, making them more valuable to their current employer and marketable to new employers like you.
6. How do you handle workplace conflicts?
This is a question that can raise some red flags. Depending on the type of position you need to fill, the answer could disqualify an applicant who doesn’t demonstrate necessary interpersonal skills.
Importance: You can phrase this question in many ways—conflicts with managers, colleagues, and clients—and should make sure you’ve addressed all of the relevant ones at some point during the interview process. Pick the most important one for the phone interview to address. For example, if you’re hiring a store clerk, ask the question as it pertains to customers. If a candidate doesn’t demonstrate adequate customer service skills and de-escalation techniques, you may want to eliminate them from the hiring process.
7. What questions do you have for me?
Hiring employees also requires answering questions that candidates have for you. Giving candidates space to talk, even briefly, makes the phone screen feel more like a conversation rather than a formal interview.
Importance: Candidates should absolutely be prepared to ask you questions. Even if they have just a few general questions about the company or a day in the life of the position they’re interviewing for, an applicant without any questions is a disinterested one. The questions asked should also vary—while one will probably be about salary or benefits, an interested applicant will also ask about company culture and job specifics.
Preparing for an interview can be daunting. By planning for the most common phone interview questions, you can make sure the phone screen is a good use of everyone’s time. During a phone screen interview, you’re looking for reasons to eliminate candidates. Your job is to narrow down the list of suitable candidates, which means you need to have a risk-focused mindset.
Validate the candidate’s fit for the job, get to know them as an individual, and determine if they have enough positives to move on to the next round of interviews. If not, then send them an email that thanks them for their time but makes clear that your company is not moving forward with their candidacy.