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Job interview by phone

How do you interview job candidates by phone?

Once you have decided to call a candidate for a phone interview, you must make an appointment first. You don't, by any means, want to enter into your relationship with the candidate by causing an embarrassing situation. You will risk doing so if you call his/her cell phone or during working hours and start asking questions. First, get in touch and ask when you can talk in private.

Don't be surprised if it's hard to get hold of the candidate. Maybe he/she has a lot to do in his/her current job or perhaps he/she is a person who's generally on the move a lot and rarely answers the phone. Do it right from the beginning and avoid chasing candidates back and forth. Sit down and call them when you're (almost) sure that you won't get an answer. Almost all people have voice mail or calls forwarded to someone who takes messages. Tell him/her where and when you want to be called back for a talk that will last about 45 minutes.

Another way is to make an appointment via e-mail. But then you have to use your common sense. It's not at all uncommon for employees and managers to read each other's mail. Don't schedule appointments or carry on conversations about who you are and what you want if you don't know is that the address is ”safe”.

The phone interview - step by step (estimated time 25-40 minutes)

1. Before the interview, review the candidate's resumé and any notes you have already taken down. It's important that you have the critical objectives available, both in your mind and put down on paper. The common thread is always the question of how well the candidate might do the job and achieve goals. Signs of good similar performances in previous work are your main clues. Your notes will later become your assessment.

2. Start the interview by briefly describing the work formally and organizationally. You talk about work and its importance to the company as a whole and towards its customers. Don't take more than 2 minutes and end with the question:”So what makes you look for this kind of position now?”Give him/her 3 minutes to answer before proceeding. Now you have started the conversation and set its direction.

3. Now you quickly want to see an example of one or two credentials showing that the candidate you are talking to is a person that you would consider attractive labor. Look at the candidate's last two positions and look for examples of really good performances. Ask a few questions such as:”Can you describe some important changes that you made a substantial contribution to in your past jobs?”,”Can you tell me when you have met your goals or exceeded your expectations in recent years”? or ”Can you tell us about any important initiatives you have made in your past jobs?”When you get a reply, go deep and dig for details. Remember, here it’s better if you focus on one issue in-depth than on three for width. Let this step take about 10 minutes.

4. The next step is to find out how the candidate has handled work in groups or teams. Do the same as above and ask questions such as:”Can you describe the role you last had when you were working in a group or closely with a collaborator?”or” Can you tell me about how you built or improved the group you worked with last time?”The goal is still to get detailed information on good performances. You must focus on the candidate's contributions. Let this part take about 5 minutes.

5. Bring out your job description and begin the meeting with the most important issue: how will the candidate be able to meet the goals you have set as a requirement. Since time is limited, you must target the most important objectives. If you have time, you can talk about another objective, otherwise you will have to talk about it later.

This is how you do it:

a) Start by describing the first objective. Then ask the candidate to talk about when he/she succeeded with a similar performance. Go in-depth with the answer and ask the candidate about the details. Check continuously with the aim to see if it's a good comparison.

b) Now, paint a picture of a task. Preferably one that fits with your actual needs, or something similar that you can pick from your own concrete experience. The latter because you can more easily describe and assess it. The important thing is that what you describe is real and comparable to the goal you want to discuss. Then ask the candidate how he/she would organize the work in the case described and how he/she then would complete the task. Go in-depth.

Let this portion of the interview take about 5 minutes.

6. Make a short, but polite halt in the interview. Remember that you always want to send a signal that you are a professional leader in a serious business. If you already feel that a continuation will not lead anywhere, you can end the recruitment talk with the candidate at once. Tell him/her exactly what you think you're both thinking, but do it through a query that the candidate can confirm or deny.


”Given the fact that you seem happy with your current job and that the main duties of this job are different from the ones you are most interested in, maybe it's better if we continue this talk sometime later on down the line, should a position that is more suitable for you become available? What do you think?”
If the candidate doesn't share the same view, this can depend on several things. He/she might try to play a game to make himself/herself more attractive or perhaps he/she is in desperate need of a job and therefore willing to promise more than he/she can deliver. Don't turn this into a complicated long winded discussion, but simply believe in the candidate's statement and look for a deeper penetration of the subject in the next interview.

If you feel that the candidate is suitable, you give them an invitation - and you should do it with finesse. You’re not pursuing this angle simply to flatter the candidate, but because there is a genuine interest to hire him/her. Start by giving the candidate an endorsement. Tell him/her that you've spoken to a number of qualified candidates and that he/she is one of them. Then tell him/her that you want to invite him/her to an additional job interview, but that you would like to know the candidate's thoughts about the job so far. If you end the talks this way, the candidate will know that you are interested and that there are other applicants, information that is beneficial for his/her ego. In return you will know if the candidate is seriously interested.

About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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