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Best practices for conducting phone interviews


If you’re not conducting phone interviews as part of your hiring practices, you are missing out. In-person interviews are time-consuming. They are nerve-wracking. For candidates who may have to buy new clothes, take unpaid time away from their job, or pay for transportation or parking, they can be costly. The last thing you want to do is bring someone in for an interview only to discover five minutes in that it’s not going to work out.


It’s just good sense to conduct phone interviews before you get to that stage. Here are some tips for doing so effectively.

The Hiring Manager's Guide to Effective Interviews

Make arrangements in advance.

Yes, it’s possible to call people whenever it’s convenient for you, and there is a chance that they’ll pick up the phone in that moment. This isn’t a good practice, however. Not only are the odds fairly high that they won’t pick up the phone at all (especially if the candidate is under the age of 35), but it might be a terrible time for a professional conversation. Are they in the middle of a party, caring for small children, or driving through an area with spotty reception? Are they at work, with a manager who isn’t aware that they’re job searching?

Sending a quick email to set up the details of a phone call does involve a bit more work on your part, but you’re much more likely to get a successful interview out of it. Don’t forget to let them know how long the call is likely to take and what number you’ll be calling from. And if something comes up and you need to adjust the timing, let them know and apologize! Most people will make adjustments for an emergency, but not for unnecessary rudeness.

Keep things brief.

With rare exceptions, a phone interview should be your initial interview. The goal isn’t to find the right candidate at this point, it’s to weed out the wrong ones. For this reason, you’ll want to keep the phone interview fairly short: perhaps 15-30 minutes. During that time you’ll want to ascertain things like:

  • Whether they’re still actively looking for a new job.
  • Whether you’re on a similar page when it comes to salary and schedule.
  • Whether they’re clear on what the job entails: Is it more marketing or sales? Is it more about managing data or people? Does it require relocation, or could the job be done remotely?

This is also a good time to ask about anything that seems odd about or missing from their resume. “This job would require you to interact with clients daily basis. Can you fill me in on what kind of customer service experience you have?” “I see that you attended Thistown University, but I can’t find a graduation date. Did you earn your degree there?”

If you know the next step, let them know.

If you know you’re going to offer the candidate an in-person interview, don’t wait! It’s very likely that they’ve also applied for positions elsewhere, and finding a mutually opportune time is much easier over the phone than by email.

Similarly, don’t waste a candidate’s time if a quick phone screen if it’s clear they’re not the right fit for the position. “Unfortunately, I think this is a more junior role than what you’re looking for right now, and we can’t offer the kind of salary that would be more in line with your experience. Good luck with your job search!”

For those that seem borderline (you might want to interview them, but it depends on how other candidates do on their phone screens or whether your top choices both turn the position down), try to give them a timeline. “We’ll let you know either way by the end of the month,” is a reasonable thing to say, provided you actually follow through with an email in that time period.

Even an “I just wanted to let you know that our process is taking longer than expected” email is helpful, so that candidates know they haven’t been forgotten.

Get ready for the in-person interview.

A good interview takes some significant preparation and thought. For more tips on how your interviews can help you find the right person, download The Hiring Manager's Guide to Effective Interviews.

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