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Best Phone Interview Format for Hiring Managers and Recruiters

Patrick Algrim
Patrick Algrim
Owner at Algrim.co

Learn how to structure phone interviews down to the minute, and what the hiring manager should present to the candidate.

A phone interview is a screening interview conducted between a hiring manager and candidate in anticipation of a regular job interview. It ensures that the candidate and employer are on the same page, whereas the job interview ensures that the candidate is qualified for the job. 

Here's what you should know about phone interviews and how to conduct more detailed interviews that lead to higher quality candidates and less turnover during the recruiting stage.

What should a phone interview ensure?

Here's what both the employer (interviewer) and the candidate should know at the end of a phone interview:

  • A mutual interest in the job opportunity. The hiring manager should confirm that the candidate has a passion for both the company and the role.

  • No questions about the company and the business. The candidate should have a solid understanding of what the team, company and customer are looking for.

  • Alignment on compensation. It's perfectly alright to speak about compensation and salary expectations early. In contrast, many employers wait until the job-offer stage to see if the candidate is on the same page in terms of salary expectations.

How the interviewer should organize the interview

To achieve the above outcomes, the interviewer should conduct a 30-minute interview. And you want to structure the interview into small stages. Here's how it should be structured:

First five to 10 minutes

It's vital that the interviewer represent the company in a positive manner. The hiring manager should start the interview with a casual conversation. Ask questions about the candidate. Learn who they are. Start the conversation on a positive note.

If the hiring manager doesn't know anything about the candidate; for example, if the candidate doesn't have a LinkedIn profile or public Twitter profile where they can learn more about them, you may want to start the meeting with these icebreaker questions.

The 10- to 15-minute mark

Once you and the candidate are able to establish a connection, the interviewer should then inform the candidate about the job. After the informal discussion at the beginning of the interview, focus on explaining the job requirements. Don't read the job description. Talk about the requirements of the team, what projects are being worked on, what role the team plays within the company, and then describe the organization's goals for that quarter and that fiscal year.

When you've finished describing the company's goals, ask the candidate if they have any questions. This ensures the candidate is aware of what they're interviewing for and the complete requirements of the position.

The 15- to 20-minute mark

Once you've covered the requirements of the role in minutes 10 through 15, the next phase is to ask questions about the candidate. For example, if you are hiring for a software engineer and the role required extensive database knowledge, you could say, "This role is heavily dependent on NoSQL database work. Do you have experience with that, such as with Cassandra or CouchDB?"

This qualifies the candidate and allows the hiring manager to hear about their general passions. Listen to how the candidate responds to your questions, and pull passion from that. Structure a few questions to qualify the candidate.

The 20- to 25-minute mark

Covering salary and compensation is critical. If the candidate isn't aware of the salary range for the role, they might successfully complete all interviews and get a job offer. Once they learn the salary range, however, they may reject it, which can frustrate them and you because of the company resources and time spent finding the right candidate.

As a hiring manager, it's critical to be transparent. During this phase of the phone interview, you can suggest a budget range that the company has in mind for the role. If the candidate is outstanding, you can inform them that the budget can be adjusted. At this early stage, you aren't necessarily interested that the candidate accept the position – you only want to ensure that the candidate is comfortable with the range and that it meets their financial needs.

Informing candidates early on about the salary range is one of the best ways to ensure candidates move forward in the hiring process are both qualified and willing to accept a job offer, if it's provided. It also ensures the hours you and others spend reviewing and refining the list of candidates isn't wasted.

The remaining 25 to 30 minutes

The final minutes in the interview should be available for the candidate to ask questions. They will most likely have more questions than can be answered in five minutes. That's OK. It can spark additional conversation for future job interviews later in the process. The candidate can also ask those questions in the post-interview thank-you note they send.

Throughout the interview, aside from the discussion in the 10- to 15-minute mark, the interview should be a discussion. If the hiring manager is the only one speaking, it's hard to gauge the true interest of the candidate and their verbal communication skills.

The last five minutes of the interview should be entirely for the candidate, though. It should be an open forum where they can ask questions. If the question requires more time to respond to than the time you have left in the call, you can say to the candidate, "That's a great question to ask in your next interview. I would keep that written down and ask the next interviewer."

Common mistakes with phone interviews

Here are the most common mistakes made when conducting a phone interview as a recruiter or hiring manager:

Not letting the candidate speak

It might not be intentional, or it could be out of sheer excitement for the job opportunity or for the company, but speaking the entire 30 minutes about the role, company, and the team is too much – or even speaking a majority of the time during the phone interview.

It's important to "information gather" during this session. Let the interviewee interrupt you if necessary. They might feel passionate about what's being discussed. If you're speaking the entire time, then getting to know the candidate better isn't possible.

Allowing the candidate to stay in an active-listening mode

Shy candidates might stay quiet during the interview. It's important to ask questions that get them involved in the conversation. For someone who has a high caliber of accolades and accomplishments, we can overlook what their speech is telling us.

A candidate who chooses not to engage in the conversation needs to be nudged. Ask open-ended questions like "What do you think of that?" or "Does that sound like something you'd be passionate about?" If the candidate answers with "yes," then ask why they would. Doing this can ensure the job applicant is passionate about the position, and it can save your company time, dollars and effort if you find out they aren't passionate about the job.

Final thoughts

This format is the absolute best way to structure your phone interview. It provides ample time to inform candidates, qualify them and ensure that they're prepared for the next steps with the company. If the applicant isn't qualified for the position, the hiring manager should follow up by email and explain the reasons why; for example, they lack the required skills or experience.

A phone interview is a screening interview. Not all of the questions will be answered from both sides, but it provides a great way to get on the same page and ensure that neither side is wasting the other's time. 

Play with the format; see what works best. Happy hiring!

Image Credit: Valeriy_G / Getty Images
Patrick Algrim
Patrick Algrim
business.com Member
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Patrick Algrim runs Algrim.co and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, Desiblitz, Kada Recruiting, Optimistic Mommy, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), The Ladders, and many more.