A phone interview is an excellent interview activity to include when you’re recruiting.
I believe the phone interview is a really important step in the hiring process as it is an effective way for both parties (hiring manager and candidate) to speak to each other before a fully fledged face-to-face interview.
The phone interview is not only cheaper to conduct than a face-to-face interview but it’s also much easier to arrange.
Getting to speak to a candidate as soon as possible after their application is important, especially so if you’re trying to hire the best talent. It is likely they are in demand, so getting to speak to them sooner rather than later is important. Most good candidates will also expect a phone conversation before putting in time, effort and cost to see you face-to-face.
Here are some ideas and thoughts on how to conduct a phone interview well.
1. Expect to conduct the phone interview over lunch or before or after work
A phone interview is a quick and easy way to speak to a candidate prior to meeting them face-to-face. Expect to conduct this interview at a time that is suitable for the candidate.
Most candidates will already be employed and hence cannot easily take time out of their current working day to speak to you. So be flexible and offer times that are suitable for the candidate.
Interviewing is a two way process and it’s as much about selling you and your job as it is about assessing the candidates suitability. Good candidates have multiple offers to choose from so be flexible right from the start and make it easy for them to speak to you.
2. Time-box the interview
Keep your phone interviews short.
A phone interview is best when it is a short, but targeted, discussion prior to a face-to-face interview.
It’s a filter mechanism for both parties so don’t turn it in to a full interview. A full interview will leave little to talk about in a face-to-face interview and defeat the purpose of it being about quick feedback for both yourself and the candidate.
Stick to the allocated time with military precision. I recommend keeping them to 15-30 minutes.
3. Structure the interview
Try to provide a structure for the interview so that you can be sure you’ve asked all the questions you want and that the candidate has had a chance to find out everything they wanted to.
I like to use the following rough agenda.
- Introduce yourself and anyone else on the call
- Thank them for their time and see if they have any initial questions
- Introduction to the company and the role
- Ask them to give a quick overview of themselves
- Questions and discussions around the career opportunity (i.e. the role, the skills, the experience etc.)
- Opportunity to ask further questions
- Close and any final actions
4. Plan Accordingly
It shows if you walk in to a phone interview having done little preparation.
Plan accordingly and make sure you are prepared.
Ensure you have a room booked and that the room has the right seating, phones, white boards, noise levels etc.
Turn up early and check the audio and connectivity. Also make sure you have a consistent good mobile signal if you’re using a mobile phone.
Make sure you have the candidates CV or social profile and any other information you need. Ensure you have the candidates phone number and other contact details.
Make sure you have notebooks, pens or other note taking tools.
5. Send them full details
It’s really important that you make it easy for the candidate to prepare for the interview so send them details of the people they will be speaking to along with the relevant phone numbers. Sharing the agenda can be useful and helpful also.
6. Pair Up
I like to pair up for phone interview so that we get a more balanced view of the candidate.
It’s also nice for candidates to have more than one person to ask questions.
I try to organise a manager and a peer to be on the call if possible.
7. Make Notes
Take copious notes. You are unlikely to remember everything you have spoken about so make lots of notes.
If I have the right interview room then I like to use a whiteboard for notes. I create a giant mind map as I like to walk around whilst on the phone. It’s not always possible so a notebook will often suffice.
8. Compensate for a lack of visuals
When you cannot see the candidate then you cannot use your observations of body language to make sense of what is being said.
You may be surprised by how much of the conversations meaning is conveyed by non-verbals such as gesture, posture and facial expressions.
You must compensate for this lack of visual clues by actively listening to what is being said and appreciating that sometimes the words won’t always convey the true message.
In instances where you have some doubts or niggles about what has been said then dig deeper. Ask qualifying and clarifying questions to find out more. You may need to do this more on the phone than in-person.
When you are listening use the occasional verbal feedback so that they know you are paying attention. A simple “yep” or “uhum” is enough to give them some feedback.
Use simple words and be sure to be as clear as possible on the phone.
9. Don’t eat or drink
It’s really obvious when someone is eating, drinking or smoking when on the phone. It’s really off-putting and somewhat rude so be cautious about eating, drinking or smoking when you are interviewing.
10. Give plenty of time for questions
A good candidate, in my experience, will ask lots of questions. They will be keen to find out more about you, the company and the role.
I tend to give at least 10 minutes at the end and 5 minutes at the beginning for questions.
11. End the interview like a pro
At the end of the interview be sure to state what the next steps are.
You may not want to tell the candidate what your decision is (in fact I would recommend you don’t) but do state what will happen next.
Are you going to let the recruiter know?
Are you going to be back in touch tomorrow or next week?
12. Write up your notes
It’s good to write up your notes as near to the end of the interview as possible and file these against the candidate’s application if you can. This gives lots of cross reference and is a good way of ensuring you capture relevant and timely information about the candidate.
13. Don’t Use a Phone
Try dropping the use of a phone and replacing with services like Skype, Google Hangouts or GoToMeetings. These are really good ways of empowering both parties to see each other. It’s not quite the same as face-to-face interviews but they are a good compromise.
If you are using a video chat tool then be sure it’s safe and secure. Check your audio and video before the call and be sure to include clear instructions for the candidate prior to the interview.
It also pays to be patient when using video chat as in my experience these sessions rarely run smoothly but the value I get from them out-weighs the minor disruption. Typical problems are usually such things as webcams not working or audio not being configured correctly.
Phone interviews are an excellent way of getting early and effective feedback about a candidate, and for them to get feedback about you and the role you have offered.
Do you conduct phone interviews? I’d be keen to hear about how yours work.
If you’re in the process of job hunting you’ll likely enjoy my new book Remaining Relevant – a book for people who want to take control of their careers. It’s full of advice on how to find good jobs, perform well in an interview and take control of your own self learning.