Imagine that you’re looking to hire an office manager. You post an ad on multiple online job boards and receive a ton of responses from interested applicants. For practical reasons, you can’t conduct in-person interviews with every candidate, so what can you do?
Phone interviews, in conjunction with other pre-screening tools, can help you determine if candidates have the minimum job qualifications before you spend your time conducting in-person interviews. Here’s a checklist to help you conduct effective phone interviews:
Before the Interview:
- Narrow your list of candidates. Use resumes and application forms to narrow your list of candidates. This information can tell you whether the candidate has the required experience, education, and other credentials. When you speak with the applicant, confirm their qualifications.
- Schedule adequate time. To conduct a phone interview, reserve a quiet space that is free of interruptions. A typical phone interview lasts about 30 minutes, but can vary depending on the company and position. Decide how much time you think you’ll need in advance and give yourself a little extra time in case the interview runs long. Consider using a landline to avoid a poor connection and a headset so you can easily take notes.
- Prepare questions. Ask candidates applying for the same job the same core set of questions. Compare candidates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities and focus on job-related questions to help you determine whether a candidate is a good fit for the position.
- Practice. Even if you are an experienced interviewer, phone interviews can pose challenges. Prior to conducting a phone interview, consider a practice session to refine your approach.
During the Interview:
- Introduce yourself. At the start of the call, briefly explain your role within the company and how you will structure the interview. Some interviewers also provide details on the open position, while others wait until later in the interview to avoid influencing the candidate’s responses.
- Let the candidate do the talking. After your introduction, start with your list of prepared questions. Ask open-ended questions, such as “what made you apply for this position?” and use follow-up questions when appropriate.
- Keep questions job-related. Avoid questions that would directly or indirectly identify the candidate as a member of a protected group. Even some seemingly harmless questions could reveal information that cannot be used to make employment decisions. For example, if you notice that a candidate attended the same university as you did, it may be tempting to ask in what year he or she graduated. However, you should avoid this type of question because the answer could be an indication of the candidate’s age, a protected characteristic under federal, state, and local laws. If the candidate voluntarily reveals protected information, steer the conversation back to job-related topics and don’t consider that information when making employment decisions.
- Take notes. It’s often easier to take notes during phone interviews because maintaining eye contact isn’t a concern. Detailed notes can help you recall and objectively evaluate the candidate’s answers after the interview. Make sure notes contain only job-related information.
- Explain next steps. At the end of the interview, let the candidate know that once you complete all phone interviews, you will determine who you will call back for in-person interviews. Inform them that if he or she is selected, you will be in contact. Consider providing an approximate timeline for next steps.
After the Interview:
- Review notes. After the interview, review your notes and record your impressions, observations, and ratings of the candidate’s skill and experience as it relates to the open position. Consider using a standardized form for this.
- Schedule in-person interviews. Once you have narrowed your list of candidates, schedule in-person interviews. While the number of candidates will vary based on the type of position and the overall applicant pool, typically employers will schedule three to five candidates for in-person interviews.
- Send rejection letters. Once you have disqualified a candidate, promptly inform him or her of your decision in writing. Sending a rejection letter helps maintain goodwill.
Phone interviews can save you time and energy and can help you make informed decisions about candidates to interview in-person. If you include phone interviews as part of your hiring process, train interviewers on how to properly prepare and conduct them.