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How to Conduct a Phone Interview: A Step-by-Step Guide for Employers

How to Conduct a Phone Interview: A Step-by-Step Guide for Employers

Conducting phone interviews is a smart way for employers to save time, money and resources in their hiring process. Instead of doing an in-person interview with every candidate who looks good on paper, taking time to speak with promising candidates by phone first will result in choosing better candidates.  Phone interviews help employers to quickly identify candidates who are a match for their job and those who may not be, without investing a lot of time and resources. By only moving candidates who are truly a good fit for your job into further steps of your hiring process, you save time.

If you’d like to spend less time interviewing candidates who would not make good hires and have a more effective hiring process, we encourage you to give phone interviews a try.  In this guide you’ll find everything you need to start using phone interviews in your hiring process. We walk you through every step. You’ll feel confident that you can conduct phone interviews right away. 

As a bonus, included in this tutorial is a phone interview guide template. The interview guide template provides sample questions you can ask candidates during phone interviews, a candidate rating form and more. You can download the phone interview guide and update it for your specific needs. It’s a great tool to get you started. But for now, let’s dive into the how to conduct phone interviews tutorial.

What is a Phone Interview

A phone interview is usually the first step in the hiring process. The purpose of the phone interview is to get a better understanding of how a candidate’s skills and experience align with the requirements of the job. 

A phone interview, as the name suggests takes place over the phone. A phone interview is also short, no longer than 15-30 minutes. Because of the prescriptive nature of phone interviews, with proper training  these interviews can be facilitated by human resources staff, recruiters, business owners, hiring managers or even administrative staff. 


Phone Interview Format

How you design and execute your phone interview process will ultimately determine how useful they are in your hiring process.

Since the goals of the phone interview are to evaluate alignment and identify candidates to move forward in your hiring process, then the process should be intentional and thoughtful. 

Here we make some suggestions on how to structure your phone interview for maximum effectiveness. 

  • Use a standard phone interview guide designed specifically for the job you're hiring for every interview.

  • Dedicate a block of time to facilitating the phone interviews. Set a start and end date for the phone interview period. This will keep your hiring process moving forward and create a sense of urgency for candidates. 

  • Carefully review resumes and only invite candidates who meet your requirements to participate in a phone interview. Your time and the candidate's time is valuable. Sticking to your screening criteria at the beginning will ultimately help you make a better hiring decision. 

  • Limit the phone interview to only 15-30 minutes. If your phone interview process is well designed, this is more than enough time to determine if the candidate should continue in your hiring process or exit. Remember that you will have more time in a formal interview to ask more detailed and complex questions.

  • Have a clearly defined next step. For a phone interview to be effective it has to be part of a larger process. Plan what will happen if you want to move the candidate forward and if you don't. 

These five tips will help you to develop a phone interview process that is a useful tool in your hiring process. With these steps in mind, let's talk more about how to develop a phone interview process and carry out a phone interview with a candidate. 


Review Resumes and Applications 

Every person who submits a resume or application will not be selected for a phone interview. The first step to getting to the phone interview stage of your hiring process is by reviewing the resumes and applications you receive. In the review, you'll screen out applicants that do not meet your minimum qualifications. You'll also select the applicants that you want to evaluate further. Those will be the applicants that you invite for phone interviews. 


Prepare Your Phone Interview Form

In order to fairly evaluate candidates you'll want to ask each person that participates in the phone interview the same questions. That's why using a phone interview guide is essential. 

A phone interview guide will help you to maintain consistency throughout every interview with each candidate. It will also:

  • Serve as an agenda for the interview. You'll easily be able to gather all the information that's important to the interview process from every candidate. Since everything you need to ask is written down, you won't forget. 

  • Allow multiple staff members to assist with phone interviews while maintaining consistency because everyone will ask the same questions, follow the same process and collect the same information.

  • Help you adhere to the interview time of 15-30 minutes. 

A phone interview guide should be very targeted. The questions included in the guide should help you determine if the candidate has the availability, skills, experience, and soft skills needed to succeed in the job. Here are some things you'll want to include in your phone interview guide. 



Asking questions about the candidate's work availability will make sure they understand the schedule required and are willing to work that schedule. Confirming this upfront will save a lot of time and decrease the chance you get further in the hiring process with someone who ultimately cannot meet your business needs. Remember, if the candidate cannot work the schedule that is needed, they're not the candidate for this particular job- and that is OK. Questions about availability include:

  • Work days

  • Weekend availability 

  • Hours/ days or nights

  • Rotating schedules

Review of Resume:

These questions will walk you through the work experience given by the candidate. Discussing the candidate's previous jobs will help you understand the kinds of work the candidate enjoys, their employment stability and may reveal possible challenges. This is also a good time to address any gaps in employment and ask any questions you noted during your resume review. Some questions to consider asking are:

  • What did you like most about this job?

  • What did you dislike about this job?

  • Why did you leave this job?

  • When did you start/leave this job?


Confirmation of Experience, Education and Skills:

Consider asking a few questions to confirm and clarify the candidate's skills, experience and education as it relates to what you need for the job. For example, if the job requires knowledge of Microsoft Excel, ask for examples of how they have used Excel in past or current jobs. The same applies for experience and education.

The goal is to get the candidate to share in more detail what they represented on the resume or application. This way you'll have an idea of how accurately their resume represents their qualifications and if their skill level meets your needs. 


Motivation for the Job and Working for Your Business

Needing a paycheck and wanting to do the work for your company are two different things. The best candidates will have an interest in the work and a motivation deeper than a paycheck. Ask questions that encourage the candidate to share their "why" in applying for this job. Candidates with a strong personal reason for work, will be stronger hires. 


Organization & Job Fit

Every job and work environment is not for everyone. If you have some experience hiring you've probably noticed that some people do better in certain jobs than others. That's why it's important to be honest and upfront about the job and working conditions. The phone interview is the ideal time to talk to candidates about the work conditions. The truth is that candidates will find out once on the job. Thoroughly assessing an applicant's fit for the job and organization will help you hire candidates that stay longer and ultimately reduce the costs of high turnover. 


Schedule Your Phone Interviews

After finalizing the list of candidates that you want to do a phone interview with, now it's time to schedule those interviews. To schedule your phone interviews, start by blocking out a few days on your calendar to facilitate the phone interview.  Along with days, select a range of times that includes morning, afternoon and evening appointments. Doing so will accommodate the scheduling needs of candidates who are currently working and allow you to complete more interviews.

We recommend wrapping up phone interviews within one week. Giving a deadline to the phone interview period promotes a sense of urgency for yourself and  the candidates chosen to interview. 

To save time and improve efficiency consider using an online calendar to schedule interviews. Using such resources will save you from playing phone tag and eliminate double booking candidates. These tools allow candidates to view available interview times and schedule themselves. Most will even send reminder emails and text messages which will help decrease phone interview no-shows. Popular online scheduling services include:

There are many other scheduling apps that you can use. Choose the one that meets your needs, budget and that you feel is easiest to use. Once you have set up your interview calendar, scheduling the phone interviews with candidates is easy. Simply email candidates a link to the scheduling calendar and invite them to schedule a phone interview. Here’s an example email that you could send:


Subject: Invitation to schedule a phone interview for the [Job Title] position with [Company Name]


Hi [Applicant Name],


Thank you for applying for the [Job Title] position with [Company Name]. We would like to invite you to participate in a phone interview.  This is the first step in our interview process. 

Please click the calendar link below. Then choose the day and  time that best fits your schedule. Keep in mind that the phone interview should last no longer than 15 to 30 minutes.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. 

[Your Name]


[Contact Information]


Conduct Your Phone Interview

Phone interviews should be a relaxed, low pressure meeting for you and the candidate. By following a simple outline for your phone interviews you can stay on track and have a productive meeting with your candidates. To help you organize an effective phone interview, you can use the outline below as an example.


Introductions- Introduce yourself to the applicant. Share some basic details about yourself such as your:

  • name 

  • job title

  • how long you've been with the company

  • role in the hiring process


Overview of the company- Briefly provide the candidate with some background knowledge of the company. Some key points to cover would include: 

  • how long the business has been in existence

  •  what you do and 

  • a short description of the job that they are interviewing for

Tell them what to expect- Give the candidate an idea of what's coming up in the phone interview. Doing so puts their mind at ease and possibly allows for a better interview. You may want to say something like:

"In the next 15 to 30 minutes, we'll take an opportunity to learn more about the job and your skills and experience. We'll walk through your resume and you can share with me more details about past jobs.  I'll ask a few questions to make sure that you have the skills and experience that we need. Then you'll have a chance to ask me any questions that you may have.  Do you have any questions before we begin?

Providing this kind of brief overview of the phone interview process will set you and the candidate up for a successful interview. 


Ask Your Questions

Now this is where your interview guide comes in handy. It will keep you on task and make sure that you ask the questions needed to get all the information that you would like to have.  As you complete the interview guide, take thorough notes.  Taking good notes during the phone interview is essential. Good notes allow you to accurately rate, evaluate and compare candidates after interviews are over.  You may even want to tell the candidate that you're going to be taking notes so there may be a pause or  quiet during the phone interview.  


Invite Them to Ask Questions

After you've asked all of your questions, open the conversation up to the candidate.  Invite the candidate to ask any questions that they have. You can make this transition by just simply saying:

"That's all the questions that I have. Do you have any questions for me?" 

Then pause and give them an opportunity to think of many questions that they have.  If they do have questions, provide accurate and thorough information. If the candidate doesn't  have any questions that's OK too.  You can also share your email address and invite them to send any questions they may think of later. 


Wrap-up and  Next Steps

So now that you've asked all of your questions and the candidate has had a chance to ask and receive answers to their questions, your phone interview is almost done. 

To wrap up your interview, tell the candidate what the next steps are in your interview process. During the wrap up, tell the candidate when they can expect to hear back from you and what is the next action. Your wrap up may include:

  • When you will follow with the candidate 

  • How you will communicate with them ( phone, email, ect)

  • The next step in your hiring process 

Making your hiring process more transparent and communicating regularly with candidates will prevent unnecessary follow up phone calls about their interview. Because they will know when and how you will update them on your decision, most candidates will not follow up again until after that date has passed.

Depending  on your hiring processes, the wrap up may sound something like:

"Thank you for your time today. I appreciate you meeting with me. The next step in our process is an in person interview at our office. I still have interviews to complete this week, but either me or my assistant will follow up with you within two weeks by email to update you on the process."


Evaluate Candidates

Immediately following your interview you want to rate candidates. A good phone interview guide (like the one we created for you here) will also include an evaluation worksheet. When evaluating candidates, you'll give your feedback on the candidate's interview performance. If you're using our template it has a section for you to evaluate candidate answers. Also, leave any notes that you have about the interview.  This is important because if you're not doing all of your phone interviews on the same day, you may forget these details later. Finally, decide whether or not you want to move the candidate forward in your hiring process. 


After evaluating all candidates, you've officially completed the phone interview process. Incorporating phone interviews into your hiring process is a great tool to help you choose the best employees for your business.



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