Preparing for the dreaded telephone interview: employer’s guide


One of the keys to building any successful business is through forming a strong team and being able to identify the right employees to build that team. Hiring new staff is always a little tricky and there are often temptations to take short cuts or rush the process in order to save time and get new staff in quickly, but obviously that adds unnecessary risk.

In some cases a telephone interview can help to screen potential candidates quicker and in more detail, allowing you to see more candidates over a short period of time and narrowing down the list of those you want to meet in person. However, it’s just as important to put in the necessary time, effort, and preparation if you want to find the right employee.

Take your time

While the telephone interview can help speed up the hiring process somewhat, its main objective is to screen more candidates in greater detail rather than simply rush the whole thing.

Make sure you treat each telephone interview as you would any other interview and set aside plenty of time to prepare and conduct the interview without disturbances. Rushing the process or going in unprepared could mean missing out on valuable candidates and letting the wrong candidates through to the next stage, rendering the whole process counterproductive.

If you really don’t have time to conduct the telephone interviews make sure to use a member of staff who you can trust, and one you know will put in the time and prep work needed.


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Have a clear plan

shutterstock_69648940-WEBBefore you start any telephone interview you should have a clear idea of the type of person needed, with a list of ideal skills, qualification, experience, and personality traits that would benefit your team. You should also distinguish which qualities and characteristics are a necessity for the role and which are not mandatory but would certainly be good to have.

Once you have all the ideal skills and traits listed it’s time to prioritize them and create a check list, after which you will need to design your interview questions around this list and make a clear plan for the interview with target goals and answers for each question.

Here is an example of what you can do:


Ask insightful questions

When creating your interview questions make sure to stick to your list of ideal qualities and characteristics, with every question aimed at uncovering relevant information. Ignore generic questions which candidates have probably heard many times already, such as “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “What is your biggest weakness”, instead make the questions insightful and to the point.

The key to a good telephone interview is to check off the list of qualities you have designed as precisely as possible. Remember, the telephone interview is part of the screening process and more open questions and scenario based problems can be given to those who make it to the next stage and the office interviews.


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As we have said, the telephone interview should be treated exactly as if it was a regular interview and you should dedicate all your time and focus to the interviewee. That means making sure that your calls are being redirected and all other staff knows you are conducting the interview and know not to disturb you.

Close your computer screen and turn your mobile phone off, multitasking during a telephone interview is a big ‘no no,’ so take away any temptation to check you Facebook or reply to emails at the same time. If you do not give the interview your full attention then it’s likely you will miss important snippets of information, and moreover, you will come across as unprofessional, disinterested, or disorganized which will likely deter some of your best candidates.multitasking

Tell them about yourself

Start the interview by introducing yourself and giving the interviewee a clear vision of your company and its goals, as well as explaining the role you play within the company.

This introduction can focus a little more on you (the interviewer) and it pays to go into some detail as to your history with the company and your personal experience. Not only does this help give the interviewee great context about the company and your role within it, but it also creates a more relaxed vibe and pleasant tone which should help the candidate relax. More importantly, it should make the interview feel more like a conversation rather than an interrogation and encourage them to be more open with their answers and their own questions.

Create a conversation

While you want to stick to your plan and list of questions it also pays to listen and respond to his answers, adding follow up questions and responses of encouragements to show that you are listening and make it feel more like a conversation rather than a full on formal interview. Even adding simple responses such as “wow, that sounds very interesting,” or “I understand, I have been in a similar situation.”

By making the interview feel a little less formal and more of conversation it will help to relax the candidate and encourage them to be more open and honest with their responses.


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Stay on track

shutterstock_67563760-WEBWhile we encourage you to add follow up questions and comments of encouragement it’s also important not to drift of track. Avoid spending too long on one questions or allowing either yourself or the candidate to go into long stories which deviate from the subject.

It’s important to keep the interview to a reasonable length and on track to cover all you key points and questions. You don’t want to find yourself having to rush the last few questions and answers due to the interviewing going too far off track. If the candidate is drifting off topic try to find a way to bring him back on point, even if you have to interrupt and tell them there is only so much time and you need to move on to the next question (though be sure to be polite and give words of encouragement, letting them know you understood their point).

Allow time for their questions

As with a regular interview, allow time at the end of the telephone interview for the candidate to ask any questions. Allowing the interviewee to ask questions at the end of the interview not only shows them you are taking their application seriously, but also gives you some final insight on their mindset by the type of questions they ask. The type of questions they ask you may well reveal what their priorities and motivations are, and the detail or specificity of their question will reveal their level of knowledge and understanding of your company, the role, and/or the industry.

At the end of the interview make sure to thank them for their time and inform them about the next stage of the recruitment process, i.e. they should expect to hear from you in 7 to 10 days when you will make a short list for office interviews.