Hiring can be a hit-or-miss endeavor. When you’re tracking multiple applicants per day, it’s easy for a candidate to look great on paper but prove to be not the right fit once you sit down for an interview.
As the person wearing the hiring hat, your time is short. You need to fill seats, and fast.
But you also know your next hire needs to be 110% right for the job. Which means your interview process must be thorough, efficient, and, above all — it’s got to show the candidate who you are as a company.
That’s where a carefully planned 20 to 30-minute phone screen interview comes in.
With the right approach to the phone screen interview, you can pick out your most stellar candidates with less effort than a full in-person or video interview — all while making the hiring experience a little more fun and engaging.
As with all things people-related, it’s going to take some intentional effort to make your phone screen a great use of time for both you and your candidate. This handy guide is here to help!
Phone screen interview vs. the (nearly extinct) face-to-face interview
Remember when the only acceptable interviews were face-to-face? And by that we mean in-person face-to-face contact, often accompanied by a (preferably firm 🙄) handshake.
But along with water cooler talks and awkward elevator rides, in-person interviews and their handshake bias are among the many workplace norms upended by the pandemic. Today, virtual screen-to-screen and phone interviews are just as common as in-person interviews were in the past. And with technology that easily connects employers and job candidates, the question for many is: “Why wouldn’t you use these tools?”
For example, video interviews have all the attributes of face-to-face interviews — minus the cost of travel. Employers and candidates can see and hear each other just fine. They can pick up on each other’s body language. And they can laugh over each other’s choice of virtual background.
But if video screenings are doing a good job of duplicating the interpersonal experience of face-to-face interviews, why should employers bother holding phone screen interviews at all?
Phone screen vs. video interviews: Which one should you choose?
You won’t need a TV director or video technician to set up a virtual interview. But you will need the screen, lighting, sound and atmosphere to be as clear and undistracting as possible.
If both the employer and candidate really want to make the right impression in a video interview, then inspecting and testing all the equipment beforehand is essential.
A phone screen interview, on the other hand, needs little more than a reliable phone line with clear sound. And in the age of Zoom fatigue, that can be a big relief both for your candidates and your busy hiring team. With a phone screen interview, as long as everyone has enough battery power — you’re good to go.
Of course, there are times when you need to see how a person presents themselves. For this reason, phone screen interviews tend to work best for jobs that don’t require front-facing interactions with customers, clients or the public — like kitchen food handlers, product developers or machinists. But if you’re evaluating candidates for jobs in customer service, sales or hospitality, video interviews are probably the better route to take.
Phone screen interviews can also be extremely handy for jobs that attract a large volume of applicants, helping you pinpoint which candidates to invite for a longer face-to-face interview, whether that be via video or in-person.
Finally, the phone screen interview comes with an added bonus of feeling a little less ‘official’. It can be a great way to get to know a candidate’s personality and could even lead to quick, off-the-cuff answers and insights that feel a little less ‘rehearsed’.
How to schedule and lead a candidate-worthy phone screen interview
Step 1: Get everyone ready
As with every other part of your recruitment and hiring process, for the best results you want to view the phone screen interview as a reflection of who you are as a company and employer brand.
Get in the zone by making sure that you have quick access to an easy-to-use candidate scorecard so you can quickly record your feedback immediately after the interview to share with the rest of the hiring team.
This also frees you from having to jot down notes during the call so you can stay engaged with the candidate and give your full attention to the insights they’re sharing.
As for your candidates, you may also want to help them out by sharing questions before the phone screen interview so they can have a little time to think about their answers and feel extra confident for the call.
Step 2. Schedule the interview
Wild as it may seem, getting on everyone’s calendar can be the hardest part of scheduling meetings, and phone screen interviews are no different.
Usually phone screen interviews are held one-on-one, but depending on your company’s size and structure, a recruiter, hiring manager and/or team member from the manager’s department may be involved.
Regardless of how many folks are on the call, if you want to keep your phone screens candidate-friendly you’ll need to lose the endless email chains and nail down dates and times that work for both interviewers and candidates.
Monster recommends scheduling same-day interviews to help interviewers remember what they liked about specific candidate’s responses and easily compare notes while they’re more fresh in mind.
But if you have multiple set interview days, or the flexibility to let candidates name their date, you can keep the process convenient by asking candidates upfront for multiple available dates that would work or by sending a quick scheduling link.
In Breezy, our simple 12-step guide for scheduling all types of interviews can help busy hiring teams schedule multiple interviews for the same day, all at once. You can even customize the times and details for each meeting. The candidate will receive one email with everything they need in order to be prepped and ready.
Step 3. Make a powerful impression
While you can’t hire them all, you definitely want to ‘wow’ each and every candidate you cross paths with. So use the little phone time you have to make an awesome impression.
Here are a couple of tips to help you keep it fun and memorable for everyone.
Mimic in-person interview tactics
Who says the phone screen interview is less personal than video or face-to-face meetings?
Recruiters and hiring managers can be just as animated and enthusiastic on the phone as they are in visual or physical interviews.
Simple things like smiling and standing instead of sitting can instantly make phone conversations more focused and engaging.
Don’t get distracted
Just because candidates can’t see you, doesn’t mean they don’t know when you’re distracted.
Make some adjustments to your environment to avoid distractions. For example, you could step away from your computer, find a quiet outdoor spot or meeting room, and opt to use the headset rather than the speakerphone to make sure you’re literally ‘hands on’ in the interview.
To really make your phone screen interview distraction-proof, make sure you never:
- Come unprepared
- Start the interview late
- Multitask while interviewing
- Put the candidate on hold
- Assume the phone line is clear without checking it first
- Talk over the candidate
Step 4. Ask the right phone screen interview questions
Remember: you have only 30 minutes or less to get to know and impress a candidate.
Make sure your phone screen interview questions are easy to understand, conversational, on point and legal.(NOTE: While we at team Breezy are uber-passionate about HR, we are not legal experts. Always check with a legal professional to make sure your HR and recruitment practices are legit.)
Start with a non-cliché icebreaker
Interviews can be a major stress-inducer for candidates.
Starting the conversation with icebreakers can help ease any anxieties on both sides and set a friendly, collaborative tone that lasts throughout the hiring process — from candidate selection to job offer.
If you’re not one for the ‘what animal would you be?’ style of icebreaker question, you can always open the conversation with:
- Why did you choose this career?
- Do you know anyone who works here?
- What did you want to do when you were younger?
- What’s the most awesome thing about your current job that you hope you get here too?
Keep your questions focused
The phone screen interview is often your first and shortest live encounter with a candidate.
It also kicks off the necessary weeding out and screening in process. The questions to ask should narrow the pool of candidates by focusing tightly on their skills and experience in the brief time you have together.
Resumes will list credentials like academic degrees and certifications but asking candidates about their experience and expectations around both role-specific requirements and company culture can help uncover any misalignments on either side.
Here are some straightforward phone screen questions to help make sure that your candidates’ expectations are aligned with your own:
- Why are you looking for a new job?
- Are you opposed to traveling once a week?
- What salary level are you expecting?
- Describe your ideal job?
- What did you like most or least about the jobs you’ve held?
- Where do you see your career going?
- What’s your ideal work schedule look like?
- Why do you want to work at this company?
Skip the tired, time-guzzling questions
Certain interview questions come up so often that candidates know the “right” answers to give.
You know, the ol’ “Tell me about yourself” routine.
Of course, we’re not knocking the open-ended question format. It can be a great icebreaker that teaches you a lot about a candidate. But the response can also spark a long dialogue that uses up your limited time without getting to the real reason you’re both here — finding the right fit for the role.
Plus, if the answer is rehearsed, you’ll never really get to know the person on the other line.
Here are a few ways to understand who your candidate is, without launching into their personal origin story. (For more, be sure to check out our roundup of 13 Non-Cliché Questions from Top HR Straight Shooters.)
- What are you looking for next in your career?
- How would you support your team through tough times?
- How do you stay relevant?
- What are you reading right now?
- Why would you choose to leave a company?
- What would you win an award for?
- How are you misunderstood?
Avoid asking illegal questions 🙅♂️
Employment laws forbid employers from asking interview questions that could be discriminatory, and phone screen interviews aren’t exempt from the rules.
These laws protect employees from biases based on their gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, physical disability and sexual orientation. Questions about parenthood and military status are also considered taboo (and possibly illegal).
Here’s a (by no means exhaustive) list of unlawful questions to steer clear of:
- Do you have any physical or mental disabilities?
- When are you planning to have children?
- Will you need time off for religious holidays?
- What country are you from?
- How often are you deployed for Army Reserve training?
- How old are you?
Certain states and jurisdictions bar employers from asking candidates what they earned in their previous jobs.
That’s because pay history questions can be unfavorable to women and non-white workers since their pay is typically less than their white male counterparts and is likely to stay that way if revealed during interviews.
Step 5. End the phone interview on a high note
The way you end the interview is as important as how you kick it off. Here are a few simple ways to give your phone interview candidates an awesome send-off.
Leave enough time for Q&A
Use the last few minutes of the phone screening interview to flip the script and put yourself in the hot seat. Now it’s time for you to answer their questions.
Those who want the job want to impress you, and will likely have questions to ask. Be sure to also let them know that you’ll gladly answer any questions they may have after the interview.
Don’t leave candidates hanging
Be clear with candidates about what the next step is after the phone screen interview and that you’ll let them know either:
a.) what they’ll need to do next if you’re ready to progress them to the next stage of the hiring process
b.) when you’ll be back in touch with their status as soon as you’ve made a decision.
Whatever you do, always say ‘thank you’
Waiting for an answer about a job opportunity can be super stressful for candidates, so don’t let too much time lapse between the interview and your decision.
Your candidates took time out of their busy (and often emotional) job searching agenda to learn more about your company and open role.
They want and deserve a timely answer.
Candidates are, quite rightfully, more discerning than ever about the companies they choose to work for. Go the extra mile by preparing a phone interview that's simple, easy and above all human.
And when you’re ready to upgrade your recruitment and hiring processes, Breezy can help. With a simple, visual candidate pipeline, intentional automations (and zero AI bias), Breezy gives you and your team the power to build and optimize your hiring process, whatever the size.