Joy and Pain of Phone Interviews: Tips and Common Techniques

6 min

“Your company is only as good as its hiring process,” stated Chris O’Neill, CEO of Evernote.

And it is so true. It is not free lunches or in-office baristas that make companies great. Much more important is the impression they leave on people and experience people get while interacting with the company. So the hiring experience should be sound from the first moment, even if the candidate doesn’t end up as a company employee. And this relates to all steps of the interview process, screening over the phone (skype or whatever) including – though many perceive it as “just a talk”, it is not.

It is the official first round of the hiring process and an inevitable part of the majority of companies and for good reason. They save a lot of time and effort. For the recruiter, it helps narrow potential candidate pool down to a manageable number, pre-select for the in-person interview with a hiring manager or HR-manager and ensure that the salary expectations are in range with the budget. For the candidate, it is a great chance to understand more about the company and the role, see if the values are compatible. Plus, it minimizes the expenses of everyone involved.

Therefore, it means a phone interview requires preparation, cannot be done on the spot and needs to be a qualitative one. Since there is a person’s facial expressions or other physical cues, which according to A. Mehrabian’s research accounts for 55% of information transmission, the preparation should be done especially carefully to be able to compensate for the missing body language.

Here are some tips that may come in handy for both recruiters and candidates, after the phone interview time slot has been reserved in your calendars.

Before a phone interview: preparation tips

For recruiters:

Do your homework

Study the resume thoroughly, make notes and write down questions. For me, a resume without remarks on it (or notes in the ATS) is not adequately processed.

Look beyond the resume

Not all great tech-talent are brilliant resume-writers. Therefore, resumes are a particularly tricky tool, and not to overlook strong candidates and get biased from the beginning, google candidates. Meaning, look at a person and not just at a paper. This will help not to be silo-minded, see the bigger picture and compile thoughtful clarifying questions. The basic principles of recruiting are flexibility, responsiveness and emphasis on individuals — finding the right person to solve problems instead of simply the right ticks on a list of criteria.

Get an in-depth insight into the vacancy

Take the extra mile and find out as much as you can about the role you are interviewing for. Like it or not, but traditional job adverts tend to be rather a wishlist of skills which may not be available on the market or not entirely necessary for the project, so your task is to be well up in job details (project/product/customer, daily tasks, routine, future vision, and plans, etc.), as well as the reality of the day, and communicate it to the interviewees properly.

For candidates:

Practice describing your career

For sure, during the telephonic round, you will go into more details about your work experience in different follow-up questions, so prepare, even act out this part if needed. Also, have projects or examples of your work prepared, preferably those that apply more directly with the potential job.

Another step for being well prepared is to make kind of a brag list. And it is not about boasting of being overzealous. Actually, it is not that logical to tell what you did as it is stated in the resume. Nothing says “hire me” better than a track record of achieving remarkable results in past jobs, so don’t be shy!

A great way to do this is by using the S-T-A-R method: Set up the situation and the tasks in context, describing what you did (the action) and what you achieved (the result).

Prepare questions

Well, what you see in the job description is just the tip of the iceberg, and the amount of behind-the-scenes considerations is huge. So to be able to reach valid conclusions about the job and the company, generate the information you need with the right questions. It is most likely, you’ll be interested to learn if there is a tech task or remote work opportunity.

Don’t go in blind

Well, you’ve heard this advice a hundred times, I’m sure, so do not neglect it, as forewarned is forearmed! Research the company, its recent news, product/service offerings, and/or funding history (e.g. on Crunchbase). And … research the person interviewing you.

Yes, in the hi-tech world it is not a common practice, but in its essence recruiter’s job is to help people find a job they’ll love. In other words, a recruiter is supposed to be kind of a career consultant who always sides with a candidate and advocates their interests. So, do not lose the chance to get in good with a recruiter. But for that, you’ll need to learn more about the person. So, look up their LinkedIn profiles, Twitter /Facebook presence, and find their blogs, etc.

Ask what you need to bring/prepare

Ask your contact what you should generally expect during the call, and if you’ll need to have any tools/material at the ready. This is an excellent time to figure out if you’ll be asked any technical questions or need to address specific specialized topics.

Best techniques during the phone screen

For recruiters:

Ask only open questions

“Did you work with technology X?” is not the right question, you know. Game “Is London the capital of Great Britain? ” will not work here. As it gives you zero information, wastes time, and puts your interlocutor into an inferior position, let alone makes irritated.

Know your intents

Every question should have a sense and a purpose – sounds pretty obvious, but so often overlooked. Interview questions are a window of opportunity if approached strategically. However, to build a particular strategy, you have to know what you want to learn about the candidate. If you are asking just for the sake of asking, it will lead to them answering for the sake of answering.

Listen actively

After the first “right” answers, do not start daydreaming about making an offer to the candidate or getting your bonus. Listen to candidates attentively, ask follow-up questions, show genuine interest, as having your head in the clouds, you can miss important information. And most awkwardly, you may ask about something they’ve just told.

Do not talk a mile a minute

People, yep, you’ve perfectly learned that company description text and can recite it, if awakened in the middle of the night. However, do speak like you are firing a burst, especially on the phone. Moreover, try to give a more comprehensive and deeper view of the company, then the candidates can find on the website. Do not make them bored listening to you from the first minutes.

Discuss salary

Many recruiters also find it hard to discuss and negotiate salaries properly. But leaving any mention of salary expectations to the end of the recruiting process is risky. Candidates look to recruiters for honesty and transparency around this vital aspect of a job, so be open to giving the real numbers your company/customer is ready to offer. Moreover, often, a lack of visibility into real hiring data contributes to a lengthy and unpredictable closing process.

Inform about the next steps

Providing an excellent experience means that candidates should never be left hanging to wonder about the next steps. That’s also about creating a human process, constructed from a candidate’s perspective, which will results for you in recurring candidates.

Take notes

Even the most brilliant memory can fail, so to avoid calling again and bothering the candidate, better have some notes-taking tools.

For candidates:

Do not multitask

It might be tempting to check your to-do list or messenger (I have heard candidates washing dishes, eating lunch) while on a phone interview, but recruiters can easily tell if your attention is elsewhere. Needless to say, it is a great pet peeve, which doesn’t reflect well on your level of interest and, well, manners.

Ask questions

If you’ve done the preparation and have your list, do not lose the chance to sound them. Reverse interview approach will bring you a lot of benefits.

Know your salary requirements

For me, it is strange when talking about salary expectations, people say: “I’m looking to make between $2,000 and $3,000.”

Do you really think that you will be offered $3,000 when you stated you might agree for $2,000? So, not to feel disappointed or undervalued later, better voice the exact number not a range.

Take notes

These will help you retain the information and ideas discussed, and will likely come in handy for your follow-up thank-you note.

After the telephone interview

For recruiters:

Send feedback (within 2-3 days after the interview)

Particular distress for both parties is the feedback process. Recruiters usually just fear to give it by voice, but good manners mean feedbacking the candidate by voice after the phone interview. If possible, state what was he/she good at and where to improve. If not possible to provide comprehensive feedback, then even a short, but honest and candidate focused reply will do.

But ‘radio silence’ is the worst option. It means harm to your reputation, and company brand, no recurring candidates and the need to start over every time you have an opening. Groundhog Day, in short.

Keep in the loop

Yep, it is not quite your decision sometimes, and you need to consult with your hiring manager or HR if to invite the candidate for the in-person interview, but it is your responsibility to regularly update the candidate if the decision is delayed for some reason. Remember, no news is still good news!

For candidates:

Send a “thank you” email

to the person who interviewed you right after the interview or before the end of that working day. It’s important to thank for their time, and an opportunity to reiterate why you’re excited about the position.

There is called “The Interview Thank You Rule” and it is a typical practice. It states: every time you speak to someone new in the job interview process, you should thank them for their time. Well, and even if not a rule, it is netiquette, the act of politeness, maturity, and professionalism.

Do a post-mortem

This is also a valuable time to reflect on what you think went well or didn’t go so well in your interview. Interviewing is a great way to get better at not only interviewing but it can also help you learn more about what you want and don’t want out of your next job, polish up communication and negotiation skills.

Good luck with your phone interview! And do not waste time for irrelevant offers, check out to get matched only with top and matchable companies!

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