When first starting the hiring process, employers typically review resumes, create a shortlist and contact applicants for interviews. It seems like an extra step, but a valuable method for expediting the process is through initial phone interviews with promising applicants. This preliminary screen by phone gives employers the opportunity to distinguish better qualified candidates and save time later on in the process.

The most important purpose of the phone interview is to determine if the applicant really does meet the basic requirements and decide if they should move onto a face-to-face interview. Below are five phone interview tips that will help you bring forward only the best candidates.

1.  Schedule

It’s best practice to set a phone interview time in advance with a candidate, rather than spring it on them out of the blue. Arrange a 20-30 minute interview time when the applicant is available. Many hiring professionals follow a general phone interview format, such as:

  • First Five minutes – share pertinent company and job opportunity information
  • Twenty minutes – questions about their skills and background
  • Final five minutes – gauge interest and respond to applicant’s questions

2.  Script

To ensure your phone interviews are efficient and fair, it’s best to follow a prearranged script of questions. Questions should be job specific, open-ended, and not too personal. It is best to begin with a simple question, one that all qualified candidates should know and are comfortable answering. Examples of categories and related open-ended questions include:

  • Background
    • What were your responsibilities at your last position?
    • Why are you leaving your position?
    • Tell me some of your major career achievements?
    • What are your salary expectations?
  • Job Position
    • Why are you interested in this job?
    • What experience, skills, and knowledge do you have that relate to this position?
    • Why should we hire you for this position?
  • Personal
    • What do you consider your greatest strength?
    • What do you consider as an area of weakness for you?
    • How do you evaluate success?

And always ask, “What questions do you have for me?”

3.  Do Your Homework

Employers need to be intimately familiar with the job description of the position, as well as the required skills, education, and experience needed to be successful. They should do their homework on the applicant, by reviewing their resume, and portfolio if applicable. Interviewers need to have a good idea of what they consider correct, or acceptable answers, to their questions. As part of screening, it’s common for employers to research further information about the candidate online through Google and social media. Understanding more about the candidate can help you to focus the questions and customize the phone interview, as well as highlight any possible red flags to dig into deeper.

4.  Keep a Record

It can be hard to remember everything if you only record notes after all the phone interviews are completed. Make sure to record a candidate’s responses as well as your opinions during the phone interview, or as soon as possible after. Many professionals include a checklist as a quick rating aid in categories such as:

  • Professionalism
  • Communication
  • Experience
  • Motivation
  • Competence

During the interview process, the employer should note promptness, energy level, focus, unclear communications, or interruptions.

5.  Assess and Move Forward

Your phone interviews should be long enough to form decisions on promising versus unlikely candidates. At this time, you will have gathered a great deal of essential information on the applicant, such as:

  • Availability
  • Salary expectations
  • Job understanding and competence
  • Qualifications
  • Professionalism
  • Motivation

Review the best candidates and agree to put forward a selection for the next level of the hiring process, the face-to-face interview. When done with proper intent and execution the phone interview is a great way to distinguish the candidates with the greatest chance for success.