Success is calling: 5 phone interview tips to reveal top candidates

Confident woman responding to emails on phone

4 mins, 22 secs read time

Having a sea of qualified applicants can feel like both a blessing and a curse. You’re excited to hire, but you also want to ensure you’re making the right hire. Thankfully, following these five phone interview tips can help you narrow down your pool before bringing candidates in for on-site interviews.

It’s no secret that we love structured hiring at Greenhouse (and talking about it), so we won’t do a full deep dive here. But it’s important to understand where and why the initial phone interview comes into play in the structured hiring process.

Save Time, Energy and Money

A preliminary phone interview (or phone screen) is a great tool to help you streamline your hiring process. An obvious reason is that they require a lot less time on everyone's part. In this initial screen, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page logistically about salary expectations, availability and qualifications. There's no commuting or need to schedule lengthy in-person interviews unless you’re sure that they’re among your top contenders.

Get to Know the Candidate Beyond the Resume

Although you should already know the candidate’s background if you’ve moved them to the phone screen phase, this interview serves as an excellent opportunity to get to know them beyond their resume. For example, if a promising candidate applying for a Software Engineering role took a gap year to practice baking, you can dive into the “why,” and then make an informed decision on whether their newfound passion would be an asset to the team.

Here are five phone interview tips for when you’re ready to make the call:

Phone Interview Tip 1: Screen Early and Efficiently

Your application form should be structured to keep unqualified candidates out of your pipeline. For promising-looking applicants, a phone interview about key skills and personality traits is a helpful way to narrow your talent pool early on, letting you dedicate your in-person interviews and testing time to the candidates who are most likely to be hired. You should schedule this interview shortly after reviewing their application, as the best candidates may not stay engaged for long.

Phone Interview Tip 2: Prepare (Smart) Interview Questions

Every interview you conduct should have a specific purpose, whether it’s an initial phone screen, team collaboration or culture-add interview. Then, it’s key that you create a set of interview questions that are based on the qualifications and responsibilities of the role. Remember, if you’re doing several interviews, the phone screen should cover all the basics that will reveal if the candidate should even stay in the running, such as confirming that they can work in the US and are aligned on salary expectations.

Pro-tip from a Greenhouse Recruiter: “It’s imperative that you ask all candidates the same questions for the same role so that everyone is on an even playing field. — Michelle Yoshihara

Being prepared and thoughtful can also help the candidate feel valued and leaves a positive impression of your organization.

Phone Interview Tip 3: Schedule Like a Pro

Disorganization = disaster. Neither candidates nor recruiters need the added stresses that come with scheduling interviews. Thanks to Greenhouse’s new integration with Calendly, you can now schedule like a true pro. The platform allows candidates to easily see your availability and book a time that works for both of you, without the usual back and forth emailing.

Phone Interview Tip 4: Speak Less, Listen More

By now you most likely understand the importance of phone screens, so it’s important to make them count. Conduct the interview in a place with few distractions, and listen thoroughly. Take avid notes that you can refer to later and to give other interviewers a good understanding of the candidate as well. But don't forget - the candidate should always be able to ask the recruiter questions as well.

Phone Interview Tip 5: Create Next Steps

When ending a phone interview, don’t forget to clarify next steps with the candidate. This can curb any unnecessary follow-up communication, like those phone calls and emails from eager candidates wondering when you will get back to them, or if you will get back to them.

Pro tip from a Greenhouse Recruiter: “I always make a note of when I committed to getting back to the candidate with potential next steps directly on the scorecard. I also regularly use the ‘follow-up’ feature in Greenhouse to hold me accountable to this commitment so they're never left hanging. — Michelle Yoshihara

Close a phone interview by thanking them for their time, and be honest about where you’re at in the hiring process and how you’ll follow up if interested. This will help the applicant know where they stand, and reduces needless emails, calls or surprise visits to the office (it happens).

Overall, it’s important to remember that conducting a phone screen is also critical for presenting your organization as thoughtful and organized, and leaving stellar candidates with a lasting positive impression. We hope these phone interview tips will help you elevate your goals and snag that talent.

For detailed information on how to be successful in structured interviews, download our eBook, Structured Hiring 101: Your Blueprint for Success.

Micah Gebreyes

Micah Gebreyes

is a Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Greenhouse where she develops and leads the content strategy for Greenhouse blogs, social media and thought leadership newsletter, Modern Recruiter. When she's not working to bring the brand story to life, she enjoys spending time with her Pomeranian, Cashew. Keep the conversation growing with Micah on LinkedIn or through the Greenhouse LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.