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How to prepare for and conduct a great phone interview

Robert Half | August 27, 2014

Phone interview

If you’re not properly preparing for a phone interview with job applicants, you could be wasting time and passing up on top-tier talent. Here are some quick tips for conducting a great phone interview.

As a manager, telephone interviews are the go-to method for narrowing your list of candidates and moving on to face-to-face interviews. A phone interview is short and preliminary, so that makes it pretty simple, right? Not so fast. If you’re not properly preparing for a phone interview with job applicants, you could be wasting time and passing up on top-tier talent. Here are some quick tips for conducting a great phone interview.

Preparing for a phone interview

A typical phone screen interview lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, so you’ll need to know exactly what you’ll focus on to be as efficient as possible. Before you call anyone, re-review the job description for the position. Prepare one list of interview questions and use it for every short-listed candidate in order to make fair and accurate comparisons. Then check candidates’ resumes again to see if you have questions about what’s in them and what’s not, such as missing dates in their work history. By having this information at your fingertips, you’ll be able to focus on what candidates are saying rather than searching your computer for relevant files during the phone interview.

During the phone interview

  • Take notes. Even though you think you’ll remember what job candidates say, it’s important to write it down, either with pen and paper or on your computer. This will help later when you’re discussing the interviews with other members of the team. Also make notes of your overall impressions of applicants.
  • Keep a scorecard. Just as asking consistent questions will help you assess candidates fairly after the interviews, keeping a rating scorecard of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses in areas such as experience, knowledge, communication skills and professional engagement will help you maintain your objectivity. This is especially important for candidates you might be prompted to select based on likeability rather than skills and experience.
  • Assess the skills candidates say they have. The phone interview is the time to sniff out and separate the “resume padders” from the “real deals.” For example, if you’re looking for a person to manage complicated projects and the candidates you’re interviewing have that skill on their resumes, ask for specific examples. This is a great way to find out whether this responsibility was a major or minor part of their duties, how recently they managed projects, and what the outcomes were.
  • Don’t dominate the conversation. In fact, you should talk for only about 20 percent of the time. This will ensure you get the most information during the short phone interview. And be patient; don’t think that you have to fill every pause in the conversation. The silence could mean candidates are thinking through their responses before speaking — an admirable trait that you’ll want to notice.
  • Have good phone manners. The candidate is expected to display certain etiquette during the phone interview, and the same applies to the interviewer. Find a quiet place, such as a conference room, to cut down on background noise. For the best call quality, use a landline. Help put candidates at ease with some small talk before diving into the Q&A portion. And since you’ll be on the phone for a while, it doesn’t hurt to have a glass of water nearby. If you need to sneeze, cough or clear your throat while the other person is speaking, put the phone on mute.

A phone interview requires thought and effort if your goal is to learn as much as possible about candidates. Use these tips to save time and make the most out of this key step in the hiring process.

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional management advice, read our blog at