How To Run a Telephone Interview – For Employers

You will know the importance of quick and efficient hiring processes. You also know that whilst a good CV and cover letter may look promising, they can still fail to produce an ideal candidate. In order to quickly assess your candidates and speed up your recruitment process starting with a telephone interview can be good practice. You can then progress with candidates who pass this initial stage.

Here at Copeland we have years’ of experience holding telephone interviews and wanted to share some tips and advice.

How Long Should a Telephone Interview Take?

As this is just the initial stage of the hiring process, in-depth questions are not yet required. You should plan to screen your candidates over a 15 to 30 minute phone call, aiming to simply narrow down your list of top candidates to the handful you would want to progress to the next stage.

Planning a Telephone Interview

A key element in learning how to run a telephone interview is to get the planning right.

  • Respect the interviewees’ time and availability – keep to schedule and be aware that calls may have to be made outside of business hours.
  • Remain fully engaged – Don’t tire yourself out with calls stacked back-to-back.
  • Review each CV once more before scheduling the calls.
  • Create a list of phone interview questions to ask — be consistent with what you ask each interviewee.

You are engaging with an external audience. A professional, thoughtful screening interview will improve your business reputation; a hurried process or an aggressive manner will reflect poorly on you and your business.

Keep in mind that your top candidates are evaluating you as closely as you are them. Some might decline an invitation to a formal interview if they’re at all uncomfortable during this initial contact.

Questions to Ask

The questions that you ask should be tailored to suit the specific role you are recruiting for. You should also consider the candidates’ professional history. Screening questions can be framed to allow candidates to draw on their experiences from several different areas of life. You can question them on professional experience, course seminars, as well as volunteer work and self-taught skills. An example of possible questions can be found below:


A screening interview can be stressful for many people – Keep it simple and start with questions that will set the job candidate at ease.

  • Can you tell me about your background?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • Where are you in your job search?
  • When could you start working/what is your notice period?

TIP: Even simple questions can help determine whether a candidate is suitable to progress to the next stage. For instance, Someone who has a three month notice period is not suitable for a position that needs to be filled immediately.


Conversations based on the topic of money can be awkward — if not for you, then certainly for many candidates. Despite this, its an important conversion to have, as you need to know if the candidates’ salary expectations are inline with the amount of money you are willing to offer for the position.

  • How much would you like to earn in this position?
  • Are there specific benefits that you would require?
  • Is the amount you quoted a deal break in taking the position?

TIP: It is not unusual for candidates to be reluctant to give an indication of their required salary this early on in the process. If you’re using a good recruitment agency they should have already gathered this information for you.


Your questions should allow you to gauge what level of interest the candidate has in the position. Questions about the role they have now — and why they want to leave it — can also tell you about their suitability for the one you’re hiring for.

  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • What is your reason for leaving your current job?
  • Why have you applied for this particular position?
  • Can you describe what you currently do on a daily basis?.

TIP: Ensure that you’re listening for both a cultural fit and a range of skills (interpersonal, problem solving, leadership qualities etc). A candidate who’s looking for a greater challenge might give you reason to consider them for a job that’s more demanding than their current role.

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A candidate who is serious about your vacancy and business should have prepared by doing some research into your company. They may not have read your annual report or know the history of your company, but they should have prepared for the interview by doing some research.

  • Why have you applied to our company in particular?
  • What do you know about our products or services?
  • What other roles are you applying for?

TIP: Candidates who support your company’s mission, and who are interested in its product are more likely to stay with your company for a longer period.


This part of the telephone interview will take up most of the scheduled time. It will result in helping you identify whether the candidate has the basic skills, experiences and aptitudes you need. It can also be used to raise any concerns you may have about their CV or cover letter – for example if there is a gap in their cv.

  • Tell me about your current / latest role – what are your responsibilities
  • How do you feel that your skills a match for this job?
  • I see there is a gap in your CV – what id you do during this period?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

TIP: Give the candidate some space to talk here. You want to allow them to fill in their CV gaps, be it their work history, skills section, or education and training. Ask follow-up questions when you need more clarity.

Watch Out for Red Flags

For every telephone interview you hold keep in mind that not all candidates behave with complete honesty and integrity. So assess their answers for how the candidate would meet your hiring needs, but listen too for warning signs that this person might not be an ideal match for your company. Here are some potential red flags:

  • A lack of enthusiasm — Does the candidate seem legitimately excited about the prospect of working at your company?
  • No questions — It’s not a deal breaker, but most candidates should have some questions about the team, job or company.
  • Sounding distracted during the interview — be wary if the candidate sounds as though they’re multitasking whilst speaking to you.
  • Negative comments about former employers — is never a good sign and can indicate an unprofessional attitude or lack of tact and diplomacy.
  • A focus on money — questions about money too early on might be a signal they’re primarily focused on the money and not the job and company.
  • Inappropriate language — this another example of un-professionalism and poor soft skills.

Follow Up

After you have completed your telephone screening interviews, you will have some tough decisions to make: who, if any of them, will you now invite to the formal interview stage? Once you have decided move quickly to schedule the next stage with both the candidates and managers involved.

For the candidates that have been unsuccessful at this stage, feedback should always be given. It shows respect for the time they have given you and boosts your companies reputation.

Now you have learnt how to run a telephone interview we recommend you browse our related articles listed below.

Further Reading:

Create A Great Candidate Experience

Narrowing Down Your Candidate Pool

Interview Advice for Employers

Copeland are UK automotive industry recruiters who help you find industry expert candidates and reduce hiring timesAbove all, we focus on quality over quantity.

To learn whether we are the right agency for you see Why Employers Choose Copeland . Alternatively, If you’re ready to talk get in touch: E [email protected] T 07973 286342

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