Recruiters Nominate Their Favorite Phone Interview Questions

February 2, 2015

Let’s face it. Phone screenings can be awkward. It’s equally common for candidates and recruiters, alike, to feel nervous.

On the one hand, recruiters are under immense pressure to keep the conversation going and impress the person on the other side of the phone. Candidates are in a similar boat, often unsure of what questions to expect, while hoping to shed insight into their strengths and talents.

That’s why its important for recruiters to choose phone screening questions that help candidates share their best stories. Here are 5 great question ideas from recruiters who, collectively, spend thousands of hours on the phone each year.

1. “How would your manager describe you? Now, tell me how would your best friend describe you?”

Tip nominated by: Krista Williams, strategic director of Seven Step RPO

Employee engagement is a major challenge for almost every organization. That’s why it’s important for recruiters and hiring managers to identify people who are passionate about the work that your company needs done. Passion can be challenging to assess from a 15-minute phone call, which is why Williams asks this particular question.

“The similarities and variances between the answers to these two questions can tell you a lot. I find that those that describe themselves fairly similarly in both instances tend to enjoy the work they are doing more than just as a job,” says Williams.

“If someone’s personality is similar in both work and personal situations, there tends to be greater transparency later in the interview process and helps decision makers feel more connected to the candidates.”

Look for candidates who are equally enthusiastic about their work and personal lives — a sign that they will find happiness within your organization too.

2. “Why do you want this role?”

Tip nominated by: Tracy Vistine, lead recruiter with Messina Group Inc.

This deceptively straightforward question is more than what it seems — much more. As Vistine points out, the candidate’s answer will provide a lens into how much he or she cares about your company. The key is to scratch the surface, and read between the lines of your interviewee’s answers.

“This helps to find out exactly what the candidate knows about the position and company,” says Vistine. “I have found that the strongest candidates have done a fair amount of research prior to the interview.”

Look for candidates who have gone above and beyond to study your organization. This diligence, self-awareness, and empathy will likely carry over into his or her work. In other words, this person is likely to be a great colleague.

3. “What’s one of your greatest accomplishments?”

Tip nominated by: Abby Kohut, recruiter and career consultant

This open-ended question keeps the conversation energized and positive, encouraging candidates to focus on their strengths. It is, albeit, a common question that most candidates are prepared to answer. Kohut explains, however, that recruiters should look beyond the answer itself to gauge the candidate’s storytelling capabilities.

“This question helps me understand how the candidate communicates, organizes his or her thoughts, and prioritizes what’s important to him or her,” says Kohut. “I also look forward to this person accomplishing the same thing if not more at my company.”

With this question, recruiters should seek out a deeply personal answer. Look for people who are genuinely excited about their contributions and have a story to tell. Pay attention to the journey, as well as the outcome.

4. “Can you share a story (about anything) that speaks to who you are from a values perspective?”

Tip nominated by: Sharon Hulce, President/CEO of Employment Resource Group Inc.

Skills are only part of the hiring equation. It’s equally — if not more — important to find candidates who are a strong cultural fit. By asking candidates to share a personal experience or story, you’ll start to learn more about how this person thinks, acts, and feels. As Hulce points out, however, recruiters should be cognizant to steer the conversation back to careers:

“The key is to be prepared and only discuss personal situations or characteristics as they relate to the candidate’s work ethic and the value that they would provide to the prospective employer."

Read between the lines of your candidate’s answer. There is no ‘right way’ to approach this question. Instead, look for discussion points that shed insight into the person’s passions and soul.

5. “What is your perfect job?”

Tip nominated by: Paige Carratturo, CEO of Enertech Search Partners.

Organizations need to hire candidates who care about more than the opportunity to get a raise. While finances are important, they should be a tangential part of the candidate’s personal story. When asking this question, look for signs that tell you whether the candidate cares about his or her career trajectory. As Carratturo points out, recruiters should aim to learn about the candidate’s deepest motivations.

“What’s critical is finding out what drives people in their careers.  Most people aren’t looking for a job, they are looking for a love affair.”

Candidates should pursue jobs that are stepping stones towards their ultimate goals. Look for people who are willing to work hard to pursue that ‘next step’ in their careers.

Final thoughts: walk, talk, and smile

Phone screeners are challenging because of everything that could possibly go wrong — dropped calls, poor call quality, and misunderstandings due to lack of body language. It’s up to the recruiter to keep the energy high and to give candidates enough space to explain themselves. Listen and smile. Most importantly, give your interviewees the benefit of the doubt that you’re on their side and want to help them succeed. This empathy will carry you far.

*Image by melfoody