Your job is to find the best candidates for your company, and conducting phone interviews is a crucial step in the hiring process.
While a candidate might look good on paper, a phone interview lets you better understand their personality, skills, and qualifications.
Job search intensity increased 35% year over year in 2023, meaning more job applicants are applying for more jobs.
This also means asking the right questions during a phone interview is more important than ever to find the best person for the role.
As the Human Resources Lead here at FlexOS, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with candidates over the phone and Zoom. I genuinely enjoy connecting with each individual and learning more about their unique qualities!
However, to make the most out of these interviews while maximizing my time and energy, I must do more than ask random questions and gather information haphazardly.
That’s why I continually update my methods and refine a list of effective questions to ensure a thorough and efficient screening process.
Today, I share my current list of 12 phone interview questions, curated from a range of expert sources (including advice from Robert Half) and adapted to my people-centric, hybrid remote and remote work setting.
By asking these questions, you’ll gather valuable information about your potential candidates and better decide who to invite for an in-person interview.
Checklist Before You Start Your Phone Interview
Going into a phone interview with a plan ensures you get the most out of your conversation with the candidate.
This doesn't just mean having your questions prepared!
Following good interview etiquette ensures I provide each candidate with the same experience and represent my company in the best possible light.
Here are some things I always make sure to do before starting a phone interview:
- Respect schedules and availabilities: Take note of the candidate's preferred time and date for the phone interview. I offer time slots outside of business hours since some candidates may be working and unable to take a call during those hours.
- Stick to a time frame: Interviews usually last around 30 minutes, so be mindful of the time and don't go over. I usually set a reminder on my phone or watch the clock to ensure I stay on track.
- Review the candidate's resume: It's essential to familiarize yourself with the candidate's skills and qualifications before the phone interview. This will allow you to ask targeted questions and make more informed decisions about their fit for the role. You don't want to be the interviewer with no idea what's on the resume or why the hiring manager is considering the candidate.
- Keep it conversational: Follow your instincts and use the interview to get to know the person. As Diane Strohfus – ex-CHRO at Betterwork and now Chief People Officer at Moody's Analytics Company RMS, agreed: “The way you do that is to make your interviews conversational and just talk with the candidate. Allow the conversation to unfold.”
- Approach each interview with fresh eyes: Back-to-back interviews can feel exhausting. I try to split the interviews into different days, but if that's not possible, I take a quick break between each interview to refocus and approach the next one with fresh eyes. This ensures that I give each candidate an equal chance and not let fatigue get in the way.
Pro Tip: Supercharge yourself with AI Recruiting, and consider using AI Recruiting Software like Spark Hire to streamline the hiring process. You can also use free AI tools like Fireflies to record your meetings and create a searchable transcript (where this is legal and consented to.)
12 Must-Ask Phone Interview Questions
Now that we've covered some tips for conducting phone interviews, let's dive into the phone interview questions you should be asking.
I've categorized them based on the type of information they can provide about the candidate.
Personality & Work Ethic
1. Tell Me About Yourself.
This is often the opening question in an interview, and how the candidate answers can set the tone for the rest of the interview.
This question helps assess the candidate's ability to articulate their skills and experience succinctly and relevantly.
What I am looking for in this response is not just a summary of their resume but also an idea of the candidate's priorities and what they believe to be their most valuable assets.
Bonus Tip: Be attentive to how they present their professional story, experiences, and aspirations in the context of the role.
This phone interview question can also provide insights into the candidate's interests and values, especially those related to work.
2. What motivates you to do your best work?
This phone interview question uncovers a candidate's key drivers and what stimulates their peak performance.
It reveals their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and provides insights into how well they might align with your company’s culture and values.
The ideal answer would demonstrate that the candidate's motivations align with the role's responsibilities and the company's mission.
Bonus Tip: As a hiring manager, I would seek answers that indicate self-motivation, drive, and a passion for the job. It’s usually not explicit, but you can often extract it from their stories.
As best-selling happiness author Tracy Brower revealed in a Future Work interview, four key components to happiness at work are dedication (feeling committed), immersion (deeply involving and focusing on tasks), energy (knowing how to get and put energy to work), and mattering (finding the meaning of work).
People who showcase these traits are more likely to work better within the team and create a positive work environment with other team members.
3. How do you handle challenging situations at work?
Asking candidates how they handle challenging situations at work provides a window into their problem-solving skills, resilience, and adaptability.
These traits are essential in a remote or hybrid work setting where they may need to tackle unexpected challenges independently.
What I look for in a candidate's response is their approach to problem-solving, including their ability to stay calm under pressure and find creative solutions.
A good answer would also demonstrate their communication skills and the ability to seek support or assistance when needed.
Bonus Tip: After the candidate describes how they handle challenging situations, ask them what they learned from that experience and how it influenced their future actions or decisions.
"What did this experience teach you?," "How has this shaped your approach to similar situations in the future?," and similar questions will help you gain this insight.
This line of inquiry assesses their capacity for self-reflection and growth, which is crucial for roles that require continuous adaptation and development.
Skills & Qualifications
4. What relevant experience do you have for this role?
This phone interview question helps you understand the candidate's relevant experience.
But note: their response should go beyond merely listing experiences, instead illustrating how those experiences prepared them for the role at hand. If they don’t, ask follow-up questions to get this insight.
As a hiring manager, I look for a clear connection between the candidate's past experiences and the skills, knowledge, or competencies required for this role.
Their answers also provide insights into their understanding of the job requirements and their ability to perform key tasks, crucial in hybrid or remote teams.
Plus, their ability to communicate effectively over the phone will indicate their communication skills, an essential trait for remote work.
5. What interests you about this role?
This is by far one of the best phone interview questions to ask, as it can provide valuable insight into the candidate's reasons for applying and their level of interest in the role.
The ideal answer would reflect a genuine interest in the position and an understanding of the role.
Candidates who have done their research on your organization and show enthusiasm about working with you are more likely to be a good fit.
When a candidate knows nothing about the company or the role, it's a red flag for me.
It suggests that they applied without researching and may not prioritize or value the role or their work at your organization.
Bonus tip: If the candidate's response is not detailed enough, you can ask follow-up questions to gain more insight. Here are three suggestions:
- What element of the role stood out to you the most (This checks whether the candidate studied the role and whether it truly resonated with them.)
- What aspects of our company's mission or culture resonate with you? (This encourages candidates to discuss fit within the company culture.)
- How does this role contribute to your career goals or professional development? (This helps understand the candidate's long-term vision and motivation.)
6. How have you handled a situation where you lacked experience or knowledge?
This is an example of a "behavioral interview question," questions based on the idea that past behavior best predicts future performance.
In today's fast-changing world, people often encounter scenarios where they need to take action even when they don't have complete experience or knowledge.
This question reveals the candidate's thought process and attitude in those cases. Do they freeze up or push forward confidently?
As a hiring manager, I look for candidates who demonstrate resourcefulness and a willingness to learn from their peers or mentors.
Similar to the third one, this is also one of the phone interview questions that can provide insights into a candidate's problem-solving skills, willingness to learn and adapt, and resilience.
“You always want to choose someone who is open-minded and willing to accept feedback over someone who is experienced but unwilling to admit they can make mistakes or learn new, better ways to do things.” said Laura Spawn, CEO at Virtual Vocations.
Phone Interview Questions: Communication & Teamwork
7. Tell me about a time when you had to communicate with a difficult team member or client.
Another behavioral question, this phone interview question assesses a candidate's communication skills and ability to handle conflict or challenging interpersonal situations.
Effective team communication is crucial in hybrid and remote teams. It’s also vital for successful collaboration and relationship-building with external stakeholders.
A good response would demonstrate the candidate's emotional intelligence, empathy, and problem-solving skills while communicating with someone who may have different perspectives or approaches.
But the ideal answer to me would also demonstrate the candidate's ability to handle challenging situations with adaptability and flexibility.
Bonus Tip: Probe deeper into the 'How' and 'Why' after the candidate describes the situation.
Delve deeper into their thought process and decision-making by asking follow-up questions like, "How did you decide on that particular approach?" or "Why did you think this was the best way to handle the situation?."
Doing so will reveal more about the candidate's strategic thinking and leadership style. It's not just about what they did but how they thought through the problem, adapted to the circumstances, and what they learned from the experience.
8. Give an example of a successful project you worked on as part of a team.
Asking candidates about their experience working in a team provides insights into their collaborative and teamwork skills. It also reveals how well they can adapt to different roles and responsibilities within a group and work towards a common goal.
When evaluating the candidate's response, I look for their ability to communicate effectively, collaborate, delegate tasks, and support team members.
A good answer would demonstrate the candidate's contributions to the project, how they handled challenges or conflicts within the team, and what they learned from the experience.
Bonus Tip: After the candidate discusses their successful team project, delve deeper into the team dynamics they experienced or created.
Questions like, "How did you adapt to different team roles or dynamics?" or "Can you describe a situation where you had to take on a different role than usual within the team?" help assess their flexibility in taking on varied responsibilities and their ability to thrive in different team settings.
9. How do you handle constructive criticism?
Given the virtual nature of remote work, it's essential to have team members who can handle and provide feedback constructively.
This phone interview question assesses a candidate's ability to receive and act on feedback and emotional intelligence.
A good answer would show that the candidate takes constructive criticism positively and uses it as an opportunity for growth.
They should also demonstrate self-awareness and the ability to reflect on their actions or work to incorporate feedback.
This trait is key in a remote or hybrid work setting, where feedback may be more immediate and direct than in an office environment.
Phone Interview Questions: Remote Work
Remote work statistics prove that flexible workplace arrangements are increasingly widely adopted.
When we advise people on how to get a remote job, we always emphasize that being a good remote worker means possessing additional skills not needed in an office.
That’s why hiring managers should ask questions about the specific skills and qualities needed for success in this work environment.
Here are some sample interview questions that you can use in the interview for hybrid or remote positions:
10. What experience do you have with remote or hybrid work?
While this seems like a straightforward phone interview question, it can provide valuable insights into the candidate's experience working independently and ability to manage their time effectively.
A good answer would showcase the candidate's understanding of remote or hybrid work expectations and how they have adapted to these settings in the past.
A 2022 study from Front Psychology interviewed multiple remote workers who rated what skills helped them succeed in their roles. They rated technology literacy, independence, communication, and a strong work ethic as the most important skills.
11. How do you stay organized and productive while working remotely?
It's no joke that working remotely or in a hybrid setting requires strong organizational and time management skills.
According to a 2023 Upgraded Points survey on a thousand US remote workers, 75% can’t resist the hook of social media, 72% do house chores, and 70% shop online.
You trust your team members and believe they can (and should) control their own time.
I've typically found that candidates with a clear plan or framework for staying organized and productive while working remotely make strong hires.
Having future team members willing to adequately manage their time and tasks will reduce the need for micromanagement.
This phone interview question assesses the candidate's ability to prioritize tasks, manage their workload, and stay productive without direct supervision.
A good response would showcase their time-management strategies, methods for maintaining focus and avoiding distractions, as well as how they handle any challenges that may arise in a remote or hybrid work setting.
Bonus Tip: Delve into how they specifically adapt these strategies for remote work.
Ask them about challenges unique to remote environments, like managing distractions at home, virtual communication barriers, or maintaining work-life balance.
Questions like, "How do you handle distractions when working from home?" or "Can you share a specific instance where you had to overcome a communication challenge in a remote setting?," will help you gain more insight into their thinking.
12. How do you handle communication and collaboration with remote team members?
While this might seem similar to the previous phone interview question, it assesses a candidate's ability to connect and effectively work with team members in different locations.
They should also showcase their ability to build and maintain relationships virtually, stay organized, and ensure everyone is on the same page despite needing to be in a shared physical workspace.
Overall, I look for candidates who are adaptable, proactive communicators, and comfortable with using technology to bridge any communication gaps.
The Bottom Line
As hiring managers and recruiters, it's our responsibility to find candidates who possess the essential qualities to thrive in their new role and team, especially in a hybrid and remote work environment.
At the end of the day, this person will work closely with your current members to help achieve future success.
So you will want to find someone who fits in really well, not only in terms of the qualifications for the role but also the culture of your team!
Try my suggestions for the best phone interview questions to help you determine the best fit for this vacancy and your company as a whole.