Questions to Ask & Avoid During a Phone Interview

By Adam Robinson,
September 21, 2016

Going from new applicant to new hire can seem like it takes an eternity. In the past, when someone was job hunting, they would scan the classified ads in the newspaper, then either call the company that was hiring or walk on in. Now, people spend less than a minute reading a job posting before applying, so you can expect plenty of unqualified (and overqualified) applicants.


How should you handle the flood of applicants who simply clicked Ôapply’ and let the job board they are using fill in the blanks? By knowing the right questions to ask potential employees.


What questions should you ask? The ones that will weed out people who simply don’t fit, and save you time in the end. After all, phone interviews are precursors to an in-person interview and those take longer, which can be harder to arrange.

So, out of the average of 100 applicants per job, here’s how to weed out those who aren’t a match, and find that perfect new hire:


What to focus on during the interview:

Do they have basic manners? Being polite and giving you a warm greeting says a lot about a person. If they can’t be bothered to ask you how you are doing and call you by name, then how will they treat their fellow employees in the break room?

Ask them what their best and worst qualities are (in other words, their strengths and weaknesses). Most people will try to frame their weakness as a strength (‘I tend to spend more time on projects than most, because I’m a perfectionist’) or something that is easily corrected (‘I don’t know how to use Photoshop very well’).

Ask them to expand on their qualifications. If they say they’re a wiz at utilizing Google Analytics, ask them what feature they like the most or what metric is most important for the role. If they stall and stammer (or you hear the click-clack of the keyboard while they scramble to search for an answer) then you know that they exaggerated their skills in order to sound like a better fit for the job. But if they fire off a detailed description of the skill you ask about, they probably actually know what they are doing.

What are they looking for? Money? Short hours? A challenge? Lots of vacation days? Here’s where the red flags can really start presenting themselves. But it depends on if you are looking for a short-term employee or someone to stay at the company long-term. Wanting to make the most money possible isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it can tell you that they know their worth,  as well as will be able to deliver results.

There are also lots of questions you shouldn’t ask, not only because they are socially inappropriate, but also illegal. Asking someone their age or race is off the table, and will likely make them lose interest in the position very quickly. Less obvious, but still something you shouldn’t ask, is if they are pregnant. Not only can it lead to an awkward answer (‘No, I’m just overweight’) it can lead to a hefty lawsuit as it’s not something you can use in the decision-making process. Yet these questions still get asked by hiring managers 20% of the time, as 30% of them aren’t even aware that they shouldn’t.


With online job applications making it easier than ever for people to flood a company with potential employees, sifting through them can take a while, but the eBook below can help make the process easier. Click on the link below to download the 411 On Phone Interviews, for free!

About the Author

Adam co-founded Hireology with the mission to help growing companies make better hiring decisions through data and better technology. Adam is passionate about entrepreneurship, donating time to a number of organizations that support the entrepreneurial cause. Adam completed his undergraduate study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and received his MBA from DePaul University in Chicago, IL.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and learn how to build your best team.