How to structure the most effective telephone interviews

The main purpose of a telephone interview is to eliminate inappropriate or under-qualified candidates. Candidates generally hate telephone interviews. Given that body language accounts for 55% of the communicated message, telephone interviews are a disadvantage to both the interviewer and interviewee, but they are time effective.

To be a good to great telephone interviewer you have to be an excellent listener. You have to be able to read between the lines and to interpret tonal messages. It is best to preset a time for an interview, but if you have to conduct the interview on initial contact follow these steps:

    1. Be in a quiet, secluded room where there is little or no chance of interruption. Concentrate on being professional and friendly. You must keep your tone quite stoic so as not to give away your thoughts and feelings.

    2. Be prepared to leave a professional, articulate voice mail message.

    3. Be prepared to reach someone at home who is not in a work head space or someone at work who is in their own work mode.

    4. When you get the interviewee on the phone, introduce yourself and ask for their permission to start the interview by asking if this is a good time to talk and tell the interviewee how much time you need from them.

    5. Introduce your company and the job posting you are calling about. Some people send out dozens of resumes a week and may not recall immediately the position you are representing.

    6. We assess people at three levels, and in a telephone interview you want to clarify that your candidate has the qualifications. These include hard skills, knowledge, training, work experience, education, and also their credentials. If they can do what is required in the position then they are probably hirable, they may not good fit but they are hirable. In person interviews determine fit.

    7. Examples of testing for Level 2 attributes might be confirming the manual dexterity of a production worker, the level and proficiency of an administration assistant’s computer skills and the mechanical aptitude of a mechanical engineer. (Some testing may have to be arranged in person.)

    8. Ask knock out questions. These questions might be to ask about their present salary, their willingness to travel or relocate, who they plan to use as a reference or what work schedule they expect or require. High performers can find past references whereas low performers often can’t.

    9. Assess the candidate’s interest. Describe the job so the candidate can self assess themselves in or out of the position. Ask them about their interest, “We are impressed with your qualifications and I think you need to assess whether this job is the right fit for you. Please call me by Friday and let me know what you have decided.” If you are not impressed with them you needn’t say anything.

    10. Ask one or two more key questions such as when could they start if offered the job and if there are any tasks that the job requires that are a concern.

    11. Finally, explain the next steps. Tell the candidate that this is an initial interview and that if they don’t hear back from you by (Friday), they will not be asked to come in for a face to face interview.


In submitting your results to the hiring manager, present an unbiased report devoid of feelings and emotions and personal interpretations.


Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer

Author of Networking How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group


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