Phone Interview Tips and Questions for Employers in 2024

Phone Interview Tips and Questions for Employers in 2024

How and where we conduct business changed in 2020 and will undoubtedly have a long-term impact on the modern workforce. Tools such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet have become commonplace tools as companies continue to hire and support varying degrees of a distributed or remote workforce worldwide. These practices will likely continue after the pandemic subsides, making now an ideal time for employers to update their interview skills and processes.

While most standard interview tips and questions still apply, there are new questions and answers to consider during the pandemic and beyond. Whether you’re seeking a new employee or wish to augment your staff with an independent contractor, the virtual interview tips and questions below will help you narrow down your candidate pool.

Phone and video interview tips

Although remote interviews impact your ability to “read” some of the nonverbal behaviors and body language you’ve relied on while conducting face-to-face interviews, upfront planning and preparation can help you overcome some of these limitations. Plus, consider the benefits remote interviews offer compared to person-to-person interviews. Not only are they less costly for your company and generally less time consuming than in-person interviews, but they also ensure your safety and personal health as well as that of interviewees.

Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare for remote interviews.

  • Formalize your remote/phone interview process. If you don’t have a formal interview process in place, now is the time to create one and train interviewers. Remote interviews present several challenges, such as technical problems and relaying the company culture without an in-person element. Taking a loose approach to remote interviews only exacerbates the problem.
  • Consider personality tests. It’s difficult to assess personality and determine whether a candidate will be a good fit when you’re unable to physically “read” them during an interview. Tests like the Hire Success Personality Test or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) inventory can provide additional insight into their personality and temperament.
  • Make sure your technology works. Our dependence on technology is ever-increasing, and internet bandwidth is being pushed to its limits. Understand how to use your technology, and take the time to open any relevant files or websites that pertain to the interview before you begin. Precautions such as these can help ensure your interview flows smoothly.
  • Attire and grooming matter. Although dress codes have become more relaxed, wear appropriate attire, and attend to grooming before a video interview. Remember, you represent your company, and in a video interview, your head and smile are front and center.
  • As always, be prepared. There’s no substitute for diligent preparation. Don’t just skim through a candidate’s resume and wing it. Study the resume ahead of time, prepare several questions tailored to each candidate, and add them to your general list of questions. Prepare a cheat sheet to refer to if this helps.
  • Expect interruptions. An occasional dog bark or family interruption may occur when job candidates interview from their homes. When there’s a disturbance, don’t let it detract from your ability to focus on the interview. Observing how the interviewee reacts could be a helpful insight into how they handle disruption. The applicant should be able to brush it off and quickly refocus on the interview.
  • Schedule more than one remote interview with a candidate. Since it’s difficult to assess body language and personality via a virtual interview, having a job candidate interview with multiple people in your organization allows you to compare perceptions.

You’ll still use some of your standard questions during the interview, such as those below.

  • Tell me about yourself. Open-ended questions get the conversation started and set the tone. Look for candidates who provide a concise, confident answer in 90 seconds or less. It’s their “elevator pitch,” which they’ve honed and possibly tweaked for the position you have open.
  • What are your strengths? Consider it a good sign when job candidates imaginatively convey strengths while avoiding vague words. For example, instead of merely saying, “I’m a hard worker,” savvy candidates will provide a couple of concrete examples of how diligence enabled them to meet or exceed expectations.
  • What are your weaknesses? Interviewees should concentrate on professional, not personal traits and emphasize a positive, then minimize the liability. For instance, a creative, out-of-the-box thinker can mention this as a strength that may sometimes be a weakness, but note that best practices are essential too, and explain how they have learned to incorporate them and other detail-oriented tasks into their job.
  • What is your experience with XYZ tool, or tactic, or job function? A candidate either has the experience or not. If they do, ask what they’ve accomplished with it. If not, they may have experience with something similar and should explain this.
  • Look for creativity. Now is the time for candidates to show off their skills during an interview by referencing relevant work examples. They may even want to share a screen to do so.
  • Is the job candidate asking the right questions? Questions from interviewees will vary, but in general, anticipate questions about day-to-day job responsibilities, training, professional development, company culture, and teamwork. It could be a red flag if a candidate doesn’t ask questions. Also, expect questions about COVID-19, such as how it has affected your company’s processes, which we cover below.

Prepare to ask interview questions beyond the norm

COVID-19 has changed our world, including job interview questions. Add new, pandemic-specific questions to the mix, such as those below.

  • Ask about their ability to work remotely. A candidate should understand how to use any required technology or apps and have the work ethic to handle remote work. If they work within a team, ask how they’ve paid attention to getting to know team members, and stayed engaged as a remote worker in the past.
  • What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic?Look for candidates that provide an honest response while remaining positive and professional. For example, an answer explaining how they’ve learned what it takes to work remotely is appropriate. If the candidate doesn’t follow with a brief example, ask for one.
  • What are some challenges you have faced working remotely? Remote workers may deal with challenges that office workers do not, such as remote communication and collaboration, numerous interruptions, or managing work-life balance. Ask interviewees how they developed solutions to end or limit any obstacles they have encountered.
  • Do you have the technology required for the role? A job candidate may need a computer for video editing, for example, or multiple monitors. Let the interviewee know whether or not your company supplies the necessary equipment and software or if you expect them to have some of all of it if they will be working remotely.
  • What communication platforms have you used with previous employers? Many companies adopt platforms to help employees communicate and collaborate. Let the job candidate know what you use, ask if they’ve used it or something similar before, and how it helped them perform their job and interface with management and team members.
  • Are you willing to work from an office once the pandemic is over?
    • Be completely honest with a potential employee about your return-to-work plans. Will full-time work in the office be required? Will full-time remote work be available? Will there be a hybrid office/remote work option? Ask job candidates if they are willing to work in an office again if you expect office attendance to resume.
    • If days in the office are required, explain how it’s configured to allow for social distancing and if any special equipment has been incorporated into the workspace, such as HEPA air purifiers or cleaning of surfaces with virus-killing disinfectants. Let applicants know you care about your employees’ health and safety.
    • Describe remote policies that are in place aside from the pandemic-related work-from-home mandates. Is remote working an accepted part of the company culture? Do you allow flexible work from home days, and if so, how often? Ensure you get a good sense of what the job candidate expects and needs when work-from-home mandates lift.

Questions to anticipate from job candidates

The world was turned upside down in 2020, from remote working to layoffs to new ways of conducting business. People also began focusing on what matters most in life. Now more than ever, employees are looking for employers who value them and their well-being and offer a work-life balance. Be prepared to answer questions about how you and your company are handling the pandemic and any flexibility you may provide to workers.

  • How do you think you’ve done managing your team during quarantine or lockdown? Fair is fair. Chances are you’ve asked interviewees how they’ve handled working remotely and dealt with a lockdown. Be honest about your challenges and triumphs and what you’ve done to resolve any issues that may have arisen.
  • What is something you would have done better? In other words, what have you learned? We all grow and evolve. Provide an honest answer and, as always, explain how you resolved any issues that arose.
  • What is the expectation of communications and delivery of work? Do you want frequent status updates on assignments, and is there a formalized report structure for this? If a job applicant will be part of a team, explain how work is assigned and distributed among team members.
  • What are your PTO policies? Paid time off enables employees to balance work life and personal life and prevents job burnout. Prospective employees will likely inquire about your personal, vacation, and sick day policies and if employees are encouraged to take PTO. Most job applicants know some company cultures espouse PTO, but in reality, the culture does not support it.
  • What policies has the company implemented since the pandemic started? Has remote working been implemented and sanctioned? Is wearing face masks mandatory if office attendance is needed in some capacity? Are there provisions for employees who contract the virus?
  • What are your office hours? Are the office hours flexible, or does your company require fixed office hours? Explain if there’s any flexibility in the workweek. For instance, can an employee work 10 hours a day, four days a week, instead of eight hours a day, five days a week? Is working on the weekends and during holidays mandatory or part of the company culture?
  • How many people have you laid off since the start of the pandemic? Job candidates may want to know what may be in store if there’s another downturn in business, but you may want to note that it also depends on the job function.
  • What is the six-month lookahead for your company? Most companies have a vision for the future and a plan should complications arise. Especially in these uncertain times, prospective employees may ask about your near-term plans for the company.

Next steps

As we continue to adapt and change to the current environment, how and where you conduct job interviews and the questions asked will continue to evolve. Especially now, in these uncertain times, employers are considering staff augmentation to meet business needs. This gives you the ability to find great candidates quickly. Upwork enables you to hire top independent professionals with the confidence of using the world’s work marketplace. Learn more at Upwork.com.

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