How To Conduct a Good Telephone Interview

how to telephone interview questions recruitment agency hampshire

So, you’ve got a shortlist of candidates that you’re due to interview for a key job role in the company. You might even be used to interviewing and before remote working, have had it down to a T. But now you’re faced with a new challenge – interviewing via phone and you find yourself wondering – how to telephone interview?

Have you:
1. Found a quiet space and time where you won’t be disturbed?
2. Ensured all relevant parties/colleagues are also free?
3. Prepared your interview questions to ask your candidates
4. Reviewed your notes on what you’re looking for and what the job entails?

All ready then, or are you?

There are two angles for clients to consider when they are interviewing or telephone interviewing potential employees. The more practical angle – it’s good to make them feel comfortable throughout the process this way you can get the best out of them.

And, of course you need to ensure you ask the right questions to find out if they are suitable for the job and company. Easier said than done, and you have probably an hour or so to get it right, and via phone. No pressure then.

To make your candidate feel comfortable in an interview: see our blog: job interview advice for clients

The Interview

According to a recent HR News article:
“An alarming 85% of interviewers have admitted asking off limits questions during the interview process, new research by Hyper Recruitment Solution (HRS) revealed.
The research also unveiled confusion among hiring managers over what can and cannot be asked, with nearly half (47%) saying they have never had official training on what questions to ask in an interview.”

If you’re one of the 47% who haven’t had any interview training on what you can ask during an interview – here are some top tips. It’s vital to get the interview questions right – otherwise your wasting yours and everyone else’s time. So, it’s important to ask a mix of questions, both general and technical.

How to start the telephone interview

Building rapport via phone is harder than face to face. For one, you can’t judge the body language or react to facial queues. But it’s just as important to establish a foundation of rapport as the interview is as much for the candidate to get a feel for the company, role and his/her manager as it is for you to get a feel for their suitability. Start with some small talk – how are you finding life during lockdown? Aren’t we lucky with the weather? This will help to put the candidate at ease, and bring down some barriers. The are more likely to relax and be more open with you.

Questions for telephone interviewers

Start off by going through the CV and experience of the candidate.

You need to find out why they’re leaving their current positions and why they have left in the past. If you get an answer like ‘I wanted a new challenge’ you need to find out why, what wasn’t challenging enough for them and asking an open question like that should also help them open-up in case this is just an excuse rather than a reason as to why they wanted to leave.

If they’ve been made redundant, you want to know if it was just them or if the whole department was made redundant. If it was more than just them then you know it probably was nothing to do with the candidate but more the company.

Go through their most recent job role in more detail.

Ask about daily duties, what they enjoy, is there anything they don’t enjoy?
What has been the most challenging part of the position if anything? Do they work in a team – how many people are in the team and how do they relate to them in the team structure?

Then, go through their other work experience as you feel appropriate, in detail or not.
You want to find out what the companies they’ve been working for do so you know how applicable their skills are, e.g.

  • Why do you want to work for this company/what do you know about us?
  • How do you feel you or your experience can benefit us?
  • What are you looking for in a position/company?

Here you get to understand a candidates’ motivations and whether, or not they’d fit in with the rest of the team.

Other telephone interview questions that are good to ask:

• What motivates you?
• What would your previous employer rate you from 1-10?
• How would your colleagues describe you?
• Where do you see yourself in five years?
• What can you offer us that other candidates can’t?

Then you need to ask technical questions that relate to the job in hand

This will change of course depending on the job, E.g. for Mechanical Design Engineer you might ask for examples of work they’ve completed, software they use, timescales, where their briefs come from, is it all altering existing drawings or doing them from scratch?

Don’t forget to tell the candidate more about the role and company. Interviews are as much for candidates as they are for you.

We’ve covered the questions to ask in a telephone interview – but what about what you shouldn’t ask?

questions for interviewers to ask candidates
Which questions are off limits?

You would expect someone conducting interviews to have had some training in HR or employment law – especially when it comes to knowing what questions are allowed, or not allowed. Companies can get themselves into hot water, by not having had the correct training – so if you’re one of the 47% above, make sure you know what not to ask. Here are the questions for interviewers NOT to ask and are actually illegal.

Interview questions you should NOT ask your candidate!

As a rule of thumb, any question that relates to personal circumstances are a no-go area – the main ones being: nationality, race, sex, age, family, health, disability.


1. Are you from the UK / Is English your first language?

  • “What is your native tongue?”
  • ” Where were you born?”
  • “How long have you lived here?”
  • “Are you a UK citizen?”

What you can ask: Are you are legally entitled to work in the UK?

2. What religion are you?
What you can ask: “Can you think of any personal reasons you might not be suitable for this role?”


3. How old are you?
What you can ask: “Are you over 18?”


4. When do you plan to get married?
What they can ask: “Are there any current commitments you can think of which could affect your ability to do this job?”

5. Do you have, or do you want children?
• “When do you plan to have children?”
• “How old are your children?”
• “Will childcare arrangements be a problem for you?”
• “Will the hours of the job clash with your family commitments?”

All of these are definite no-no territory.

What you can ask: “Are there any current commitments you can think of which could affect your ability to do this job?”

Disability /Health

When candidates are applying for a job, employers may legally ask for details of health or whether they have a disability but The Equality Act 2010 places some limits on questions employers can rightfully ask.

6. How did you acquire your disability?
Variation: Don’t you think it would be difficult to do this job with your disability?

What you can ask:
How might you be able to carry out XXX function of the job?
Are there any adjustments we would need to make to accommodate your disability?

7. How many sick days did you take at your last job?
What you can ask: “Do you have any specific needs or requirements to be able to perform this job effectively?”

Personal questions about lifestyle choices

It is also illegal at interviews for employers to ask job-seekers any questions relating to personal lifestyle choices, for example about their consumption of alcohol, whether they smoke or use recreational drugs.

8. Are you a trade union member?
Variations – Are you a member or affiliated with any organisations?
What you can ask: “Can you think of any conflicts of interest in your applying for this role?”


9. Criminal convictions – yes – Find out more
10. Are you in debt? – NO
11. What are your sexual preferences? – NO

Many thanks to the sources below:
The Independent

Related Dovetail articles:
Job interview advice for clients
How to find a leader
Get proactive with the STAY interview

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