Job Hunting

Crafting the Perfect Phone Interview: Questions Every Employer Should Ask

June 8, 2023

Table of Contents

Why phone interviews, you might ask? In our fast-paced, digital era, phone interviews have become a crucial part of the recruitment process. They offer a quick and efficient way to screen potential candidates, saving the employer and candidate precious time and resources.

This is particularly true in the further education and skills sector, where the right candidate is not just about qualifications on paper. You want to know they can communicate effectively, are enthusiastic about the role, and can quickly adapt to new learning environments.

But how can you ensure you're asking the right questions to gauge all this over a phone call? That's exactly what we'll be covering in this blog post. So whether you're new to conducting phone interviews or simply looking for ways to refine your technique, you're in the right place.

The Purpose of Phone Interviews

Phone interviews are vital in hiring, particularly in the further education and skills sector. Let's unpack this to understand why.

1. Role of Phone Interviews in Hiring

The initial stage of any recruitment process involves sifting through a stack of CVs. However, a CV can only tell you so much about a candidate. A phone interview is an efficient way to gather more information about the potential applicant, providing insights into their communication skills, enthusiasm for the role, and overall fit with your organisation's culture.

2. Narrowing Down the Pool of Applicants

While face-to-face interviews are undoubtedly insightful, they are time-consuming and often impractical when you have many candidates. Phone interviews provide a convenient solution to this. By asking pointed and effective questions, you can quickly gauge a candidate's suitability, enabling you to narrow down the pool of applicants to those most likely to succeed in the role.

3. Importance of Asking the Right Questions

The questions you ask during a phone interview can significantly affect the quality of the insights you gather. Asking the right questions helps you delve beyond the surface, revealing more about the candidate's personality, values, motivations, and skills. This is especially important in the further education and skills sector, where soft skills and attitudes towards lifelong learning can be as important as formal qualifications.

Preparing for the Phone Interview

Conducting a successful phone interview isn't just about picking up the phone and starting a conversation. Like all aspects of the hiring process, preparation is vital.

1. The Importance of Planning and Preparation

Just as candidates prepare for interviews, employers should also do their homework. This includes understanding the candidate's profile, clarifying what you hope to achieve from the conversation, and carefully crafting the questions you wish to ask. Being prepared makes the interview more efficient and shows the candidate that you value their time and take the process seriously.

2. Structuring Your Phone Interview

Structuring your phone interview can help maintain focus and ensure that you cover all necessary areas. Here is a simple structure you could consider:

  • Introduction: Start with a brief introduction about yourself, your role, and an overview of the company and the job role.
  • Questions: Ask your prepared questions. Aim for a mix of technical, behavioural, and cultural fit questions to get a holistic view of the candidate.
  • Candidate’s Questions: Allow time for the candidate to ask their own questions. This helps the candidate understand the role better and gives you insight into what's important to them.
  • Wrap up: Conclude the interview by informing the candidate of the next steps in the hiring process.

3. Creating an Open Communication Environment

For effective communication during the interview, ensure you:

  • Speak clearly and listen carefully.
  • Avoid interrupting the candidate.
  • Encourage the candidate to expand on their answers by asking open-ended questions.

Remember, the goal is to create an environment where candidates feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly. After all, a phone interview should be a conversation, not an interrogation.

Categories of Questions to Ask in a Phone Interview

A bit of strategy is involved when it comes to the questions you'll ask during a phone interview. Having a mix of question types is beneficial to gain a comprehensive understanding of the candidate. Let's dive into the different categories of questions you should consider.

1. Technical or Role-Specific Questions

These questions focus on the specific skills and experience required for the role. They help gauge whether the candidate has the qualifications and technical expertise. Example questions might include:

  • "Can you describe your experience with [a specific tool/software/technique]?"
  • "Tell me about a project where you applied [specific skill]?"

2. Behavioural Questions

Behavioural questions aim to predict a candidate's behaviour in future situations based on their past behaviour. These questions often involve real-life examples and situations. For instance:

  • "Can you describe a time when you had to handle a difficult student or client?"
  • "Tell me about a time you had to adapt your teaching style to meet different learning needs?"

3. Motivational Questions

Motivational questions help you understand what drives the candidate, their career goals, and how these align with the role and your organisation. Examples include:

  • "Why are you interested in this role?"
  • "What motivates you in your work?"

4. Cultural Fit Questions

These questions give you insights into whether the candidate fits the company culture well. These could include:

  • "How do you handle feedback?"
  • "Can you describe the type of work environment in which you thrive?"

A balanced mix of these question types will give you a well-rounded view of your candidate beyond just what's written on their CV. In the following section, we'll review some of the top questions you can ask in each category during a phone interview.

Top Questions to Ask in a Phone Interview and Why

Now that we've categorised the types of questions to ask let's delve into some specific examples. Remember, the goal here is to understand the candidate beyond their CV. These questions are designed to provide insight into their skills, personality, motivation, and cultural fit.

  1. "Can you describe your experience with [specific tool/technique relevant to the role]?" Why ask this? This gives you insight into their practical experience and familiarity with essential tools or techniques for the role.

  1. "Could you discuss a recent project where you had to apply [specific skill]?" Why ask this? This allows you to assess the depth of their expertise and how they apply their skills in real-world scenarios.

  1. "Can you describe a time when you had to handle a difficult student/client?" Why ask this? This provides insight into their problem-solving abilities and interpersonal skills, which are crucial in the education and skills sector.

  1. "Tell me about a time when you had to adapt your teaching/training style to cater to different learning needs?" Why ask this? This tests their adaptability and understanding of diverse learning needs, which is key in a further education context.

  1. "What interests you most about this role?" Why ask this? This can help reveal if the candidate's interests align with the job duties, which can affect their motivation and job satisfaction.

  1. "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" Why ask this? This question can indicate the candidate's career goals and whether they see a future with your organisation.

  1. "How do you handle feedback?" Why ask this? This tells you about their attitude towards personal growth and development and if they can take constructive criticism.

  1. "Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy." Why ask this? This helps you gauge whether they would be a good cultural fit within your organisation.

Understanding the Answers: Reading Between the Lines

You've asked the right questions, but how do you interpret the responses? Sometimes, what a candidate doesn't say is as telling as what they do say. Let's discuss how to read between the lines and spot potential red flags.

1. Listen for Specifics

Look for answers that provide specific examples or situations. Vague or generic responses may indicate a need for more experience or preparation. However, remember that some individuals struggle to come up with examples on the spot, so it's a good idea to ask follow-up questions or provide a moment for them to think.

2. Gauge Their Enthusiasm

A candidate's tone can reveal a lot about their enthusiasm and interest in the role. Listen for excitement in their voice, especially when discussing the role and the organisation.

3. Pay Attention to Communication Skills

In the further education and skills sector, effective communication is crucial. Assess their clarity, listening skills, and ability to articulate their thoughts. Also, note how well they handle unexpected questions - it's a good test of their ability to think on their feet.

4. Identify Potential Red Flags

Beware of candidates who speak negatively about past employers or colleagues, as it may indicate an inability to take responsibility for their actions. Other potential red flags include evasive answers, lack of preparation, and being overly focused on salary or benefits.

5. Look for a Cultural Fit

Does the candidate's description of their ideal work environment align with your organisation's culture? Their approach to teamwork, handling feedback, and work-life balance can offer valuable insights.

Post-Interview Steps

Once you've completed the phone interview, what next? Here's a guide on how to conclude the hiring process effectively.

1. Evaluate the Interview

Take some time to reflect on the candidate's responses and your overall impression. Consider their technical skills, behavioural traits, motivations, and potential cultural fit. Making notes immediately after the interview can help capture your initial reactions.

2. Follow-Up

It's essential to keep the lines of communication open. Inform the candidate of the next steps and the estimated timeline for your decision. If the candidate was unsuccessful, let them know promptly and consider providing constructive feedback.

3. Compare Candidates

If you're conducting multiple phone interviews, compare your notes and impressions of each candidate. This will help you narrow your options and determine who is best suited for the role.

4. Proceed to the Next Round

For candidates who have impressed during the phone interview, the next step is typically a face-to-face interview or a task-based assessment. This allows for a more in-depth evaluation of the candidate's fit for the role.

Remember, a phone interview is not only an opportunity for you to learn more about the candidate but also for the candidate to learn more about your organisation. Always strive to make the process as informative and engaging as possible.

The Bottom Line

Conducting a successful phone interview is a vital step in the hiring process, particularly in the further education and skills sector. By asking the right questions and carefully listening to the answers, you can gain valuable insights into a candidate's suitability for a role, all while saving time and resources.

We've walked through the purpose of phone interviews, the importance of preparation, categories of questions to ask, interpreting the candidate's responses, and steps to take after the interview. Armed with these tips, you're now ready to conduct phone interviews that streamline your hiring process and ensure you find the best fit for your organisation.

Remember, every interaction with a potential candidate is a chance to showcase your organisation and its values. So, whether a candidate is successful or not, make each phone interview an engaging, informative and respectful experience.

Here at Bolt Jobs, we're always here to help with your recruitment needs in the further education and skills sector. Feel free to reach out for any assistance or advice. Until next time, happy hiring!

Looking to Post a Job?

Are you an employer in the further education and skills sector looking to advertise a vacancy? You're in the right place! At Bolt Jobs, we make it simple for you to connect with talented professionals in the field.

To post a job, simply visit our Post a Job page and follow the straightforward steps to get your job listing in front of the right people. If you need any assistance during the process, our team is always on hand to help.

Remember, the right candidate can be a game-changer for your organisation. So why wait?

Alex Lockey
Director | Bolt Jobs
Founder Alex Lockey is an expert in further education, learning, and skills sector. He leads cost-effective hiring solutions and is known for successful talent placements. Dynamic and driven, Alex seeks innovative solutions to solve sector hiring challenges.