150+ Phone Interview Questions to Ask a Candidate in 2020

phone interview questions for candidate

A phone interview is sometimes referred to as a screening interview or prescreen interview. For employers and job candidates, this provides a more reasonable and readily accessible format for introducing the job candidate to the job opportunity. It saves the employer time and the job applicant time as it uses this session to deduce whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the job early on.

The phone interview may be performed over the telephone (referred to as a telephone interview) or virtually, through Zoom or Skype (referred to as a Skype interview). The prospective employer provides at least 15 minutes of time to the phone interviewer. And asks the person phone interview questions, phone screening questions, and more. Each phone interview question introduces the candidate and the employer. The phone interview has become a normality in the job search process for both employers and job candidates.

Most phone screen interview sessions will contain introductory style questions, as it’s very early in the hiring process. But it’s not uncommon for the employer to ask a behavioral interview question or questions about a salary expectation. These are also questions that can help reduce the number of candidates in the interview process by using deductive reasoning.

As a hiring manager or recruiter, it’s important to ask common phone interview questions as well as questions that can help ensure the candidate is a good fit for the role. Using the job applicants’ cover letter to determine which questions to ask can be helpful. Or reading their resume to learn more about their current role and asking questions related to their performance on the phone call. Questions about the candidate’s soft skills are going to be less insightful than asking a specific question about performance or accomplishments. Job candidate work history and previous work performance will indicate a more qualified candidate better than telephone interview questions that are more generic.

Phone Interview Tips for Employers:

Phone Interview Questions on the Candidate's Background

These questions are designed for gathering more information beyond what is listed on a candidate's resume and cover letter.

2. Ask about the candidates work history, including the name of the company, job title, and job description, dates of employment.
3. What were your responsibilities?
4. What were your starting and final levels of compensation?
5. What are your salary expectations?
7. Why are you job searching?
8. Ask about gaps in the resume.
9. Why did you change career paths?
11. What can you tell me that isn’t on your resume that is important for me to know about you?
15. Where do you see yourself in one, five or 10 years?
17. What is your biggest success?
18. What is your biggest failure?
22. Describe a typical work week.
23. How would you describe the pace at which you work?
24. How do you handle stress and pressure?
26. How do you evaluate success?
28. How do you feel about reporting to someone younger than you/different than you?
29. Tell me about a time you had to handle confidential information.
30. Could you have done better in your last job?
31. Have you been absent from work for more than a few days in any previous position?
32. How do you feel about working evenings/weekends?
33. Do you have the stomach to fire people? Have you had experience firing many people?
34. What would you say to your boss if he's crazy about an idea, but you think it stinks?
35. How could you have improved your career progress?
36. You've been with your firm a long time. Won't it be hard switching to a new company?
39. How many hours a week do you normally work?
40. What's the most difficult part of being a (job title)?
41. What skills have you gained or strengthened recently?
43. What does your boss and other higher-ups say about you?
44. What irritates you about your co-workers?
45. What is more important to you, the money or the work?
46. What position do you prefer working in a team project?
47. Are you willing to put the interests of the organization ahead of your own?
48. What qualities do you look for in a boss?
49. What have you learned from your previous mistakes?
50. What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
51. What are three things your former manager would like you to improve on?
52. What would your direct reports say about you?
53. What were your bosses’ strengths/weaknesses?
55. What questions haven’t I asked you?
57. Are you authorized to work in this country or will you need sponsorship?
58. What motivated you to pursue this career path?
59. What makes you special?
60. Coming out of this interview, what are the three things I should take away?
61. How hard do you work to achieve your goals?
62. What’s the most intellectually challenging thing you’ve had to do?
63. Why did you choose the school you attended?
64. What is an example of a big risk you’ve taken in your life?
65. How would you compare your writing to your oral skills?
66. How would you describe your communication skills?
67. How would you describe your ability to persuade and negotiate?
68. What are you going to do if you don’t get this job?
69. Discuss your educational background.
70. When were you most satisfied in your job?
72. What are you looking for in terms of career development?
73. How do you want to improve yourself in the next year?
74. If I were to ask your last supervisor to provide you with additional training or exposure, what would she suggest?
75. What techniques and tools do you use to keep yourself organized?

Phone Interview Questions on the Candidate's Preparedness

While hiring managers can ask a candidate how they went about preparing for the interview, they can tell much more by asking them about the job, firm, and industry.

77. What do people in this job do?
80. What can you contribute to this company?
81. What is the name of our CEO?
82. How did you find out about this job?
83. If you were hiring a person for this job, what would you look for?
85. Who are our competitors?
87. What other jobs are you looking at?
88. What do you hope to get out of this job?
89. What would you do in the first 30/60/90 days on the job?
90. What do you think we could do differently or better?
91. How have your interviews been going?
92. What is the difference between us and our competitors?
93. What do you think you’ll be doing on a daily basis?
94. Ask for their views on an industry trend.
95. Ask for their views on a product or service for which you are well known.
96. Who have you spoken with at our firm?
97. If you were running the firm, what direction would you take it in?
98. What applicable attributes/experience do you have?
99. What changes would you make if you came on board?
100. How would you go about building business relationships within the company once hired?
101. Tell me something negative you've heard about our company.
102. Are you overqualified for this job?
103. Is there anything I haven't told you about the job or company that you would like to know?

Candidate Behavioral Interview Questions

These questions are often asked in a “tell me a time when” format and are designed to evaluate how candidates handle different situations that are likely to arise in the role.

104. What challenges are you looking for in a position?
105. Tell me a time when you faced a major challenge or obstacle. How did you handle it?
106. Describe a major change at work. How did you adapt?
107. Tell me about the most boring job you’ve ever had.
108. What would you do if a fellow executive on your own corporate level wasn't pulling his/her weight…and this was hurting your department?
109. What’s some feedback that you’ve received that was difficult to hear, but ultimately has proven really valuable?
110. Would you rather finish something late and perfectly, or on-time and imperfectly?
111. Give examples of ideas you've had or implemented.
112. Describe a time when you worked as part of a team.
113. How would you go about establishing your credibility quickly with the team?
115. Tell me about a time when you motivated others.
116. Tell me about an experience speaking in front of / presenting to a big group.
117. What assignment was too difficult for you, and how did you resolve the issue?
118. If you had to choose one, would you consider yourself a big-picture person or a detail-oriented person?
119. Give an example of a goal you set and how you achieved it.
120. Give an example of managing multiple tasks and projects/responsibilities at once.
121. What do you do when work interferes with your personal life?
122. Tell me about a time when you had to make a split-second decision.
123. Tell me about a time when you anticipated potential problems and took measures to prevent.
124. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
125. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
126. Have you ever mentored anyone?
127. What are some of your leadership experiences? Tell me about a time you were in a leadership position.
128. Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision with imperfect or incomplete information.
129. Tell me about a time when you learned something new in a very short amount of time.
130. What do you do when priorities change quickly?
131. How do you set priorities when you have multiple urgent deadlines?
132. What is the most competitive work situation you have been in? how did you handle it?

Related: 13 Behavioral Interview Questions & Answers: Guide, How To Answer

Candidate Technical Interview Questions

These questions should be tailored to the position and the company. They’re a great way to measure a candidate’s experience as it relates to the role.

133. How do you go about explaining a complex technical problem to a person who does not understand technical jargon?
134. What’s one thing you cannot do your job without?
135. Ask the candidate to explain a topic that is relevant to the position in 60 seconds.
136. Describe a project that best illustrates your analytical abilities.
137. How do you keep your industry knowledge current?
138. What challenges have occurred while you were coordinating work with other units, departments, and/or divisions?
139. Do you have experience using _______ software?
140. What is your skill level in______________?
141. Tell us how you go about delegating work.
142. What was the biggest mistake you’ve had when delegating work?
143. What was the biggest success you’ve had when delegating work?
144. Have you ever had a situation where you had a number of alternatives to choose from? How did you go about choosing one?
145. Give the candidate an example of a situation, task or problem common to the role. Ask them for the next steps, solutions, etc.
146. I’m concerned you don’t have enough experience in________.
147. Give me an example of your creativity/analytical skills/communication skills/attention to detail/managing ability/etc.

Candidate Cultural Fit Interview Questions

In addition to measuring candidates’ technical abilities, you also want to assess if they would fit well within the culture of the firm.

148. On a scale from one to ten, rate me as an interviewer.
149. Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer.
150. Tell me about a time you managed a conflict at work.
151. Tell me about a failure in your life.
152. Do you agree with our mission and vision statement?
153. Which of our company values do you most identify with?
154. Tell us about a time you quickly built a rapport with someone in a difficult situation.
155. What are the key ingredients to building and maintaining successful business relationships?
156. Have you ever worked in a situation where rules and guidelines were not clear?
157. If you found out your company was doing something against the law, like fraud, what would you do?
158. Describe a situation in which you were able to effectively "read" another person and guide your actions by your understanding of their individual needs or values.
159. Describe a situation where you felt you had not communicated well. How did you correct the situation?
160. How do you keep your manager informed about what is being done in your work area?

Other Phone Interview Questions

At first glance, these questions may not have much to do with evaluating abilities. The way candidates answer these can tell a hiring manager a lot about their character and ability to handle new and unexpected situations.

161. How would people communicate in a perfect world?
162. What's the most important thing you learned in school?
163. If you could have dinner with three famous people who are no longer living, who would they be and why?
164. What are your hobbies outside of work?
165. What good books have you read lately?
166. What’s your dream job if money didn’t matter?
167. Looking back, what would you do differently in your life?
168. What makes you angry?
169. What song best describes your work ethic?
170. How would you rate your memory?
171. What is one (or three) words that describe you best?
172. Who has inspired you in your life?
173. What was the toughest decision you ever had to make?
174. What do you worry about?
175. Have you considered starting your own business?
176. Where should I go on my next vacation?
177. If you won $10 million in the lottery, would you still work?
178. Who’s your mentor?
179. What is your favorite website?
180. What makes you uncomfortable?
181. Tell me your opinion about a controversial topic.
182. How would your best friends describe you?
183. There's no right or wrong answer, but if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?
184. What is your favorite memory from childhood?
185. Tell me 10 ways to use a pencil other than writing.
186. Sell me this pencil.
187. If you could choose one superhero power, what would it be and why?
188. If you could get rid of any one of the US states, which one would you get rid of and why?
189. With your eyes closed, tell me step-by-step how to tie my shoes.
190. If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
191. How do you manage stress in your life?
192. If you had a million dollars that you couldn’t invest, how would you spend it?
193. Tell me a (clean) joke?
194. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read in the newspaper lately?
195. If you were offered $1 million to launch your best entrepreneurial idea, what would it be?
196. If you were at a business lunch and you ordered a rare steak and they brought it to you well done, what would you do?
197. What is your personal mission statement?
198. List five words that describe your character.
199. What is your greatest fear?
200. What is your biggest regret and why?

While these are the most common and typical questions to ask or expect, there is a scenario where you may be desiring to ask a more unique question in the process. And as a person who is interviewing, be prepared for that event as well (a curveball so to speak).

Example Phone Interview Answers

Below are example answers that should help a hiring manager understand what to expect for the ideal answer.

What are your biggest strengths?

Answer: I would say my biggest strength is the fact that I am a people person. I’m very extroverted and I love to solve inter-personal problems, which is probably why I’ve had such a natural inclination to work in customer service. I think I’m able to talk to clients with both respect and being relatable, which is really all they want when it comes to product support.

What are your biggest weaknesses?

Answer: I would say I tend to overwork myself. I am very passionate about this industry and my role within it. At my last job, I made sure that my work quality was excellent and I was taking on enough roles for three engineers. I was very close to burning out. It’s something I’m working on, since I know I’m only as valuable as I am healthy.

What were your responsibilities in your last job?

Answer: My responsibilities were similar to the responsibilities listed in your job listing. As a customer service agent, I was responsible for helping customers, solving problems, working on the phone and in person, helping other team members, training new staff, and studying new products.

What are your salary requirements?

Answer: I used an online tool to determine the average annual salary for this position, which is around $48,000 to $53,000 per year. I made $50,000 last year, so I would prefer a salary as close to this as possible. I would be happy to negotiate this amount when taking benefits into consideration.

What sets you apart from other candidates?

Answer: I have had three years of experience working on similar projects to this one specifically, so I know exactly what problems are going to pop up and can help prevent them from happening. I believe this will save the development team lots of time and energy to work on more pertinent tasks throughout the project. In addition to that, I believe I have shown the ability to take control of a software project and make sure the dev team is capable of delivering tasks by their deadlines and within the appropriate budget. I think these skills will transfer quite well into future projects as well.

Illegal Interview Questions

All interviewers should be trained on the interview process. Ice breaker questions are okay to ask in the beginning of the phone interview. Though, questions under these categories should never be asked by a hiring manager, recruiter, or employee.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


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