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Here’s how to conduct successful phone interviews


Getting off “on the right foot” in starting your search for a new employee is a very sensitive and very important procedure. Most of it involves gathering pertinent information—about and from candidates.

And, for most searches, starting out well boils down to a good, thorough phone screen of potential candidates. It’s a real time saver too, and you can get a good sense of a candidate and his/her personality— if you do it right.

The “doing it right” part is the tricky part. Many hiring managers pick up the phone without the slightest idea of the questions they want to ask or the result they want to get. They’re comfortable not having a plan in this situation because they say they want to “get a sense” of who the candidate is. But not having a plan for this important call can leave you with uncertain results, at best. You’ll get a better sense of your potential employee in a carefully constructed phone conversation.

Here’s the right way to phone interview:

  1. Set a time and place
    It seems simple but, like an in-person interview, a phone conversation should be held at a definite time. Get a mutually agreeable time and place to speak where you will not be distracted by other incoming phone calls or emails. Give your full attention to your candidate; don’t multitask! We tell candidates to do the same thing. Don’t have a phone screen in the car, but rather somewhere where your full attention can be given.
  2. Have pertinent questions ready
    I like to make a check sheet of the qualifications that I need to see in a candidate. I put each qualification on a line, so I can make a check or an “X” as I speak to the candidate, along with some notes.

    Examples of some entries might be: 5-7 years of experience selling major meetings, good following in pharmaceuticals and healthcare, highest annual quota, experience in the healthcare vertical, largest marketing budget managed, excellent repeat business record, what sale does he say was his toughest, etc. You get the picture.

    I actually tell the candidate that I have a “check-sheet” and need to pre-qualify him/her in the interest of not wasting anyone’s time. Candidates do understand and this important check-sheet can save you lots of time by ensuring you don’t start “going down the road” with a candidate who is not qualified for your spot. After your check-sheet, you can ask any behavioral questions you may have as well to further determine a fit.

  3. Decide then and there

    After the check-sheet qualification and asking additional questions on their skills, you should have enough information to make a “go/no-go” decision. If you are still unsure, ask more questions.

    If you have done a good phone screen, you will know whether you want to proceed or not. Make the decision then. It shouldn’t go into your “pending” file. If you do not want to proceed, simply say, “I’m afraid that based on the qualifications we need for this position, we don’t have a match.” If you do want to proceed, get out your calendar and schedule a time to meet. Good candidates are still scarce—and often are hesitant to leave their current employer in this uncertain economy. If you would like to have a copy of my “Phone Interview Check Sheet,” just send me an email at: Kemperassoc@hotmail.com, along with your name and company.

Philip Kemper is Founder/President of Kemper Associates, a 36-year-old Chicago-based national executive search firm, specializing in Permanent and Contract staffing for Trade Shows and Exhibits, Staging and Equipment Rental, Business Meetings and Events Production, Video, Training and Incentives and more. His more complete bio is on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/philip-kemper/2/795/308/ . You may view Kemper Associates’ website at: www.Kemperassociates.net, and contact Phil with questions or comments, and employment needs at: Kemperassoc@hotmail.com, or his private phone line: (312) 944-6551.

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