Questions to Ask During a Phone Interview

Nancy Anderson
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Phone interviews are a special kind of audition — one that you have to pass on your way to an in-person interview, which is also often the last step before you're offered a job. Interviewing candidates over the phone is a cost-effective way of narrowing down the hiring pool, so you have to stand out if you plan to make the final cut. Asking the right questions over the phone might be the best way to ensure you're one of the lucky few who move forward in the process.

How Much Time Do We Have?

Ask this question as early in the interview as possible. Most phone interviews are intended as a quick elimination of unsuitable candidates, according to US News and World Report, so your interviewer might only have a few minutes to chat with you. Asking about time constraints upfront shows how much you value the interviewer's time and helps you plan out the level of detail you can go into for each question. Knowing how much time you're allotted can also give you a hint of how well you're doing; if the interviewer says at the beginning that you have 15 minutes, you can take it as a good sign if he stays on the phone with you for half an hour.

Do You Have a Copy of My Resume With You?

Most interviewers have your resume and application available when they call you, but it's good to make sure. If your interviewer has your resume in hand during the call, you can answer questions about your history by referring to it and expanding on the key points here and there. If your interviewer doesn't have your documents close at hand, you can demonstrate how serious you are about the job by immediately emailing a copy so everyone is on the same page.

What Does This Position Pay?

Salary can be an uncomfortable topic to broach, especially over the phone, but it's likely to come up at this stage of the hiring process. Employers sometimes ask about your expected salary as early as possible in order to get an idea of your expectations going forward. If your salary range is prohibitively high, the company can perhaps eliminate your application before investing a lot of time on recruiting you for a job you might turn down later. By asking about salary yourself, you can put the ball in the interviewer's court and work from the company's offer, rather than hoping your own salary request is in the right range.

What's Next?

Phone interviews tend to be short and to the point. They often end inconclusively, with neither side making any commitments to the other. By closing out your phone interview with a direct question about what to expect going forward, you can get a crystal-clear idea of how well you've done. If the interviewer tells you that successful candidates will all be contacted within a week, for instance, you can finish the call with a firm idea of when you'll know whether you've been eliminated or not. Asking about the next step also gives your interviewer a chance to schedule your in-person interview right away, which is an excellent sign that you did well over the phone. This question also gives you a natural way to ask for contact information, which can be crucial to a successful follow-up later, says interviewing expert and author Laura DeCarlo at Job-Hunt.

Phone interviews can feel like an extra hurdle in the way of getting that job you want, but handling yours the right way can actually make the process much easier to get through. Asking direct, perceptive questions at this early stage in the process signals your intent to take the job seriously, and it encourages the employer to schedule that all-important in-person follow-up. Apart from the good impression your intelligent questions make on the interviewer, the answers you get can point the way forward in the process. Going into your phone interview well-armed with the right questions can make the difference between an early elimination from the hiring pool and moving one step closer to your dream job.

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  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    I've conducted many phone interviews over the years and I really appreciate it when a candidate asks how much time I have to devote to the interview. This shows that the person values my time as much I value their time. If I'm interested in the candidate, I always go over the time allotted - but I always ask if they have the extra time to talk.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Kristen asking about benefits can also put you into a negative light with the hiring manager because he would be thinking that all you cared about was how much vacation time you would get, etc. So it's pretty much in the same light as asking about salary. I guess everyone has an opinion and we are always told not to ask about salary but let them bring it up. Well when I first started out in my career, I would wait for the hiring manager to bring it up. But then I found myself between a rock and a hard place where the job sounded right up my alley but the salary was nowhere inline with my expectations. So, I learned quickly, to ask about salary on a phone interview. The difference, as I have found it to be, is that I never had heads up notice about a phone interview whereas I would have plenty of time to prep for an in-person interview. So asking about salary was pretty standard for me on phone interviews. @Mike for the second round, you want to know more about the company - company culture, work area, training opportunities, advancement/growth - maybe even working hours and if you will have to pull extra duty during the month such as weekend coverage, etc. This is the time for you to really dig and find out if the position is for you. Hope that helps at least some.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    What are some examples of additional questions that could help you out when you go into the in-person interview? In other words, what specific information should you be looking to get out of the phone interview to aid your research into the position before the next round of the process?

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    The thought of asking about salary in a phone interview or an in person interview makes me a little nervous. In my opinion, there is a time and place to discuss and negotiate salary, which is after you are offered the position. Yes, that would mean a lot of work on both ends for nothing if the parties could not agree, but I think putting up salary dollars up front could do more harm than good. I think a better up front conversation to have would be about benefits. Sometimes benefits are more important than the salary itself.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks @Hema. Always make sure that you have a copy of your resume when you are on the phone with the hiring manager. And make sure it's the right copy of your resume - the one that you submitted to him. That way you will both be on the same page. @Jacqueline it might not be true form to ask about salary during a phone interview but, in my experience, it always seems to come up. Maybe it's because we are not face to face that it's easier to discuss salary. But, if it doesn't come up during the interview, at the close I will always ask if there will be a second interview - either phone or in person. If he says that he is going to make a decision right away and I still am not sure what the salary range might be in spite of my research, I will probably ask. Why make him go through all of the hoops of writing up an offer for me if I am not going to accept it anyhow. That has just been my experience. Actually for my current position, I was hired after a phone interview. At the end of the call, the hiring manager did bring up salary and we resolved that before ending the call. That has been my experience when it comes to phone interviews. Anyone else have experience with getting hired through a phone interview?

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I think it’s a great idea to ask if the interviewer has a copy of my resume. If he does have a copy, then I can refer to my resume in my answers and he can also take a closer look at it if something sparks his interest. If he doesn’t, then I’ll know that my answers should reiterate my qualifications and work experience.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    I do not think that asking about the salary of a position during a phone interview is a good idea unless the interviewer brings it up first. I feel that such an early question about salary might imply that money is the only thing you care about. Also if you are trying to avoid the need to state your salary requirements, asking first could backfire. The interviewer might turn the question around and ask you what you expect. I realize some might disagree, but I feel that salary discussions should come later in the job interview process.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Duncan I agree to a certain point. But, if the salary is not inline with my expectations, I am going to end up declining. Why not find out ahead of time? There are many places where you can get salary information. A cursory check on the Internet will let you know whether you want to continue pursuing the job or not. @Jay most companies don't do Skype interviews anymore. They were all the rage several years ago but people seem to have moved on from that format. Although some companies do still have them. Usually, if they interview via Skype, it will indicate so in the job posting. Personally I would prefer to have a phone interview rather than a Skype. For me, it's easier to speak with someone on the phone than for them to be able to see every little nuance in my facial expressions in a Skype. If you are face to face with the interviewer, it's still not as "in your face" as a Skype. Would it be rude or assertive to ask for a Skype? Probably not but don't be upset if they indicate that the hiring manager doesn't like to do things that way.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    What do people think of Skype interviews? Is it better to see a person's face than to simply speak to them on the phone? If so, can I ask a prospective employer or HR personnel member to conduct an interview via Skype rather than via phone? Would that be considered rude or assertive?

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    Bringing up the issue of how much the position pays sounds too ambitious for me. I'd rather you keep it at bay until the interviewer brings it up as it will appear more courteous on your side. However, you will have to have thought about it beforehand so that you have a ready answer when it comes up.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @William great points. Thanks for that. So true that we don't need to be wasting our time waiting for or prepping for the next steps if they are not interested. @Lydia I don't think that the interviewer will think that you are rushed or disinterested. It lets them know that you value their time. It also allows you to get to the questions that are most important to you before he has to end the call. You don't want to be knee deep in a discussion only for him to say - sorry but I have another call.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    For the phone interviews I've had, the interviewer has always told me approximately how much time the interview will take. I think this is important because a lot of people have to leave their workspace, or go to a quiet/private spot to take the call. But is it a good idea to ask how much time you have during the call? Could the interviewer take this to mean you are rushed and disinterested in the position?

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Perhaps the best question to ask is, "When is my in-person interview?" It's a valid question at the end of your phone interview that gets much more specific than "What's next?" This lets your interviewers know that you're serious about the job. Plus, you want to know where to expend your energy next--trying to prep for the interview or looking somewhere else.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jane thanks for your comment. Hopefully, prior to the interview, you did some research to find out if the salary is inline with what you need or expecting. It's a waste of time to interview for a position if the salary is not in keeping with your needs. @Shannon absolutely you should ask what the next steps are. This way you can find out how long to wait for an answer. You could ask if they will be holding second interviews also so that you can be better prepared for the second interview. Always try to keep those lines of communication open.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    It is so important to ask "What's next?" toward the end of a phone interview. It shows you are eager, enthusiastic about working for the company and conscientious in nature. It also helps you to gauge if the interviewer is interested. Vague answers to this question are very telling; however, if you are given specifics about the hiring process or the interviewer's time line with hiring, it may indicate that the company is interested in you.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I must respectfully disagree with Abbey's comment about the discussion of pay during the interview process being taboo. Knowing whether the company has a reasonable salary or hourly in mind is critical to knowing whether the job is worth pursuing. If the interviewer doesn't bring it up, then in my opinion, it's incumbent on the interviewee to do so.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey for some reason the rules for phone interviews always seem to be different. I'm not sure if it's because you can't "see" each other or what it is. For example, I had a phone interview for my current position. At the end of the conversation, the hiring manager brought up salary so I didn't have to worry about how to bring it up. You could maybe wait until the end when you are asked if you have any other questions and then ask if it's okay to discuss salary. Maybe not the best way to get to it but at least it would open up the door. Now I am assuming that you didn't have notice of the call prior. If you are on an in person interview, you should have already done your due diligence and found out a range for the salary before you accepted an interview. Because, if the salary isn't what you are looking for or what you need, then it's not worth your time or theirs to schedule an interview for a position that you are not going to accept. Sure you might be able to bring up salary in an in-person interview but you can pretty much figure that the salary is probably standard and is not going to be raised based upon your glowing recommendations and your qualifications. So don't expect to go in there and command a salary that is far above what they are willing to offer. Many years ago I had the opportunity to interview with a great tech company. They flew me in for the interview. I interviewed ALL day - starting at 8am. I had one-on-one interviews as well as a panel interview. I continued the interviews over lunch, too. Finally, the last interview was with the head of the department. She actually drove me back to my hotel and, prior to getting out of the car, she brought up salary. I already had a range in mind but I asked her if she could offer a range and I would let her know if it was acceptable. She offered a range and we settled on an amount. When I got back home there was a message waiting for me that they wanted to extend an offer. So you see - it depends upon the situation.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    Most other things I read say that asking about pay during the interview process is taboo. Is there something that makes it different with a phone interview vs an in-person interview? When is the best time to ask about pay? It is a very uncomfortable subject to bring up at times, so what is the best way to bring it up?

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