Phone screen interview questions

The Best Phone Screen Interview Questions To Ask Remote Job Candidates

Phone interviews are crucial in hiring for remote jobs. Learn what phone screen interview questions to ask to find the best candidate.

The Best Phone Screen Interview Questions To Ask Remote Job Candidates


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Hiring is hard. Even with a detailed job posting that includes specific criteria, you’ll probably end up with dozens (if not hundreds) of unqualified applicants. 

Scanning through applications has been simplified with technology, but savvy job-seekers have found a way to get through that initial pass with well-worded resumes and cover letters

You don’t want to schedule an in-person interview with an unqualified candidate, so how can you ensure only the highest-quality applicants make it through? Here are some phone interview tips, including common interview questions to find the right job applicant that aligns with your company mission. 

This extra scrutiny will weed out the bad fits and give you the best chance to land a long-term teammate—provided you ask the right questions. 

What Is a Phone Screen Interview?

A phone screen interview is an initial, concise conversation between a recruiter or hiring manager and a job candidate conducted over the phone. 

It evaluates the applicant's suitability for a remote job opening before proceeding to a more in-depth interview. Employers can streamline their hiring process and identify the most promising candidates by asking essential questions about the following:

  • Skills
  • Experience
  • Personality
  • Ability to work remotely

Phone screenings are an effective way to save time and resources, as they allow both the employer and the candidate to determine if there is a potential fit without committing to face-to-face meetings. 

This is especially useful when hiring for remote positions, as it reduces geographical constraints and enables employers to tap into a broader talent pool. 

In a phone screen interview, the hiring manager can quickly understand the candidate's communication skills, motivation, and compatibility with the company culture—all crucial factors for successful remote work.

Overall, phone screen interviews play a vital role in the remote hiring process, ensuring both parties move forward with the right expectations and laying the groundwork for a more in-depth, productive discussion in the subsequent full-length interview.

How To Conduct a Phone Screen Interview

A well-conducted phone screen interview is the key to identifying top remote job candidates and ensuring a smooth hiring process. 

Here are some guidelines to help:

Communicate job requirements

Before starting the interview, ensure you understand the job requirements, responsibilities, and expectations for the remote position. 

Begin the conversation by briefly describing the role, including any required skills or experiences. This will help set the context for the candidate and allow you to evaluate their suitability based on their responses to your questions.

Read the resume

Before the interview, thoroughly review the candidate's resume and any other materials they have submitted. Note any potential red flags, concerns, or points that require clarification. 

During the interview, ask questions that address these points and help you better understand the candidate's qualifications and how they relate to the remote job.

Be impartial

When conducting a phone screen interview, it's essential to maintain a fair and unbiased approach. Ensure that your questions focus on the candidate's skills, capabilities, and experiences, and avoid asking questions that could be discriminatory or irrelevant to the job role. 

This will ensure you assess candidates fairly and provide equal opportunities for all applicants, regardless of their background.

Treat it as a business conversation

Though the phone screen interview is less formal than a full-length interview, it's still a professional conversation with a potential future employee. 

Maintain a polite and professional tone throughout the call, and give the candidate your full attention. Listen carefully to their responses and avoid discussing personal matters or engaging in casual conversation that doesn't pertain to the job. 

Treating the interaction as a business conversation demonstrates respect for the candidate and the importance of finding the best fit for the remote position.

Employer interviewing a candidate on the phone

Phone Screen Interview Questions To Ask Remote Job Candidates

Standardizing phone screen interview questions can be a valuable strategy for ensuring a consistent, effective hiring process. By using a predetermined set of questions, hiring managers can maintain focus on the most relevant criteria for a particular remote job while reducing potential unconscious bias.

This approach also makes it easier for interviewers to identify patterns or trends in candidates' responses, helping them to make more informed decisions.

However, while it's crucial to establish a consistent framework for your interviews, allowing room for follow-up questions and clarifications is equally important.

Empowering interviewers to explore specific details or dig deeper into a candidate's responses can provide valuable insights that may not have been possible with a strictly standardized format. 

This flexibility helps interviewers adapt their approach based on the nuances of individual candidates while still adhering to the structured foundation provided by standard questions.

Let’s explore the different types of questions that can provide valuable insights while conducting a phone screen interview.

1. Questions that set the tone

These questions help quickly establish trust while giving each party a sense of how the interview will progress. It should help calm nerves and allow for more organic responses later. 

Here are some questions you could use to set the tone in a phone screen interview:

Quickly introduce yourself

Starting the interview with a brief introduction from the interviewer and the candidate helps establish rapport and creates a comfortable atmosphere. Pay attention to the candidate's communication style and how confidently they introduce themselves.

Can you tell me about your background?

This open-ended question allows the candidate to provide an overview of their professional history, education, and critical skills. Look for relevant experience and qualifications that align with the job requirements and a clear, concise, coherent summary showcasing their communication skills.

Why are you looking for a new job?

The candidate's reason for seeking a new job can reveal their motivations, preferences, and career goals. Assess if their answer aligns with the values and culture of your company and whether the remote position could satisfy their objectives.

Where are you in your job search?

By inquiring about the candidate's current stage in their job search, you can gauge their availability and the level of urgency in their job hunt. This information can help understand how quickly the candidate would need to move forward in the interview process and if they are actively entertaining other opportunities.

When could you start working?

Determining a candidate's availability to start work helps you understand if their timeline aligns with your remote position's requirements. Their response will also indicate their current commitments and how they might impact their new job transition.

Can you walk me through your previous professional experience?

This question helps you gain insight into the candidate's recent work history, accomplishments, and challenges. Focus on the relevance of their current role and experience with previous employers to the remote job opportunity, how they present their successes and lessons learned, and any potential gaps or inconsistencies that may need further clarification.

2. Common questions about their expectations

Over the last decade (and the last few years), job-seekers have become much more selective in their hunt, opting to pursue positions with the highest employee value proposition (EVP). 

That pursuit is no longer just about compensation. It also includes things like:

  • Benefits
  • Culture
  • Work-life balance

A phone screen interview can discover unbalanced expectations and help companies avoid spending time on an out-of-reach candidate.  Here are some example questions that can help:

How much would you like to earn in this position?

By discussing salary expectations early on, you can determine if the candidate's desired compensation aligns with your company's budget and the industry standard for the remote position. 

A reasonable answer demonstrates that the candidate has conducted their research, understands their value in the job market, and can help avoid misunderstandings or disappointments later in the hiring process.

Are there specific benefits that are important to you?

Asking about benefits allows the candidate to share their priorities, expectations, and essential factors they consider when evaluating a job offer. 

Their response can help you understand if your company's benefits package aligns with the candidate's needs or if there's room for negotiation. 

Additionally, it can provide insights into the candidate's lifestyle and work preferences, thus showcasing a potential fit within the remote working culture.

Would it be a deal breaker for you if we don’t offer _____ (benefit) or the salary figure you quoted?

This question helps assess the candidate's flexibility regarding compensation, benefits, and how important certain aspects are to them. A willingness to compromise or discuss alternative options may demonstrate the candidate's genuine interest in the job and ability to adapt. 

However, if they are firm on specific requirements, this is valuable information for both parties to assess the feasibility of moving forward in the hiring process.

Woman talking on the phone with potential candidate

3. Questions about their interest in the job

While candidates can be selective, companies should be too. Here are some questions to help you find out why they applied in the first place and whether they truly desire to be a part of the team. 

What attracted you to apply for this position?

This question helps reveal the candidate's understanding of the role and how their skills, interests, and professional goals align with the job requirements. 

Look for candidates who can articulate specific aspects of the position and company that motivated them to apply, demonstrating that they have researched the opportunity and genuinely believe it would be a good fit for their career path.

What did you find most attractive in the job description?

You can gain insight into what excites and challenges them by asking the candidate about a particular aspect of the job description that piqued their interest. 

Their response can help you assess how well their preferences align with the responsibilities of the remote role and whether they are likely to be engaged and motivated by the tasks they would be performing.

What motivates you in a job?

Understanding a candidate's primary motivators can provide valuable information about their compatibility with the remote position and the company culture. You can also discover what they want to move on from and appreciate in their previous position.

Positive responses should reflect their enthusiasm for growth, learning, collaboration, or other factors that resonate with your organization's values. 

This question can also help reveal if the candidate is motivated by extrinsic factors, such as salary range and benefits, or intrinsic factors, such as contributing to meaningful work or personal development, which are often essential components of a successful remote work experience.

4. Questions to determine company culture fit

You may have a desirable candidate if none of the initial questions have ruled them out. Now it’s time to see how well they can adapt and fit into your company culture, which is even more important for remote or distributed teams. 

What attracted you to our organization?

This question helps you gauge the candidate's familiarity with and enthusiasm for your company, its values, missions, and overall culture. A well-informed and genuine response indicates that the candidate has researched the organization and is interested in becoming part of your team.

What do you know about our products or services?

By asking about the candidate's knowledge of your company's products or services, you can assess their understanding of the organization's core business. Their response may indicate their level of interest, initiative, and how much homework they have done to familiarize themselves with your company.

Describe your style of work in a few sentences.

This question invites the candidate to share their approach to work, whether they are more independent or collaborative, organized, or adaptable. Look for indicators that their work style is compatible with your company's expectations, particularly in a remote work setting, where self-discipline, flexibility, and communication are crucial.

Describe the workplace culture you thrive in

Understanding the type of work environment a candidate prefers can provide valuable insights into their compatibility with your company's culture. 

Listen for details about:

  • Preferred communication styles
  • Levels of structure
  • Team dynamics
  • Management approaches

These should align with the way your organization operates. This can help determine if the candidate would be a good fit and adapt to your remote work setting.

5. Questions to gauge their proficiency

While many industries are recognizing and emphasizing the idea to “hire for personality, train for proficiency,” there still needs to be a base level of competence and understanding from your candidates. 

Asking simple questions about the position in a phone screen interview can ensure you don’t waste too much time on training.

What skills have you recently gained or strengthened?

This question encourages the candidate to discuss any recent skill development, professional growth, or continuing education they have pursued in their current role or any team projects. Look for responses that demonstrate their commitment to self-improvement and desire to stay up-to-date in their field. 

How would your current skills be a match for this job opportunity?

By asking the candidate to link their soft skills to the remote role, you can gauge their career plan, understanding of the job requirements, and how their capabilities align with the position. Look for clear and specific examples of how their skills would directly benefit your organization and contribute to the team's success.

Did your internship/role at _____ give you specific experience that you can apply to this job?

This question focuses on a particular experience from the candidate's background, such as an internship or prior job.

Their response can provide insights into how well they can apply their experience to your organization's needs and reveal if they have a solid understanding of the practical aspects of the job.

Do you have any questions about the role's responsibilities?

Inviting the candidate to ask questions about the job responsibilities can help you assess their level of engagement. Thoughtful, well-structured questions indicate that the candidate is genuinely interested in the position and has thought deeply about how they would approach the tasks involved in the remote job. 

Additionally, their questions may provide an opportunity for clarification and ensure both parties clearly understand the expectations associated with the position.

Recruiter writing down on her notes while talking to a remote job candidate

How To Know if a Candidate Should Move Forward From a Phone Screen Interview

The phone screen interview can be valuable, revealing whether a candidate should progress to the next level. 

Here, we outline some good and bad signs to look for during the conversation.

Good signs

  • Understands the phone interview questions: A candidate who comprehends and provides relevant answers demonstrates attentiveness and comprehension skills. 
  • Answers clearly: Clear and concise responses indicate strong communication skills vital in a remote work setting.
  • Great diction: Good diction, or how a candidate articulates words, is important to communication. Candidates with excellent language are more easily understood, which can help facilitate smooth collaboration within a remote team.
  • Asks questions about the role/client: When a candidate asks thought-provoking questions about the role or organization, it demonstrates their genuine interest in the job and a deeper understanding of the position.

Bad signs

  • Lacks enthusiasm or seems distracted: A candidate appearing disinterested or unfocused during the phone screen interview may indicate a lack of motivation or dedication to the job.
  • Unprofessional behavior: Candidates who display unprofessional behavior can create a hostile work environment and harm your organization's reputation.
  • Difficulty in communication or comprehension: Remote work relies heavily on effective communication. Candidates struggling to understand or express themselves during the phone interview may face challenges in a remote work setting.
  • Gets greedy: While candidates need to understand their value and seek appropriate compensation, those who come across as overly demanding or inflexible may create difficulties when negotiating job terms and working as part of a team.

Final Thoughts

Mastering the art of phone screen interviews is vital to unlocking the door to top remote job candidates for your organization. By asking the right questions and diligently evaluating responses, you're well on your way to assembling a skilled and dynamic remote team.

Don't just sit on the sidelines—take action by refining your phone screen interview questions to reflect your company's unique needs and uncover the hidden gems in the talent pool.

Ready to kickstart your remote hiring process and discover the perfect candidates for your company? 

Partner with Near, the remote hiring experts, and let us help you streamline your search for the best talent tailored to your requirements. Contact Near today and elevate your hiring game to new heights!

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