4 Phone Interview Questions to Axe

Too often, phone interviews are treated as an administrative function to screen out unqualified candidates. Interviewing is a two-way street where candidates are evaluating you as much as you are evaluating them. Eighty seven percent of candidates said a positive interview experience could change their minds about a company they doubted, and 83% said a negative experience could change their minds about a company they liked. The most qualified candidates are in high demand, and the phone interview is your first opportunity to engage them in meaningful conversion and sell them on your opportunity. If you want to win top-tier talent for your team, choose how you word your phone interview questions wisely.

1. Tell me about yourself.

This is a standard way to begin a phone interview, but may provide a poor candidate experience. Inexperienced interviewees, including passive candidates, might provide irrelevant information because they don’t know where to start or what information to include.

Instead, ask the candidate to walk you through their career path, chronologically. Review their resume and jot down questions you have beforehand, so you are prepared with potential follow-up questions. These may include questions about the candidate’s skills, accomplishments, mistakes, and transitions. For example, if a candidate’s resume mentions experience with one of your must-have skills, dig deeper to learn the extent of their experience. Ask them to share their greatest accomplishment related to that skill, as well as any mistakes they’ve made along the way. This shows the candidate that you’ve invested time in preparing for their interview, while also helping you determine their skills fit.

2. How would you deal with…

Culture fit is just as important to screen for as skills fit, and interviewers often ask about hypothetical situations to learn if the candidate’s reactions align with organizational values. However, the candidate’s response may reflect how they know they should respond, rather than how they’d actually respond.

Instead, ask the candidate to tell you about a time they were in that situation, and how they handled it. If your organization values innovation, for example, ask the candidate to tell you about the last time they implemented a stellar idea in their organization. Find out how they brought the idea up, how they went about implementing it, what their role was, who else was involved, and what the results were. This allows you to see how well the candidate would fit into your organizational culture, while also giving the candidate an opportunity to learn about your culture.

3. Why do you want to work here?

This question is commonly used with job applicants to learn why they are interested in the opportunity, and if they researched the company before applying. However, some candidates — especially sourced, passive candidates — don’t know whether they want to work at your organization until they’ve interviewed. They want to learn more about your company, opportunity, and colleagues before deciding if they want to work at your organization.

Instead, say, “A candidate like yourself has many choices about where to work. What made you consider leaving your current opportunity, and interviewing for our opportunity?” or “Why are you considering a career transition?” Rather than weeding out applicants who have “sprayed and prayed” with their resume, you will learn your candidate’s career motivations. This can be a powerful sales tool when closing your candidate because you can show them how your opportunity will benefit them. For example, a candidate interested in career progression will be interested to hear how your company can support their professional development.

4. What are you currently earning?

Asking a candidate what they currently earn can lead to unfair compensation practices due to existing racial and gender wage gaps. For instance, women earn 83% as much as men, and African Americans earn 75% as much as Caucasians. Asking for this information can repel top-tier candidates who believe they are being unfairly compensated.

Rather than asking about your candidate’s salary history, ask about their salary expectations instead. Aligning with candidates around compensation in the early stages of your recruitment process ensures you move forward with realistic candidates, and don’t waste anyone’s time. When 37% of candidates have declined a job offer because compensation and benefits did not match their expectations, your interviewees will appreciate the opportunity to share this information early.


As the competition for top-tier talent heats up, organizations are learning that the interview process is as much about screening candidates as it is selling them on the opportunity. Common phone interview questions that were designed to screen out unqualified talent need to be rephrased to appeal to top-tier talent. The best phone interview questions will allow you to screen the candidate for skill and culture fit, while making the candidate feel like a valued prospect.

For more on interviewing, read our ebook, Top Interview Tips: The Employer’s Essential Handbook