Although brief, phone screens can be an integral part of the interview process

If you've applied for any jobs lately, you may have had a recruiter or hiring manager reach out about a phone screening: a brief phone conversation that takes place before scheduling an official in-person interview. Knowing how to handle some of the most common phone interview questions can be critical for ensuring that you successfully complete that screening process.

In this post, we'll explain why employers might use this phone screening and offer examples of some of the most common phone interview questions that you may encounter. We'll also provide some tips and sample answers that can help you to formulate effective responses to those questions.

Why do employers use phone interview questions?

Phone interviews offer employers an opportunity to screen job candidates before scheduling them for a more formal interview. Typically, the company has already seen your resume and now has a few follow-up questions to ask to make sure you could be a good fit for the open position. These screenings can also provide job seekers with a chance to hear more about the company and the job, before deciding if the role is an opportunity worth pursuing.

Phone screens are typically brief - anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Although it'll be over before you know it, there are a few typical questions you should prepare to answer.

12 typical phone interview questions and answers

Because a recruiter or hiring manager is simply looking to get to know you outside your digital application, you can expect general, open-ended questions during your phone screen interview. Surprisingly, these can be the toughest questions to answer, so prepare ahead of time.

Also, don't be afraid to write down potential responses to create a phone interview cheat sheet. Well-prepared notes can help to ensure that you're never at a loss for words during this type of phone interview.

Below are some common telephone interview questions candidates can expect - plus some tips to help you give the best answers.

Question No. 1: Tell me about yourself

Although the “tell me about yourself” question can sometimes be annoying, it's an important one. A recruiter wants to get to know you beyond your resume. However, don't dive into your family life, your hobbies, or your love for cheese.

How to answer this question: Answer this interview question with your extended elevator pitch, outlining the specific skills, experience and qualifications that make you a good fit for the job. If you've studied the job posting, you'll have a better idea about how to respond. 

“I'm a technology professional with six years of experience in the IT industry, including two years as a Team Leader and Project Manager. In my current role at ABC Corp., I've managed more than a dozen high-level projects for client accounts, averaging $2 million in value. I'm currently looking for an opportunity to leverage my management skills in a leadership role in the finance industry, which is why I was so excited to learn about this open position.”

Question No. 2: How did you find out about this position?

You might have answered this question in your online application, but you should expect it again during phone screen interview questions. It's mostly for internal purposes and to see what recruiting efforts are most effective, but you can also use it to your advantage.

How to answer this question: Be honest in how you answer but, if you know someone at the company, don't hesitate to name drop. Even if you first saw the job listing in an online networking group, share the name of the poster. Companies love it when you have an internal connection, even if it isn't super personal. It also shows you're a savvy networker who's tapped into your industry.

“I learned about the open position from a former colleague, who happens to be friends with someone on your IT team - John Jones. I've been following your company's growth for some time and have been impressed by your commitment to innovation in this space, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that your firm is currently looking for someone with my skill set.”

Question No. 3: How familiar are you with our company?

Of course, you're familiar with the company… even if you hadn't heard of it prior to applying. You're not going to be able to lie your way through this question; you're simply going to have to do some research on the company before your phone screen.

How to answer this question: Understand what the company does and be able to describe it in one or two sentences. There's no need to go into too much detail, but be sure to look at the online career page too. Often, you can find key information about the company's culture that you can reference to explain why it excites you.

For bonus points, research the company in the news. Perhaps it recently won an award or completed a big acquisition. A recruiter or hiring manager will love hearing that you've taken the time to know more about them.

“Like most people, I'm quite familiar with the company's brand and the great strides that it's made in advancing networking best practices. Of course, I've also been impressed by everything I've heard about the corporate culture and its emphasis on career development at every level of the company. I was excited to read about the upcoming market expansion that the firm recently announced and would love the opportunity to become part of the team that makes that endeavor a resounding success.”

Question No. 4: Tell me a little bit about what you do now

Similar to the “tell me about yourself” question, this is simply a way for the recruiter to get to know you a bit better. You don't need to outline your day-to-day duties, but this is a terrific way to emphasize certain aspects of your experience. 

How to answer this question: You'll want to focus on the key aspects of your current job that are most related to this potential new opportunity. For example, if you're a writer and applied to an SEO-writing position, stress the SEO work you do at your current job, even if that's not your primary duty. But instead of focusing on your responsibilities, make sure that you talk about the positive impact that you're having.

If you're changing careers, focus on current skills that'll translate to this new position. You can also use this question as an opportunity to explain why you're passionate about entering a new position or industry.

Finally, if you're re-entering the workforce after taking time off, you can explain the gap - but don't feel like you need to overshare. 

“In my current role, I lead a team of nine technology professionals tasked with collecting, organizing, and analyzing data from seven departments, nine branches, and more than 60 client firms - while also maintaining our internal networking system and delivering detailed and actionable reports to our executive team. We also recently completed a reorganizational effort that has reduced our department's costs by 12%, thanks to an elimination of unnecessary redundancies and the implementation of new process innovations.”

Question No. 5: Why are you looking to leave your current job?

The last thing you want to do is bad-mouth your current employer. Instead, the purpose of this question is to help the recruiter understand why you want to work for them and what you're looking for in the job and in your career.

How to answer this question: Feel free to remain vague and state you're looking for a new opportunity, that you're eager to learn more, that you want to focus on developing a certain skill, or that you're looking to change careers. You might also have more logistical reasons for wanting to leave your current job, like avoiding a long commute or relocating to be closer to your aging parents. Those are fine to share as well. 

“I've loved every minute of my time at ABC Corp. but believe that I'm at the point in my career where I need new challenges that can ensure continual development of my skill set and value as an employee. I know that your company can provide those challenges and offer me the opportunity to leverage my existing skills in a value-added way while also enabling my continued growth and development.”

Question No. 6: What about this position appeals to you?

Here's another opportunity to show the recruiter or hiring manager you did your homework.

How to answer this question: Return to the job posting and take note of any details that made you apply for this position and reiterate a few of the ones that made you most excited. You can also use this time to talk more about the company and explain why you find it so appealing. Again, don't be afraid to refer to your phone interview cheat sheet while answering this question. 

“I was drawn to this industry early in life, due to an abiding fascination with technology and a belief that innovation is vital for improving people's lives. Over the last several years, I've also developed key management skills that have helped me to bring real value to my employer - skills that I believe are well-aligned with this job's requirements. The most appealing aspect of the role, however, is the opportunity to be a part of your firm's world-changing innovation, alongside the rest of your talented team members.”

Question No. 7: What are your salary expectations?

Already?! Yes - there's a possibility that this question will come up in a phone screening. The company and interviewer want to make sure your salary expectations are in line with what it can afford.

How to answer this question: Before your interview, do some market research. Tap into Glassdoor's salary tools to see what current employees make and what your “market value” might be. However, instead of divulging a single number you want to make during the phone screening, offer a salary range. This leaves you room to negotiate later.

If you don't feel comfortable answering, there are some simple ways to deflect the salary question. Let the recruiter or hiring manager know you'd feel more comfortable discussing money once you know more about the job. If you can, try to get the prospective employer to offer up a range before you commit to a firm answer.

As a final piece of advice, you should never, ever feel obligated to tell this potential employer your current salary. In fact, that question is illegal in some cities and states.

“Given my experience and skill set, which more than meet the qualifications cited in the job posting, I know that the average salary range for this position is somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. However, benefits can be just as important these days, so I am open to considerable flexibility when it comes to the overall compensation package. Does your team have a salary range that you're considering?”

Question No. 8: How quickly could you start?

Here's another interview question you'll want to think through before hopping on the phone. Although most potential employers love candidate enthusiasm, you shouldn't promise that you can start tomorrow! Be realistic and consider your needs.

How to answer this question: Typically, the interview process will take a few weeks. If you do get the job, think through the next steps. Let the hiring manager know you'll need to give your current employer a two-week notice. Then consider if you'll have to move and how long it'll take to find housing. Again, be honest and realistic.

“Of course, I would want to give my current employer at least two weeks' notice. Aside from that consideration, however, I can see no obstacles that would prevent me from starting as soon as you need me. I would just need enough notice to avoid creating any undue hardship for my current employer. How long do you expect the interview process to last before the company is ready to make its hiring decision?”

Question No. 9: Are you willing to relocate?

If you've applied to a job located in a new city or state, you can always expect this question. The recruiter or hiring manager wants to know how serious you are.

How to answer this question: Again, honesty is the best policy with this phone interview question. If you applied for the job, you're probably willing to relocate, so you can stress your willingness to pack up. If you're not, you could ask about any remote opportunities. Just don't expect the company to budge on this matter, especially since the hiring managers haven't had a chance to really get to know you and your qualifications yet.

“My family has been considering a relocation for some time and will certainly do that if you decide that I'm the right person for the job. We've already discussed the possibility and have made several contingency plans to ensure that I am available to start when you need me.”

Question No. 10: What do you look for in a manager?

Related questions could include:

  • What's your management style?

  • What's your ideal work environment?

  • What do you look for in a job?

Once again, this is a phone interview question that'll help a prospective employer better understand if a candidate is a great fit for the company.

How to answer this question: Return to your company research and the job listing. Pull out a few key aspects that appeal to you and the way you work. Perhaps the listing says it's looking for someone who'll work closely with their manager. If that's your preferred work style, emphasize the value you place on manager-employee relationships.

“I've worked effectively under several different managers, each with their own unique style of leadership. They've all had one thing in common, though: the ability to communicate instructions and provide feedback in a clear and timely manner. So, I would have to say that effective communication is the most important thing that I look for from leadership. Still, I pride myself on being a team player who can adapt to any environment.”

Question No. 11: Tell me about [something on your resume]

You may also receive at least one question about some bit of information on your resume. This may involve a specific achievement you've listed in your work experience, or even specific job duties. If you receive this type of question, it's usually because the interviewer read something that either sparked their interest or raised a concern. Be prepared to explain that part of your information as clearly as possible.

How to answer this question: Make sure that you're familiar with your resume, even if you had someone else write it, and be prepared to talk about your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. If possible, try to have a physical copy of the resume in front of you when you get on the call so that you can use it as a reference during your response.

“Sure, I'd be happy to add some additional context to my time at ABC Corp. As I noted in my resume, I led a 10-person team charged with reorganizing our client acquisition and onboarding process, which involved the introduction of new computer systems and the creation of an entirely new training program. As a result of that effort, ABC was able to increase new client acquisitions by 23%, enhance client retention by 31%, and reduce onboarding costs by 40% in the first year after the project was complete.

I'm confident that my experiences at ABC would make me an asset for this company, especially given its ongoing drive for innovation and effective client service.”

Question No. 12: Do you have any questions for me?

Just like a more formal job interview, you should always have questions prepared to ask at the end of your phone interview.

How to answer this question: Because this conversation will be briefer, you won't be able to ask too many detailed questions, but there are some great questions that can demonstrate your interest in the position. For example:

  • Do you have any other questions about my qualifications for the position?
  • What type of short and long-term goals do you have for the candidate who wins this role?
  • How would you describe a typical day in this role?
  • I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this opportunity with me. What should I expect in terms of the next steps in the process?

As a rule, try not to ask questions about compensation, including what you might be able to expect in terms of salary, benefits, or work schedule. Every single one of those queries can wait until you've received a formal job offer. The last thing you want to do is give the impression that you're only concerned about money and your own interests.

Use phone interview questions to improve your job search odds

Keep in mind the purpose of a phone screen is to ensure you're a good fit for the company - and vice versa. For that reason, you'll want to be honest with your answers. Additionally, show enthusiasm about the potential opportunity. Recruiters and hiring managers want to hear your excitement - that in turn will get them excited about you.

By learning how to answer these and other common phone interview questions, you can increase your odds of being offered a more formal in-person or virtual interview. Often, that next interview can help you to seal the deal and convince the employer that you're the best candidate for the job.

Not getting the interview results you expect? It might be time to get a professional opinion. Our TopInterview coaches can help!

This article was originally written by Carson Kohler and has been updated by Ken Chase. 

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