if you aren’t screening job candidates by phone, you must start now

I’ve been asked a few times recently if it’s really worth spending the time on phone interviews before bringing job candidates in for in-person interviews, and the answer is a loud, ear-splitting YES.

Phone interviews are a massive time saver for you and for job candidates, because you can quickly eliminate people who aren’t right in a 15-20-minute conversation rather than investing an hour in an in-person conversation. It’s a hugely important way to test for basic fit.

Moreover, it’s more considerate to candidates too. You shouldn’t ask someone to take time off work, spend time the night before researching your organization and preparing for the interview, maybe buying a new suit, and generally going through the stress of an in-person interview without first doing them the courtesy of having a phone call to check for basic fit. It’s not reasonable to put people through all that, only to find out in the first five minutes of the interview that it’s not the right fit because of some basic question around logistics, skills, or other stuff that you can screen out in a quick phone interview.

A good phone interview will sniff out deal-breakers in these three categories:

1. Skills or experience deal-breakers: By asking candidates to tell you more about their experience in the key areas you need, you can often pretty quickly see if someone’s experience isn’t as much of a fit as it appeared to be on their resume. For instance, you might discover that Key Experience X looked like a major part of their most recent role, but actually they only did it on occasion and not very recently … or that they have a totally different philosophy about it than would work for you.

2. Logistical deal-breakers: You can find out about these by asking questions about when they’re available to start, salary expectations, relocation, etc.

3. Interpersonal deal-breakers: Talking with someone for 15-20 minutes lets you do a first-round check for overall smarts, communication skills, professionalism, and sanity before you both invest more time in a longer conversation.

If you’re bringing candidates straight in for an in-person meeting without phone-screening first, you must stop it immediately, unless you have no regard for your own time or theirs!

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. BCW

    Agree on both fronts. Especially from the applicant part. There are some places that I know I wouldn’t be a good fit, and thats perfectly fine. I’d much rather a manager figure that out before I come in for an interview and essentially wasted a day, then after. But, please get back to people after the phone screen. Even if just a quick email.

    1. Felicia

      Agreed. I’ve had so many interviews where they said “We’ll be in touch either way” and I never hear from them again. That’s not ok. If you don’t like confrontation, just send an email

        1. Allison

          Yeah seriously, at least 70% of the times I’ve had to tell someone they weren’t what we were looking for, the candidate would retort with something along the lines of “I know I don’t have the skills you’re looking for, but I have all these other [completely irrelevant] skills and I’ll learn anything!”

          Look, every new job has a learning component, especially at first, but most employers still want to hire someone with a skill set that’ll form the foundation for that orientation training.

        2. Rachel - HR

          Agreed! I prefer to send postal mail reject letters for this exact reason. Email makes it to easy for candidates to respond immediately with their knee-jerk unhappy reactions.

      1. Former Usher

        Or worse, “If you don’t hear from us in the next couple of weeks, check in with me.” Then my email and voicemail go unanswered. Don’t ask me to check in with you if you’re just going to ignore me.

        1. KJR

          But yes, you are absolutely correct…the fear of confrontation or the manager’s own discomfort should not stand in the way of a candidate being notified. It’s part of the job.

      2. Stephanie

        Of if you don’t confrontation, just have an auto-reject. I’m aware this might be harder if you don’t have a big ATS like Taleo, but still!

    2. Rob Bean

      I agree.
      Had two interviews this past two weeks and one was a face-to-face the other was a phone interview.
      The face-to-face it was clear they were looking for someone who worked for a non-profit because they needed to raise money constantly. It was a waste of my time.
      The phone interview clearly matched my skillset and I’m waiting to hear if they are interested in a face to face. (Interview was three days ago)

  2. amp2140

    What about temp positions? We’re about to start hiring, and we’re going through a staffing company. Should their screening for the things we’re asking for count as the phone interview?

      1. amp2140

        Depending on how well they do, anywhere from a few months to indefinitely (I don’t agree with my company’s preference for long term temps).

        1. Joey

          Depends on the job and their experience/success screening for your positions. More complex or unique positions are more difficult to screen for the father away you are from the actual job.

    1. Chinook

      I think that the tenp company’s pre-screen/selection process is definitely the equivalent of a phone interview (atleast from my experience). They are suppose to know the deal breakers on both side and match accordingly. The good ones should even do the re-hire process for free if they mess up (as in the case of the coworker hired through an agency who then tried to sell drugs to another coworker – the agency’s handling of that really sold me on their professionalism).

      1. Jessa

        That is presuming you tell them things. I was once sent out on a temp job I could not do because I could not physically deal with their layout and they wouldn’t trade me out with another temp in another job. I called the agency in a panic and they kind of flipped out that the company when ASKED this kind of stuff never bothered to tell them there were barriers and employees who are disabled probably can’t DO task x and NO they won’t reasonably accommodate temps even though they’re all from the same agency.

        If you’re counting on an agency to screen for you make sure they have ALL the information they need to screen.

    2. Letter Owner

      I also think it depends on the type of position you’re filling – if you need a filing clerk, the agency’s pre-screen is probably fine. If it’s a more complex assignment or one that is heavily client-facing (like a receptionist), it’s probably worth it to have the agency line up their top three recommendations and to do a quick phone screen of your own. Sometimes you can ask more nuanced questions than can be relayed through the agency, plus get a feel for personality, fit, etc.

  3. Lee

    So so true! Related question: As a job candidate, is there any way to suggest a phone screen before an in-person interview? I recently applied to a job and was brought in for an hour and a half long interview with 9 (9!!) people, and it was fairly clear in the first half hour that it wasn’t a good fit on either end. It was such a waste of their staff resources, and a waste of my time as well.

    1. AAA

      I’d like to know this too! I have just been asked in for a 3-hour interview for a job that I’m not certain I’m a great fit for. (The job description is vague, and I have all of the qualifications, but not all of them used recently…not sure what is most important to the position).

      I’d love a way to say, “Hey, I’d love to come in to chat, but before I request time off of work and drive and hour away for the 3-hour interview, let’s make sure that this is worth *both* of our time”…but not in a way that is at all off-putting to a potential employer…

      1. Sarah

        That’s generally how I approach it. AAM – do you have another way to say it? I find that most people appreciate that type of honesty.

      2. Sarah

        I once drove 4 hours to an interview (on the other said of the state) and the CEO left for a meeting! They asked me to come back the next day. Obviously that was not happening. I’m glad I got that red flag then, but I do wish I insisted on a phone interview first.

    2. Sarah

      I have found that it is easiest to suggest this if you are not local (having to drive 1+ hours should be considered). Most employers will be happy to speak before driving a long distance to an interview. Not sure how to approach this if you are local.

      1. KJR

        Personally, I would have no objections if a candidate were to say, “I have a few questions before we schedule an in-person interview, do you have a minute?”

    3. Joey

      Sure.

      Before I come in for an interview would you mind if I ask you a few questions about the job to make sure it makes sense for both of us?

  4. Yup

    And if you find as an employer that you’re repeatedly addressing things in phone interviews that turn out to be deal breakers (either for you or the applicants), then for the love of Zod please update your job ad to include that piece of information.

  5. Jill

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have applied for so many jobs where the job description was perfect but there were major red flags that would have shown me this was not the place I wanted to work and would have showed the employer I might have not been a great fit if there had been a phone interview first. Thankfully I have a phone interview for a great company today!

    I agree with BCW, if you are going to phone interview a candidate you either need to let them know at the end of the call what the next steps are or at the very least let people know you won’t be moving forward with their candidacy.

  6. Frustrated Job Seeker #983545685373

    Totally agree that you can find out a lot through a phone screen (I’ve done enough of them LOL!) Communicating the next steps is so important though! I’ve had screens where things were clearly not a fit and I was told shortly afterwards and other full length interviews on the phone where I’m still left wondering.

  7. Jubilance

    Phone interviews are so great, but I’m not a fan of HR/recruiting people doing them who don’t have a sense of the job role or what skills are applicable. I’ve had a couple situations where I was asked to apply for a role by a mentor, in a role where I had related experience but it wasn’t a perfect 1:1 match – the job req was looking for experience making Vanilla Teapots and I have experience making Chocolate Teapots. The person doing the initial screens had no background in the technology/industry & and so any answer other than “yes I have experience making Vanilla Teapots exactly” would get you eliminated. I wound up being interviewed anyway because the hiring manager knew that my experience with Chocolate Teapots made me a possible fit for the role. Having someone screen who understands what things are dealbreakers and what things aren’t are very key.

    1. not funny

      I think that HR can do the screens for the logistics and interpersonal deal breakers but you’re right, it makes sense to leave the job skills to people who might have a better idea about the job.

      1. NylaW

        HR does have a purpose, but I think maybe the HR person could be on the call, ask their potential deal breakers, and then let the hiring manager take over.

        Though I can’t help but think that step could be eliminated all together if job descriptions and posting were more upfront and clear about expectations for salary, relocation, etc.

      2. Stephanie

        I think HR can do phone screens fine. The company just needs to get the HR screeners more involved with the business and really understanding the position they’re recruiting for.

        Alternatively, HR just needs to literally do a screen (logistics, salary, availability, etc.) and then have another phone interview with the hiring manager to suss out the specific job qualifications.

      3. Penny

        As someone who does this for my company I’d say it depends on the job. Culture fit at my company is even more important than having the perfect skills so I do more of a culture screen. But I also meet with the hiring manager before starting to learn more about the job and their dealbreakers so I can narrow the pool too. For most jobs it’s fine but some, like IT jobs I don’t even try to ask job related questions, just straight up culture, logistics and fact checking.

      4. Cassie

        I haven’t had many “real” interviews (by which I mean, most of mine were within the same dept that I currently work) but I think it would for the hiring manager to do the phone interview as well for the “interpersonal” aspect. Everyone is different so what may seem like a fun, quirky personality to an HR person could be a grating, annoying, stab-me-with-this-letter-opener personality for the hiring manager. Or vice versa.

        Unless we’re just talking about screening out the most basic social conventions – like is the person talking with their mouth full during the interview, etc.

    2. NylaW

      This x 1000!

      I had a phone interview that was done by HR and it was basically useless. They asked me questions that they could have answered by looking at my resume, and the questions I asked them they were unable to answer effectively. I met all the basic qualifications so I had a phone interview with the hiring manager that was much more informative.

      1. HR “Gumption”

        HR wasn’t interviewing you, they were part of the screening process. The hiring manager was the interview in which you were screened for.

        1. Andrew

          In that case, it sounds like it was needless for HR to call her, since everything they asked was on her resume. No point in calling her just to satisfy the bureaucracy when they have the information available.

      2. Rachel - HR

        As an HR person doing phone screens…There are some questions I ask the candidates that I can clearly read off their resumes. I may already know what your answer is going to be but I want to know how you communicate.

        Also, sometimes those are just prep questions to get to more meaty questions. For example, I may ask someone to tell me about their job duties in their last job and then when they’re relaxed follow up with asking why they left that job (which is what I really want to know but I find too abrasive to ask alone).

    3. Bryan

      I agree 100%. In my last job hunt it was like rolling the dice to see if I could make it past an HR phone screen.

      And on my end they could not answer any questions I had. They did not know enough about the industry specific questions and generic ones like “why do you like working here?’ were pointless since they work in another building and only deal with my department during the hiring process.

    4. Joey

      That’s an HR person that’s not engaged enough in the business. They should have at least enough of an understanding of the jobs their recruiting for to take care of the basics.

    5. Lynn Whitehat

      Yes, so much of this. I’m a software developer, and I HATE the pre-screen with an HR person who doesn’t know what any of the nouns in the job description mean, but has been told to screen for them anyway. I’ve definitely learned to tailor my resume to the exact words in the job ad. If it says “experience developing for Windows”, my resume better say “Windows” and not assume that HR will realize that XP, Vista, Server 2008, Server 2012, and WinCE are flavors of Windows.

      I wish the managers would either write postings less specifically or give HR a list of things that are “close enough”. The manager will specify PostgreSQL in the ad, and the candidate says, well, my experience is more with Oracle, MySQL, and MS SQL, and HR doesn’t even know if those are things that actually exist, let alone whether they are close enough. (Yes, I realize sometimes only PostgreSQL will do and that’s fine. But often they really mean “experience with databases”, and they just happen to use
      PostgreSQL.)

  8. Holly

    And if you do a phone interview, please follow-up with the person you interviewed to let them know if they’re moving on to an in-person interview. Especially if you told them you’d follow up.

    I’m on the other end waiting to hear something and it’s been 2 days since I was supposed to find out….very nervewracking.

    1. Anonymous

      Oh my gosh, this very much!

      Just because it’s a phone interview doesn’t mean the candidates don’t deserve the courtesy of a follow-up yay or nay answer.

    2. Felicia

      This so much! I had a phone interview about an hour ago, and t hey said they’ll be in touch by the end of the week. I think it went well, and they asked when I’d be available for an in person interview, they just need to check the other person who’d interview me’s schedule. Sounds great, only this has happened before and I never heard from them again after the phone interview. Let everyone you do a phone screen know one way or another , ESPECIALLY if you specifically say you will.

      1. Frustrated Job Seeker #983545685373

        Totally agree! I had a phone interview with a hiring manager who told me that either he or the internal recruiter would get back to me. I’ve followed up numerous times and still haven’t received a yes or no answer.

    3. Jubilance

      Good point. I had (what I thought was) a great phone screen and was told I’d be hearing something shortly about scheduling an interview with the hiring manager. 3 weeks later I got an automated “other candidates better fit our criteria” email. I knew I wasn’t going to get the role after never hearing anything back, but it wouldn’t have killed them to email me and say that the hiring manager wasn’t interested.

      1. Holly

        I emailed the hiring manager today asking about her timeline and she forwarded it to HR, who in-turn forwarded me a rejection notice – literally taking a sent mail she sent someone else and forwarded it to me -with a note at the top saying these were sent out Friday and she guessed she just missed me.

        Sigh.

  9. CuriousAnon

    What are some real examples/experiences you’ve had with “interpersonal deal-breakers”? Lack of enthusiasm? Rudeness? Profanity?

    1. some1

      I haven’t done hiring, but when I was a receptionist I would say the candidates who called and grilled me for tons information before they even submitted their resume or had an interview turned me off.

      Also, the candidates who would show up for interviews over an hour early and would not heed my suggestion to go grab a cup of coffee and come back (we were not set up for people to wait long in our reception area) and instead just stared at me for an hour.

      1. Anonimosity

        I did the initial phone screens to replace myself as Admin. Assistant in my last job, and I talked to candidates who complained at length about their last job (the people, their role, etc.), candidates who spoke very little, sighed, and didn’t seem interested in the job in general, and candidates who seemed surprised that I called, even though we were scheduled to speak at the appointed time. Those were all interpersonal deal-breakers to me because if they’re like that on the phone, who knows how much worse they are in real life!

        1. Anonymous

          This happened to me today! Had a phone screen where they told me the salary upfront and it’s $20k less than I currently earn. I told her I couldn’t even consider the position, but I appreciated her being so upfront. (She then told me every candidate has said the salary is too low, and I suggested if they couldn’t budge on money, to change the job title. My good deed for the day, I guess.)

    2. College Career Counselor

      I’ve experienced candidates on the phone who rambled for several minutes, despite repeated efforts to move them to the next question. That particular experience demonstrated a lack of focus, poor sense of the audience (the candidate knew in advance who would be on the conference call), and an inability to edit him/herself appropriately to a reasonable-length answer.

      Overall, that demonstrated poor self-awareness (and, yes, I get that it’s challenging on the phone when you can’t see your audience–but STILL!) and a lack of communication skills in a role that was ALL about interacting with a variety of constituencies. I think we knew in the first five minutes that this person’s candidacy was not going forward. It would have been a complete waste of time to bring the candidate in for an in-person meeting, let alone a day-long campus interview.

      1. Legaljobs

        What do you if the interviewer is talking over you to go on to her next point? It seemed like she was rushed. The entire process lasted 10 minutes and she called me 15 minutes after she was supposed to call.

        1. Saturn9

          “I’m sorry but you seem rushed. Would this work better if we rescheduled for another time?”

          (And please tell me she apologized for being 15 minutes late, or at the very least acknowledged it.)

          1. Legal jobs

            She did apologize. I just didn’t know how to politely say I would rather reschedule.

            She’s actually not the worst. One called me up 50 minutes after the scheduled time. This is one reason that I like the phone interview. It gives me a sense of the organization without the in person hassle.

    3. Diet Coke Addict

      I would assume it’s things like they don’t seem engaged or interested (or well-spoken if it’s a job that requires a lot of interpersonal skills), aren’t familiar with the position in question (“uhhh what job did I apply for?”), not taking the conversation seriously, or general lack of a professional and mature attitude.

      Additionally, craziness incompatible with the job. Just any manner of weirdly off-the-wall things that may not be evident in a resume, but is obvious once you speak to a person for a few minutes, like the person introduces themselves with a little trumpet noise (like the candidate who interviewed at an old job who introduced himself going “I’m [Candidate]! Ta-ran-ta-RA!!!” with a little doodly noise).

      1. littlemoose

        So did you actually have a candidate introduce himself with verbal fanfare, or is this just a hypothetical example? Because I’m cracking up picturing it.

        1. Diet Coke Addict

          Nope. We really had that. A college-educated guy in his mid-20s. He did not get asked for another interview.

          1. Windchime

            I hope that he also winked and clicked little “finger-guns” at you. Please say he did. That would make my day. :)

            1. Diet Coke Addict

              No, but that would have been excellent!! He did give some jazzy Tom Haverford-style hand gestures, though. I think someone at his college told him to “make a splash” or something awful like that.

      2. Kelly L.

        In my job search last year, I actually got called to interview for jobs I hadn’t applied for and had no idea I was in the running for. I’d applied for a particular job at an institution and my materials had been put in a pool for other departments needing a similar type of employee. I was pretty confused when I got the first of these calls! On the positive side, at least the interviewers knew this pooling went on, so maybe they didn’t think I was the biggest flake ever.

    4. Interviewer

      I called a guy to set up an interview, and his cellphone asked me to “please enjoy the music while your party is reached.” I was then treated to a profane rap song that referred to women with swear words. That is a dealbreaker.

    5. HR “Gumption”

      I schedule phone interviews so if there is confusion about the position applied or no research on the company itself, both can be deal breakers. I also make sure they understand the salary range, work schedule, and other details that may effect the fit from either side.

    6. Joey

      The most common? Fake canned responses, scattered, stiff, overly friendly, too casual, evasive, inability to understand concepts, too salesy, no self awareness, lack of accountability, too serious, too talkative, too quiet

  10. ali

    Ugh, I hate phone screens. I am hearing impaired and really struggle on the phone, even with assistive technology. So I have to let the person on the other end know right away that I need accomodation, which while they can’t not hire me for that, it can definitely leave the wrong first impression. If I’m face-to-face, I can lipread and tend to be able to hide the hearing issues.

    Although, I am usually upfront about it during the interview process, I like to be the one to decide when/how to disclose it. A phone screen generally takes that choice away from me.

    1. Anonymous

      I can sympathize a little as I am deaf in one ear, but being upfront about it, asking for an accommodation, and seeing their response, will really tell you if it’s the kind of organization you want to work for.

  11. Anon4this

    On this note, if you have some bizarre requirement that you have to interview a certain number of people even you know you’re going to give the job to an internal applicant anyway, a phone interview can fulfill that (in some places anyway) and save a person the gas and dressing-up time. I hate with a passion that people are having their time wasted like that anyway on what is a fake interview, but at least they don’t have to leave their house for the phone interview.

    Yes, this happened to me recently so forgive the bitter, but I sure would have rather had a phone interview than waste the gas driving, the money I don’t have buying clothes, and my time.

    1. Elodie

      I know this doesn’t make it any better, but its frustrating from the other end too. When you are the candidate you know they want internally but you have to wait weeks to find out, while wringing your hands, hoping that some other person doesn’t come in and wow them.

      I really think these should be done away with. I know its to help offset nepotism, but I think this makes people equally miserable.

      1. Anon4this

        Oh I agree, it stinks for all concerned. They really need to do away with this nonsense and find some better way of handling nepotism or whatever else they are concerned with. Giving unemployed candidates hope and making them spend money they don’t have on clothes, gas, etc to go to an interview is just downright cruel. It also sucks for the internal candidate as you mentioned. It’s just all-around awful.

        1. tcookson

          My university has the requirement to interview a certain number of applicants, and a phone screen won’t take care of it, either. We are required to do a full-on search for every position, all the way to in-person interviews for a pool of at least three (I think) finalists.

          When I got my job, I was the incumbent temp, and I knew the department head had told the dean’s assistant (who serves as our HR liaison) that he wanted to hire me, but watching the other candidates come in and be introduced around to everyone was still torture — I was constantly worried that they’d find someone better. In retrospect, it was a farce for the other applicants, too.

          1. Rob Bean

            I saw that at a university job I was working. Everyone knew who had the job but other candidates came in and made presentations. It was narrowed down to two finalists and I remember greeting one who was sitting outside the office waiting for her final interview. She was nervous and I wanted to tell her “don’t be. the other candidate had the job in the bag before you even applied.” But I didn’t and sure enough, the internal slob got the job. Four months later she moved to another state and left the job.

  12. Seattle Writer Girl

    SALARY, SALARY, SALARY!

    If companies are going to continue to refuse to put salary ranges on job ads (or the ubiquitous “Depends on Experience”), than the least they can do is save everyone some time and tell people over the phone instead of at an interview.

    1. Sourire

      Yep, I completely agree that this is a great time to make sure both parties are on the same page when it comes to salary. It makes no sense to bring a candidate in for an in-person interview if salary is going to be an immediate deal-breaker.

      And like AAM has mentioned many times, this needs to be a two-way conversation. It shouldn’t just be about asking the candidate for their range. I think by this stage the company should be willing to give out their figures as well.

    2. Lia

      Yep. My partner recently had a phone interview with a company that did not disclose salary in the ad. At the end of the interview, they said the range was $x to $y (which seemed low-ish for the industry, although our part of the country underpays), with more “possible” — the more was necessary to match the current salary he was making. He had another phone interview with them a week later, and they finally admitted that they couldn’t even match his current salary. Big waste of time for him and for them. It turned out their desired salary was at the very low end of the range they gave.

      1. EmployeeOfPointyHairedBoss

        This happened to me, I was unemployed and interviewing. I was very clear on my range from the very start of phone screen. I said was flexible if and only if there were other things to make up for it like more PTO. I was offered 2k less than I was making the year before, with less benefits and less PTO. I turned them down and happily got an offer two months later paying 17k more than what they had offered me with a different company. Very glad I stuck to my range.

    3. Jen in RO

      I was phone screened this week and I’m glad I was asked about salary. The interviewer sputtered when she heard my number (which was only slightly more than I make now), so it was obvious we weren’t a good match.

      1. Stevie Wonders

        I get this a lot too. But then, I’ve heard anecdotes about companies offering already employed folks considerably less than their current salaries! Then complain that their offers are rejected!

    4. Jubilance

      +100

      I had a phone screen recently which was going well, until they informed me of their firm salary limit which was at least $25K below market for the skills they were looking forward. I thanked them for letting me know and told them I wasn’t interested in the position. I’d rather take 20 minutes and find out if salary is a dealbreaker than go through a face-to-face interview and find out afterwards.

    5. chewbecca

      My boyfriend recently applied for an internal position and at no point during his discussion with HR or during the interview did they discuss salary. When I asked him, he said he doesn’t like to talk about salary until he has an offer. My mind was boggled.

      1. Ruffingit

        That is so weird to me. Salary is one of the major considerations with a job. Not discussing it until the offer stage is just bizarre.

    6. Elodie

      I also hate when they offer a range, only to say we can only offer the lowest end of that, regardless of qualifications. Government jobs are notorious for this. I don’t understand it.

      1. Sourire

        I wonder if maybe the range is for the position nationally, and you are applying in an area on the lower end of the cost of living scale? Otherwise I’m stumped as well.

    7. Stevie Wonders

      That is exactly why I’ve become aggressive in clarifying salary during initial phone screen after wasting too many interviews on positions where the salary was hopelessly inadequate. And yep, it is shocking how low the salaries can be even for senior software development positions with the usual laundry list of essential AND preferred qualifications that strike me as unrealistic for any actual living person. Didn’t matter whether I was employed or not, lowballed regardless.

  13. some1

    Logistical dealbreakers, yes! Back when I was trying to transition from retail to an entry-level office job, I didn’t have full-time access to a car, so I purposely only applied to jobs that were on a bus line. Phone interviews allowed me to confirm they were at X address, instead of some satellite location I didn’t know about.

  14. Laura2

    Yes to all of this. There are a few jobs lately where I’ve turned down second interviews because I realized that the company or the job just wasn’t a good fit.

    But no automated phone interviews. Those things are awkward as hell because they take the personal interaction element out of it. I don’t want to feel like I’m recording a voice mail.

    1. AAA

      This is a thing? I’ve never heard of automated phone interviews! That seems really awkward for the job-seeker, and it’s a bummer not to be able to ask questions.

  15. Felicia

    Only thing I’d say, is try not to do impromptu phone interviews. Ok, if you say “can you talk now?” I can lie and say I can’t, but I’m so nervous and don’t know that you’re just going to interview people on the spot. Scheduling a time for a phone interview so the person can prepare is important, and so many people forget that part.

      1. EmployeeOfPointyHairedBoss

        I played phone tag for two weeks then email the recruiter directly and said these are my times, tell me when you are free. Happily they actually got back to me and we were able to speak. Unfortunately after talking to them it was clear the job description needed some work as they were rejecting anyone who didn’t work daily on a very specific skill set which only a small subset was mention in passing in the description amongst a whole list of other skills. I’m going on Glassdoor and warning people off bothering applying for the team.

    1. EmployeeOfPointyHairedBoss

      Absolutely. If I don’t know your number you can speak to the voicemail. Also cell phone reception in and around my office is extremely bad so I couldn’t talk even I wanted too.

  16. Artemesia

    Our hiring effectiveness improved drastically when we started doing this. I remember a search with 150 applicants. Half were immediately discarded. The remaining 75 yielded maybe 10-15 plausible semi finalists. We then selected the top 6 to interview on phone. The six were all great on paper; we really didn’t have a favorite going into this. Three were clearly not a good fit and it was obvious during the hour long phone interview. (we had a three person search team interview in a conference call format; we worked well together and could smoothly hand off and have similar questions for each applicant) Of the final three, 2 were clearly stars and one a possible. We flew the top two in for in person interviews and hired one of those.

    Previously we had had the frustration of flying in three people, none of whom were what we wanted. Phone interview screens are a must.

    1. Joey

      See I’ve always done skype or caught the top candidates in town I just hate spending money to fly multiple candidates mostly because I’m cheap. I always always insist on an in person before we extend an offer, but I try to narrow it down to my top candidate before asking someone to invest the time it takes to travel.

      1. Stephanie

        I’m kind of baffled at jobs that don’t want to interview in-person. I can get not wanting to incur recruiting travel costs, but it just seems odd to not want to physically meet a person you’ll be working with indefinitely.

        1. Ali

          I don’t know that it necessarily makes an employer odd, though. I work remotely for a perfectly legitimate company and was not flown across the country to meet anyone in person. Last year, I was in the top three for another job and did my interview process entirely by phone.

          Then again, I am trying to find work in an industry where it is not uncommon for people to relocate for work even at the entry level. (Even though, that said, some employers in my field do hesitate about non-local candidates. I lost an opportunity over this.) So…who really knows?

            1. Ali

              No I didn’t at all. The interview was done remotely, as the process was simple at the time. They may have changed it in the few years since I’ve applied, but I was asked a few questions over e-mail and had to provide a writing sample. (I work in media.) I started as an intern, took a paid job after when it was offered and got a promotion in late 2012/early 2013. So I didn’t meet anyone in person ahead of time, but it’s worked out just fine for me and, I assume, several of my coworkers who have also been promoted from within and we make up a good team.

              And like I said, this is not a shady company at all. It’s actually a well-known name in my industry.

          1. Stephanie

            I could see how that could be done, especially if it’s relocation is common.

            Hmm, senior year of college, I got a couple of job offers (oh pre-2008 economy…) for mass-hiring requisitions (e.g., college hire mechanical engineers for Puget Sound requisitions). I chatted with someone at a conference career fair and then interviewed at the conference the next day (and received an offer a couple of weeks later). But even then, I still met with someone in-person.

            To me, without something in-person, it seems like you’re missing out on a lot of interpersonal things (both ways). And if it’s out-of-town, unless you’re familiar with the area already, you miss out on a lot of little things about the office and the area.

          2. TheSnarkyB

            Yeah, but you work remotely. I think it’s very different if these are the people you’ll be dealing with all day.

      2. AdjunctForNow

        I’m interviewing all over the place, and the schools that are trying to “catch me in town” are rapidly falling to the bottom of my list.

  17. Anonymous

    Timely! I have an first interview tomorrow morning and it’s in-person.

    Given my field and the organization, I’m not sure they’re interviewing a ton of candidates anyway, but yeah, it would be a lot easier not to have to take off a couple hours from work, do a quick costume change from suit to “regular” work clothes in my car, etc.

    1. Anonymous

      Ugh, update. Yeah, this is definitely an interview that could have been done by phone. Stock list of 5 or 6 questions they asked every candidate, with a second round of interviews (for some) to come.

      Vaguely irritated I took two hours out of my workday for that.

  18. Anonymous

    And make sure if you do do a phone interview that you ask about things that are conditional for the job, instead of doing a very short phone screen and then doing an in-person interview where it comes out there the candidate isn’t a good fit.

    1. Ruffingit

      Oh AMEN! I hate finding out in the second in-person interview that being bilingual is a requirement (for example). That is a clear deal breaker for a number of people who don’t speak another language so be upfront about that kind of thing in the ad or on the phone, but preferably in the ad.

        1. Chocolate Teapot

          Oh yes. I once had an information interview where the job description said that French and German were necessary, but, when I asked about the work, I was told they were organising events in Italy and Spain!

  19. Anon

    This happened to me once. I got a call for an in person interview. When I went in the FIRST thing she said was, “The salary for this position is X (about 20 to 30,000 lower than industry standard) and it’s non-negotiable.” I had taken time off work and traveled for this position only to find out (via her first statement) that I couldn’t take the job even if I wanted to. I stayed for the rest of the interview, but the pay was one of about 40 red flags…any of which would have turned me off the position. Clearly they knew the salary when sending me an email to set it up…why not just say it?

    1. Joey

      Sometimes I think they’re hoping if they can at least get you in the door and sell you on other aspects of the job you’re more likely to accept a lower salary.

  20. JustMe

    I had my first ever phone interview yesterday, and found out today I’m not moving forward (I wasn’t a close enough match). It sucks because I thought I was a good fit for the position, but I am really glad I didn’t have to book time off and arrange a ride, only to be turned down. I’d rather just be rejected than inconvenienced *and* rejected.

  21. Susan

    I recently had a really positive experience for a job I didn’t get. They did a 10-minute phone interview before the actual interview. I think their purpose was to make sure people understood this was largely an administrative job (it was at a marketing firm), but how it functioned in me was showing their professionalism. During the phone interview, she said she’d mail me a formal application once we were done talking (which she did within minutes). She responded by email thanking me for my application when I sent it that night. After the in-person interview, she said they’d probably know by the end of the week–and when they didn’t know at the end of the week, she sent me another email with an updated timeframe!

    I left feeling that they were incredibly courteous and respectful of the time of the people they interact with. When I was turned down for the job, I responded saying what a pleasure it was and I’d love to be considered for future positions (that seemed to make sense to say since I was in the final selection), and I really meant it. There are other company’s that probably will have new job openings in the future, and it won’t occur to me to keep looking at their website.

    I just feel like generally seeming like you’re organized is a good way to also get good applicants!

    1. voluptuousfire

      +This. 1 x infinity x 1 zillion.

      It’s shocking how so many places aren’t organized.

  22. Susan

    I am a hiring manager. I select candidates for HR to screen by phone. If there are local candidates that HR feels match my “wants” then I often will have the candidate come in and talk with me for 30 minutes, either first thing in morning or at end of the day (so not to disrupt their schedule). I find this in-person interview, after initial HR phone screen, to work really well to identify very good candidates that we then bring in for a half or full day interview with the team.

    1. dh37

      ” If there are local candidates that HR feels match my “wants” then I often will have the candidate come in and talk with me for 30 minutes, either first thing in morning or at end of the day (so not to disrupt their schedule).”

      As someone who is currently looking for a job locally, I have to strongly disagree. At least in the metro area I live, even a relatively close location is a 20+ minute drive when there’s no traffic. At rush hour, that can easily become 40 min.

      So something as simple as a 30 min phone call balloons into a 90 min+ hassle.

  23. Legaljobs

    I generally agree and prefer it as a candidate.

    The only tweaks that I would add are (1) make certain that the person on the phone is a trained professional rather than a hiring manager who may not know how to frame what they are seeking so without the visual cues I can’t figure out what they are seeking from the questions (happened for a long term contract position in which they kept asking questions about sales although I am a lawyer) and (b) make certain that the questions actually do screen rather than to repeat in the interview which raised the question whether the screen interview really was used to screen. With (b), from an applicant stand point, it raised the question in my mind about whether HR and the hiring manager were just going through the motions with me when I thought about it later. During the interview, I just gave my answers and tried to sell myself on the phone, but I did find myself repeating myself.

  24. T

    I’m sorry if I’m repeating what someone else already posted. My concern is that if I schedule a phone interview, but everyone else is interviewing in person, won’t that put me at a disadvantage?

    I’m kind of in that situation now. I had an interview scheduled for tomorrow in a city 5.5 hours from my home. They offered me the option of doing a phone interview, but I decided my chances of impressing them are better in person. Because of the bad weather expected there tonight and tomorrow, the hiring manager contacted me and made the decision to reschedule in case a snowstorm would have had their offices closed. One advantage of this is that I have gotten a feel for how the upper-level supervisor communicates and shows consideration for people he works with.

    If they are not screening all candidates by telephone, is it beneficial to suggest that they screen only me? What questions would I ask with only the information from a brief job description to go on?

    1. Susan

      I think Alison’s post was more directed at managers–if the hiring manager doesn’t screen you before bringing you in that’s on them, not you! I think some people feel like they’re already so busy and Alison is making the point that it actually saves them time, but some managers don’t see it like that. But I wouldn’t suggest yourself that they screen you–it might come off like you think you know more than they do.

      Anyway, for my previous job, I was concerned about doing a phone interview instead of coming in-person (they gave me an option). The position was 6 hours away (so just like you!) and I really wanted to go in-person because I thought that would be better, but I was also finishing my finals for my last semester of college so a 12-hour roundtrip was a bad idea. The advice I got was just to do the phone interview and that it wouldn’t hurt me, and it didn’t– I got the job. I’m not sure across the board if that’s the case, but I suspect especially in your case where they’re the ones making the choice to do it over the phone, it really won’t factor into their decision at all.

  25. Tara T.

    I agree completely that if candidates have to travel, a phone interview is better at the beginning. Also, even when local, and whether by phone or e-mail, an interviewer should be able to tell something about the candidate’s personality and patience by watching carefully. Even a short phone conversation, or a couple of e-mails, can be helpful. For example, I once applied for a job in which the interviewer promised in an e-mail to call me sometime on Friday, and the day passed with no call, so on Monday, I sent a polite e-mail. She apologized, and we corresponded by e-mails for the next two weeks – finally she set up interviews and included me. Well, if I had been impatient or impolite, they would have decided to throw out my resume. I ended up getting the job!

  26. mialoubug

    It certainly does help! I brought one woman in cold for an open position; that was a waste of time. The next group I sent emails to in order to find a good time that we could speak by phone. I figured it would save us both time to schedule the phone interview in advance since this was a receptionist type job and many of the applicants were already in similar jobs. I gave them the opportunity to give me some of the optimal times that they could speak to me without causing work problems on their end. I thought I was being accommodating.

    Here is one email exchange that saved me wasting even more time. I

    ME: I am writing to you in regards to the Staff Assistant position that you applied to. I would be interested in speaking with you about this position to find out why you applied and see if this is the right fit for both of us. To that end, could you please send me — via email — some dates and times that we could speak by phone for a pre interview? Thanks so much

    CANDIDATE: I would be very interested in having a chat with you. I will be able to receive a call from you anytime during the day on Friday or thereafter. My cell number is…

    ME: Thanks so much. Please indicate dates and times that would be appropriate for me to call you. I would prefer to schedule the times in my calendar.

    CANDIDATE: I will call you tomorrow at 11:30. Please forward the best number to reach you at

    By this time, I had decided that this was not going to work with this candidate. However, I gave it one last shot, and tried to rest control back:

    ME: Once again, please send me a DATES AND TIMES for us to have a scheduled, mutually available time to speak. Please send at least three separate timeslots so that I can schedule accordingly. I am not available for any phone calls tomorrow. Therefore, please send me your availability to speak on the phone next week.. Once that is scheduled, I will send telephone information.

    And the candidate’s final correspondence:
    Thank you for the opportunity, but I think I will pass. I can already tell this would not be a good fit for me. Simply because I feel it is up to you to give ME times that you have available on YOUR calendar for me to choose. When I call to schedule interviews with interviewees, I give the available times and people choose from that.
    So, once again thank you, but no thanks

    So yes, email and phone interviews work really, really well.

    BTW, she was the only candidate who did this. Everyone else sent a variety of dates and times and each one received the same email.

    1. Stephanie

      That is bizarre. Most of the time, the interviewer asks for my availability, but on occasion the interviewer gives me a couple of options (and to let her know if none of the suggestions work). But I don’t get why this candidate would be so miffed to give a couple of 30-minute time slots. You probably dodged a bullet there.

    2. K

      I don’t know- I think I’m Team Candidate. Your part in this exchange also sounds unnecessarily difficult. She said she was open Friday or after; why not take her at her word and schedule accordingly? Your mention of wanting to “rest” control back seems telling here.

  27. Ashley

    Wow, that email sure saved a lot of time and effort! For phone screens, is the amount of time taken relative to your chances of moving on? My interviewer said it should take about 45 minutes with 10 questions and I only took about 20! Was this a mistake on my part? I worry I wasn’t thorough enough, or is 45 minutes just to give you a time budget?

    Thanks for all of your posts, they’ve been enormously helpful!

  28. dh37

    Great suggestion, but sometimes even with a phone screen, the hiring process is broken.

    For example, I’m on the job hunt now (while currently employed). It’s clear from my resume that I know math and coding, and some statistics, and that I don’t know any bioinformatics/DNA stuff. And I’m completely up front about that.

    I did a phone screen with the team lead at a biotech company, and then two on-site interviews. Result? They liked my math background but couldn’t get past my lack of genomics experience. Fine, but you could have figured that out from reading my resume, let alone bringing me in for two on-site interviews.

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