11 of the Best Phone Interview Questions

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Caroline Forsey
Caroline Forsey



The average job opening attracts 250 resumes, and the average interview process from start to finish can take 23 days. Phone interviews can help you determine which candidates have the critical thinking and interpersonal skills necessary for an in-person interview. When you weed out less qualified applicants right off the bat, you can narrow down your candidate pool, and limit the amount of time wasted in your search.

phone interview questions

While a resume supplies you with general information about a person’s background, a phone interview helps you ask second-level questions to start forming a deeper, more holistic picture of a candidate's background and skills.Free Guide: 50 Common Interview Questions [Download Now]

But with only about thirty minutes on the phone, what questions can you ask to build good rapport with your interviewee and receive some truly insightful answers? Better yet, what can you ask to decipher whether the applicant is a good fit for your company and the role?

To help you get the most out of your phone interview process, we’ve narrowed down to eleven of the best questions to ensure you’re discovering the the best candidates to bring into the office.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself?

While this question sounds really simple, it actually serves an important purpose. First, it helps put the candidate at ease -- it’s an easy one, and one she should expect. Second, your interviewee will likely bring up whatever she is most excited about or proud of in relation to the role, and this will help steer the direction of your entire conversation.

Look for the candidate to list out a few skills she’s learned from prior experiences that relate directly to the role. A good candidate will incorporate some key phrases from the job description into her answer, demonstrating she’s prepared and aware of what the role entails.

2. What attracted you to apply for this position?

You want to figure out how much research she’s done, and whether her perspective of the role is accurate (if she mentions she can’t wait for creative opportunities, but this is largely an analytical role, she might not understand the position’s responsibilities). This question is also an easy way to see how genuinely interested a candidate is in your company. Look for a candidate who expresses her interest in the tasks required for the specific role, rather than more secondary benefits that come from working at your company -- like the awesome snack room, or team outings

3. How would you describe your work style?

What if your interviewee says she works best in collaborative, social settings, yet the role she's applying for requires a lot of independent work? Although this might not be a deal breaker, it’s good to know early on whether this person will be the best fit for the work style necessary to excel in this position. Hopefully, the interviewee will describe a work style that fits your requirements.

4. What can you tell me that isn’t on your resume that is important for me to know about you?

This question shows the candidate that you care about who she is as a person, beyond what a piece of paper says about her. It also encourages the candidate to avoid using her resume as a crutch, and forces her to reflect more deeply on what she views as her biggest strengths.

With this question, you’ve asked the candidate to provide just one thing, so it’s pretty likely that whatever the candidate tells you, it will be very important to her. Look for a candidate who has the confidence to reply with something she is truly passionate about -- you might want to use this question as an icebreaker at the beginning of a phone interview, but you can also use it halfway through the interview if you feel the candidate’s answers are stiff and you want to uncover some deeper layers to her personality.

5. Would you rather finish something late and perfectly, or on-time and imperfectly?

A "would-you-rather" question is an opportunity for your candidate to showcase her priorities and decision-making methods. You’ll want to look for a candidate who is good at thinking on her feet, and able to respond confidently to this question -- her answer isn’t as important as how she delivers it, since the question doesn’t really have an obvious right or wrong answer. Look for a candidate who can answer firmly, with good reasoning to back it up and a self-assuredness that indicates someone who can make decisions efficiently without lingering in self-doubt.

6. What would you say is the most important skill you’ve learned in your current role? What’s an area you'd like to improve on?

You already know the skills listed on her resume, but a description without a deeper explanation often isn’t enough: plenty of people can write “hard working” on a resume, but it’s more important to know how they can exemplify that. You’ll want the candidate to say something along the lines of, “In my past job, I learned a lot about SEO, but I think there’s still room for me to grow in that area. In particular I’d love to learn more about keyword research, and how I can use more advanced tactics to grow my company's organic traffic. I’m hoping my next role will offer learning opportunities in that area.”

In her answer, she admits her content can get better, and although she’s skilled at something, there’s still room for her to grow. If you’re unsure of whether or not her skills are adept enough for the job, you can ask follow-up questions, but her initial answer is enough to demonstrate she’s flexible, willing to learn, and capable of accepting criticism.

7. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your current role? Tell me about it.

It’s not a bad sign if your candidate has faced problems in her prior position: it means she’s human. But it’s critical to know her problem-solving methods. Let’s say she mentions she once worked with a client who was difficult. Look for her to talk about how she was able to reach a mutually-benefitial compromise and learned to work with the client by adapting her own strategy. It’s important that she can demonstrate empathy for other people, rather than putting the blame on the other party. Plus, you’ll want her to tell you about her own ability to solve problems creatively and efficiently, rather than dwelling on the frustrations of the experience.

8. Why are you leaving your job/why are you looking elsewhere?

You’ll want to know why the candidate’s current job is unfulfilling, so you can evaluate how your company or position could fill the void. This also speaks to her character. If she says, “I’m leaving my current job because I don’t really like the people I work with,” this isn’t a great sign. While it may be true, it hints that she might have a tough time getting along with other people. Instead, look for a candidate who desires a more challenging role, or a position that can satisfy her job-related passions. Hopefully, this position is a better fit for her, and you can express that.

9. What’s some feedback that you’ve received that was difficult to hear, but ultimately has proven really valuable?

It won’t be easy for the candidate to relay some tough criticism to you, but it’s critical that she is mature and self-aware enough to show she can receive difficult feedback and use it constructively.

Look for a candidate who can be honest and non-judgmental about feedback she has received. You want a candidate to focus on how the criticism helped her improve -- ideally, she will even say she’s grateful that the criticism taught her skills that eventually helped her grow. It’s not a good sign if applicants become defensive when asked this question, or blame the feedback-giver and refuse to take accountability. This could indicate a lack of maturity when it comes to receiving and using feedback to improve, and could be a problem for you down the road.

10. If you could have dinner with three famous people who are no longer living, who would they be and why?

This question can offer some insight into who your candidate finds inspirational, and that’s valuable information for understanding which traits she values most for personal growth. Plus, it’s a fun one to answer, and it’s likely that your applicant has thought about this before (I know I have).

Look for a candidate who can provide you with a list of influential people, with convincing reasons as to why they inspire her. The reasoning in itself isn’t that important, but you’ll want to find a candidate who can explain how and why she’s inspired by certain people and ideas, and how those philisophies have shaped her own career path.

11. What questions can I answer for you?

Opening it up for questions will let you get a read on your candidate’s concerns, but even more importantly, it shows how well prepared she is. If she doesn’t have any questions, it’s most likely because she either isn’t that passionate about the role, or believes she’s overqualified for it. You’ll want her to ask thoughtful, specific questions that prove her interest in the role. You’ll also want to see she can take questions to a deeper, more analytical level. Look for a candidate who asks unique questions to prove she’s done her homework, and also listened well during your phone conversation. For instance, if she asks a generic question you already answered in the beginning of your conversation, it might not be a great sign.

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Topics: Interviews

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