Creating Connection, Not Just Compliance With Phone Interviews

A woman is on a video interview with another woman showcasing the importance of knowing how to conduct a phone interview.

Creating Connection, Not Just Compliance With Phone Interviews

As businesses continue to adjust to the new post-pandemic reality, many continue to rely heavily on conducting phone and Zoom interviews rather than in-person ones. This means taking extra steps to ensure adherence to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) compliance standards. However, many organizations are allowing compliance concerns to dominate their candidate screening process. As a result, interviews are heavily scripted to ensure they are lawful. Make no mistake: scripting for legal compliance is an essential first step. But, if the conversation never digs any deeper than basic facts, an interviewer may walk away with no real understanding of the candidate. It’s not just about knowing how to conduct a phone interview, but how to create a connection with the person you’re interviewing.

By establishing a connection with those we’re interviewing, not only are you able to learn more about the candidate, but they are also able to learn more about the company through you as its ambassador. Nothing is worse than having a perfectly good candidate walk away from an offer because you blew the interview. By showing more humanity during the phone interview process, recruiters and hiring managers are more likely to get the information they need to select the right candidate. Let’s take a deeper look at what we like to call ‘phone interview therapy.’

Make Candidates Feel at Ease

It’s no secret that the interview process can be the most stressful part of job hunting. This means there are a lot of hiring managers causing a lot of anxiety out there. A rigidly scripted recitation of rules and regulations won’t help applicants feel relaxed and comfortable enough to showcase their true selves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, employers must take some time at the start of each conversation to build rapport before diving into specific questions about qualifications and experience.

In today’s market, small talk can go a long way in reducing stress levels and helping candidates present themselves in the best light possible. One of our favorite questions to ask a candidate is what we refer to as the million-dollar question. “If you had all the money and time in the world and didn’t have to work for a living, what would you be doing?” This opens up so many windows into what the candidate cares about and what drives them. You’ll never get these answers by asking them to regurgitate their resume.

Identifying Cultural Fits

When it comes down to it, there are two ways that employers typically measure candidates’ suitability for their organization: qualifications and “fit.” While qualifications can be measured through traditional tests and quizzes, culture fit is far more complex, though just as important for employers to assess. Digital interviews have opened up avenues for evaluating interpersonal skills that wouldn’t normally be available in an office setting. Employers should strive to ask open-ended questions about applicants’ interests outside of work or related fields; recent projects they’ve worked on; things that motivate them; etc.. Even the small talk mentioned above gives employers critical insights into how well potential employees would blend into their existing culture, which helps them make more informed hiring decisions.

When it comes to asking them questions about the job to see how well they would integrate into company culture, the ‘I’m willing to do anything’ response doesn’t seem to work anymore because, as we all know, everyone is not actually willing to do anything. By asking more pointed questions, you can help weed out those who just want a foot in the door more than they want to do the specific job. Some questions to help with this process may include:

  • What in the job description are you most interested in doing?
  • What in the job description are you willing to do in short doses?

Learn Their Soft Skills

The last piece of advice when conducting phone/Zoom interviews, don’t underestimate the power of soft skills! We know from countless studies that hard skills don’t always translate into job performance as well as expected (e.g., having 10+ years of coding experience doesn’t automatically guarantee success at every programming job). Data from LinkedIn shows that job skill sets have changed by 25% in the last seven years, and are projected to change by 41% by 2025. This means that now more than ever, soft skills are becoming the determining factor in candidates’ workplace success and longevity. 

That being said, it’s important for hiring managers and recruiters alike to pay attention not just to what technical abilities the candidates possess but also their character traits such as drive and ambition, resilience and grit, communication skills, and the list goes on! These are things one can only learn by creating a connection with their candidate. Be sure you incorporate several questions during your conversations with potential employees that relate directly to these intangible characteristics so you don’t miss out on great talent simply because they haven’t listed these traits on their resume.

The reality is that we’re all about a win-win situation when it comes to knowing how to conduct a phone interview to place the right candidate in the right position. Plus, if it can be done in a less stressful way, then what’s not to love? By establishing connections not just compliance, you can increase your chances of finding those talented individuals who bring unique knowledge & experiences which will benefit your organization as well as themselves. 

About the Author


Marcia is the founder and CEO of TalentFront. She leverages her executive background in talent recruitment, leadership development, performance management, sales, and marketing to provide insightful recruitment solutions to a diverse range of clients. Her experience on both sides of the hiring equation helps her fully understand the struggle in finding and retaining top talent – and the reward in finding that just-right person.