The number 1 question a candidate can ask in a phone interview

phone interview
Ask the number 1 phone interview question

Let’s start with the usual questions that set candidates up for failure

  1. What is the number 1 challenge you are working on right now?  (Do not ask this in a phone interview)
  2. Can you tell me about the benefits package? (Do not ask this)
  3. What are you looking for in a successful candidate? (Do not ask this)
  4. What are the hours? (Do not ask this in a phone interview)
  5. Why did this position open up? (Do not ask this in a phone interview)

If you have ever asked any one of the following questions in a phone interview, you probably did not land the job. The above questions are the questions that set us up for failure. Below are the questions and the reasons they cause you to lose momentum in an interview. 

What is the number 1 challenge you are working on right now?

We at CareerTracker feel this is a poor choice of a question because it does two things;

  1. It has the potential of sending the hiring manager down a rabbit hole of frustration. We don’t want the hiring manager frustrated at the end of the interview and exiting your phone interview in a downer mood.
  2. We are probably not going to solve any problem the hiring manager has. The company has plenty of employees working on these problems who are all familiar with the product, service, and industry. The likelihood of us coming in off the street and solving their number 1 frustration is very low. 

Can you tell me about the benefits package

  1. We want to keep the focus on answering interview questions and qualifying ourselves as viable candidates. Phone interviews are limited to 30 minutes and we want to concentrate on answering the interviewer’s questions. 
  2. We look like we are more interested in the perks and not the actual job when we ask this question. When the hiring company is ready, they will share this information. That is when you can ask about benefits.

What are you looking for in a successful candidate?

  1. This is a potential landmine because if the interviewer explains they are looking for X, Y, and Z qualifications, and we don’t have a quick answer, we are left holding the bag. If the manager says you need X, Y, and Z to be successful, we need to have these qualities. Having these qualities isn’t enough. We need to provide, on the spot solid examples to prove we can be successful. It is better not to worry about this until you are talking with the hiring manager and know that they are interested in you as a candidate. 

What are the hours

  1. Again, this looks like we are only interested in what is in it for us. This shouldn’t be a concern for us until we are further along the interview process and have talked with the hiring manager.
  2. Before you ask this question, ask yourself, “Even if I don’t like the hours, am I going to decline the job?”  If you would take the swing shift to land this job, then the hours are a non-issue.

Why did this position open up?

  1. Who cares why this position opened up? Someone was fired or the company is growing. Either way, we would take the job if it were offered. This is a question for later in the interview loop.
  2. We don’t want to add a frustration factor to the interview if the reason there is an opening is that someone was fired. We want to keep the interviewer from going down a rabbit hole of reasons why the last person was fired. You want the person on the other end of the line in a great mood and excited about you as a candidate. Keep the mood positive.

The best phone interview question we can ask is:

“I am sure you received a lot of interest in this position. Can I ask what it is that attracted Acme Publishing to my resume for this position?” 

Your resume and LinkedIn profiles may be multiple pages long, but for each candidate, there are only 1 or two things that really resonated with the recruiter and hiring manager that made them think, “This is the one”.  We need to figure out what that is and reinforce these qualities. This is why we need to ask this critical phone interview question.

Job descriptions can be 700 to 1000 words but more-often-than-not, they are generic and rarely give the applicant very much to go on. The bottom half of most job descriptions can be interchanged between the same job title between different companies! It can be very hard to figure out what a company is looking for from most job descriptions because no company wants to list what they are really looking for. With the above-listed question, you will hear exactly what it was on your resume that interested the hiring manager. With this information, you know what to focus on, what questions to ask and how to tailor your answers with specific examples of your prior behavior. 

Key Takeaway: Be strategic about the questions you ask in an interview. Avoid sending your interviewer down a rabbit hole of frustration or setting yourself up with an answer we won’t be ready to respond to.  

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