How to use a competency-based telephone interview for faster hiring

By Robert Half 4th April 2018

Could a simple phone call be the only thing standing between you and a faster hiring process?

Our hiring experts have compiled a list of basic competency-based interview questions and explain how this method can be used to speed up your hiring times.


At Robert Half we specialise in placing highly skilled professionals within a wide range of companies across the UAE. Contact our experienced recruitment consultants today to help you find professionals that are best for your business.

How to use a telephone interview for pre-screening

Unlike your standard face-to-face interview, a telephone-based interaction can be arranged and carried out relatively quickly, without incurring any unnecessary costs. 

Interviewing by phone eliminates the need to block out large chunks of time to meet with candidates who are potentially unsuitable, thereby saving both the candidate and yourself time.

The benefit of competency-based telephone interviews is that they act as a pre-screening stage for candidates, eliminating those who may look good on paper but don’t possess the qualities that the role demands. 

To gain the most from a competency-based telephone interview, you should aim to cover off the following points:

1. Outline key competencies for the role

A ‘competency’ is defined as a desirable candidate characteristic outside of qualifications or technical skills. Competency examples include problem solving, decision making, leadership or ethics.

Before you start selecting candidates to book calls with, ensure that you have an agreed selection of qualities to screen for and that they’re in-line with the company’s future plans.

2. Design situational questions which cover your competencies

Unlike face-to-face interview questions, competency-based questions are usually situational, making it easier for employers to predict future behaviour based on the candidate’s historical choices. 

Frame each competency up into a question in which your candidate has to recall a real-life situation, then score the answers they give for easy comparison later.

3. Create your interview shortlist

Once you’ve spoken to each candidate on your telephone shortlist, review the scores given for each candidate in each competency. From this, you’ll be able to create a shortlist of those you’d like to bring in for a face-to-face interview.

Typical competency-based interview questions:

Tell me about a time in which you were given negative feedback—what was your reaction and how did you manage/action the comments given?

CFOs firmly believe that stress levels will rise by 2020. If stress management and high emotional intelligence are key qualities your candidate will need for a role, questions such as this may prove useful. Do they have a constructive, proactive reaction or do they become defensive and overwhelmed?

Have you ever needed to completely change your approach to a task? What prompted the change and how did you adapt?

The current business landscape demands professionals who have the ability to be agile in their approach to work. Candidates who show signs of rigidity when confronted with sudden change may not suit your future business direction.

Describe a time when you were asked to work or behave in a way that you didn’t feel was right. What action did you take?

For roles that require strong ethics or integrity, you may want to ask questions in which the candidate has to recall an uncomfortable situation that tested their moral fibre. Did they handle themselves with integrity?

Tell me about a time in which you were part of a team which didn’t agree on the direction or execution of a project. What was the end resolution and how did you reach it?

Communication and teamwork are qualities which carry across most roles, so it’s a good idea to test for it in a pre-screening stage. 

For more information on using a competency-based telephone interview or to discuss your hiring plans, contact the Robert Half team today.

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