When IT managers advertise a position, they’re usually inundated with hundreds of resumes. Because of time constraints in the interviewing process, many hiring managers conduct preliminary phone interviews to cull the in-person interview list to a manageable number.

But the prescreen phone interview won’t deliver much value if you don’t know how to get the most out of it. If IT managers prepare carefully, a phone interview can save a tremendous amount of time. Done correctly, a phone interview can offer a solid enough view of a candidate that a manager can quickly tell whether he or she wants to pursue meeting the candidate in person.

The trick is being prepared with questions, which you can do by downloading this simple telephone interview cheat sheet that TechRepublic members can customize for whatever job they’re looking to fill.

Getting prepped is key
You’ll need to be as prepared for a phone interview as you would be for an in-person meeting. Awkward silences over the phone—while you search desk piles for documents and notes—can hurt the quality of the interview, the flow of conversation, and ultimately the insight you want to gain on a candidate.

Long before picking up the phone, an IT manager should develop a list of specific questions relating to necessary skills, and have the candidate’s resume handy. “At the beginning of the phone interview, I like to start with some general questions, like: ‘How did you hear about us?’ or ‘Why are you looking for a new position?'” said Barbara Clark, a hiring manager in Virginia Beach, VA, with 25 years of IT experience.

Clark explained that she starts with typical interview questions that allow a candidate a chance to relax and feel more confident. This enables them to better answer the more specific questions that come up next. These questions are all included on a checklist that Clark prepared several years ago and uses faithfully. That checklist has become TechRepublic’s phone interview cheat sheet, which you can download now.

“We created several different versions that are used when we’re hiring different positions,” Clark said. “It’s a way of ensuring that all candidates for a given position are asked the same questions—it helps make the process fair to everyone.” Asking the right questions is 50 percent of the interviewing effort, Clark said, while listening makes up the difference. “Listening to the answers gives me a chance to hear how the candidate speaks—can I understand him? Does he have a good grasp of the language, and can he articulate information well?”

Using the interview cheat sheet
Using the phone interview cheat sheet as a guide, Clark asks candidates to verbally assess abilities and rank various technical skills. It also reminds her to ask them about some of the work they’ve done with various technologies. By noting responses to all of these questions, Clark can quickly tell if candidates are really as talented as their resumes indicate, or if they are attempting to pad their histories.

When using the cheat sheet, you need to make sure that your comments and notes are written clearly. That way, you won’t be staring at the notes and trying to decipher them later. Clear writing also makes it easy to copy and share the candidate notes with colleagues and other hiring executives.

More tips for interview success
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you’re speaking loudly and clearly during the phone call. Don’t use a phone interview as a test conversation for a new wireless headset, and avoid using speakerphone unless there are several people who absolutely must be on the line. Keep in mind that a phone interview is similar to e-mail communication in some ways. The candidate can’t see you, and there is a strong possibility of misinterpreting feedback by both parties.

“It’s a ‘no-frills’ session,” said TechRepublic member Srinivas. “The candidate can’t impress you with his personality or body language, so it’s a chance to focus on his ability to give ‘matter of fact’ replies to your questions.” That goes for the hiring manager as well. It’s good advice to skip the jokes and keep things professional.

Srinivas recommends asking some behavioral questions, such as, “Can you describe two significant achievements?” IT managers should listen for keywords such as opportunities, team, revenues, and customer satisfaction in the answer.

If a candidate meets the technical criteria and can communicate well, it’s likely a good move to invite him or her in to meet the rest of your team. That way, the in-person interview can focus on how well the candidate meshes with potential coworkers.

If IT managers can use the phone interview wisely, they can save time during the interview process by quickly finding a short list of candidates who best fit the company’s needs.