I've managed to get into the working world without going through a phone interview; now I have to interview/hire someone and I have a basic question.

At the end of the phone interview, what do I say? Do I let them know immediately if they are getting an in-person interview, and schedule it then, or do I say "we'll let you know"? If the former, what should I say to a candidate that didn't pass the interview?

  • 6
    Do you know right then if they will or won't get an in-person interview?
    – user5305
    Jun 14, 2013 at 13:47
  • 1
    I get to make the decision. I assume I should know by the end of the phone interview.
    – Turch
    Jun 14, 2013 at 13:49
  • 4
    0. I know. My interview consisted of 20 minutes and no written code, and then I got hired. a) they got lucky they got me :) b) trying to improve the process one step at a time. Adding the phone interview and having more than one person interview in person is already a huge leap :)
    – Turch
    Jun 14, 2013 at 14:23
  • 1
    If I have made a decision, I find it morally wrong to not inform the candidate as soon as possible. One has no right to play games with other people's life and emotional energy, especially given the fact that you have made a decision. Jun 14, 2013 at 17:52
  • 2
    I applied for hundreds of jobs while jobless in the midst of the recent economic depression. It's extremely distressing to hear nothing. Did they hire someone else? Should I keep checking back? Is there any chance they'll hire me? Is it worth my time? Be ambiguous in person/phone to avoid conflict, but once you know, a simple email would suffice: "We did not choose you to fill the position."
    – djeikyb
    Jun 15, 2013 at 8:29

7 Answers 7


As a hiring manager who has done this a lot, I have a standard line no matter the situation: I tell the candidate how the rest of the process will go, regardless of how I may or may not have judged them during our conversation.

For instance, if it's at the end of a phone screen, when I know that the next round of candidates will be called for longer interviews with the team, I say, "Thanks for talking with me today. Here's how the rest of our hiring process works: I'll finish the phone screens in the next n days, then we'll select some folks for longer interviews, and we hope to have the whole process wrapped up by x date. I'll stay in touch with you as we move through the process." If this conversation is at the end of a longer interview, I adjust what I say to take that into account.

I try very hard not to give anything away, either positively or negatively -- although I know my tone changes if I know a candidate is bombing or excelling -- and instead focus on giving information about the process rather than the person. This method avoids any extended discussions or arguments, as well as avoids any sort of commitment that might be assumed/misinterpreted by the candidate, and has the added bonus of being transparent about the hiring process itself.

  • Yes, absolutely - if HR has a process, follow it! And if HR doesn't have a process, or you aren't in a company with dedicated HR resources, being consistent with your own process helps future HR process compliance audits...
    – jcmeloni
    Jun 14, 2013 at 14:31
  • Switching to this answer since it's getting all the votes
    – Turch
    Jun 14, 2013 at 17:38

I would suggest that you not give the pass/fail at the end of the phone interview. This gives you, as the interviewer, time to reflect on the interview and go over your notes. Sure, in many cases you may already know that the candidate was a great fit or a poor fit but I always like to take a little time to reflect.

It certainly isn't going to hurt to think about it a bit before making a decision. It also lets the candidate have some breathing room to do the same. They may need some time to think about whether they want to move forward with the process. The goal is always to make sure the fit is good for both the employer and the potential employee.


Most people say 'We'll be in touch'. In most companies more than one person is involved, and you can't be sure if someone else will see something in the candidate that you don't, so you can't tell them anything definite.

In the case where you are the one making the decision, if they are really wrong for the job, I don't see a problem with telling them 'Sorry, you aren't what we're looking for'. It saves everyone a lot of time if you get it over with quickly.

Similarly, if you decide you want to move to an in-person interview, I don't see any problem with scheduling that immediately.

  • 3
    I think the main reason for not telling people that they 'fail' is because there are people with abrasive personalities who will try to argue this point over why you failed and if it was/wasn't fair etc. If people say 'We will be in touch if you pass' it gives them the ability to phone back and say 'Yes' but means they never phone back with a 'no', thus avoiding the possibility for that argument.
    – user5305
    Jun 14, 2013 at 13:55
  • 2
    @RhysW: A possible response to those abrasive personalities: "Sorry, but we need someone who gets along well with others. You're demonstrating right now that you don't have that. Work on those skills for a while and re-apply."
    – GreenMatt
    Jun 14, 2013 at 14:23
  • @RhysW This is what I was assuming would be the best course of action, but having never gone through a phone interview I thought it better to ask :)
    – Turch
    Jun 14, 2013 at 14:26
  • 5
    Although you may know immediately at the end of the interview, I suggest you are a bit cautious. When in doubt, don't immediately turn down or invite. As you continue interviewing candidates, you will find that you shift your criteria or the things that you want to discuss. You may want to use these new insights in a second conversation with people you already interviewed.
    – user8036
    Jun 14, 2013 at 14:38
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    @RhysW - If you can bring yourself to deal with possible abrasive personalities, it is far more polite to let someone know (if you do) at the phone interview. And how you treat job candidates is at least a small part of you and your companies public image.
    – psr
    Jun 14, 2013 at 17:04

At the end of the phone interview, what do I say? Do I let them know immediately if they are getting an in-person interview, and schedule it then, or do I say "we'll let you know"? If the former, what should I say to a candidate that didn't pass the interview?

Some additional thoughts no one else has mentioned why not to be too "see you tomorrow" happy - even if you are.

  • Multiple excellent candidates. If you are phone interviewing multiple people, you may not know you can invite this candidate on site. Perhaps all the other phone calls will be even better? Companies sometimes may "reject" people they would otherwise want because multiple fully qualified people apply, HR causes problems, or something else. If you aren't interviewing multiple people, you really don't want to let the candidate know this...
  • Giving candidate negotiating power. Telling someone immediately afterwards gives them a lot of negotiating power. If you interview, then get a "hey come on site for interview tomorrow?" response during the interview you know (as a candidate) you are wanted by the company. This gives you a lot of leverage during negotiations.

Both the above also apply to on-site interviews, as well.

  • I disagree with that -- the company will express the interest giving an offer at some point, so what leverage? And more importantly phonescreen is just one light filter to weed out the doctored CVs and applications, whether the candidate is wanted will be decided using the real face to face interview
    – Balog Pal
    Jun 16, 2013 at 1:25
  • @BalogPal that's fine. But just keep in mind, a top candidate who you effectively tell, "We want you, specifically" and who is not afraid to negotiate probably will to do, and hard. Granted, plenty of people won't bother even trying but if I leave an interview or phone interview knowing the company wants me specifically? You better believe I know I have negotiating power and will use it. Of course, this is also my primary goal in any interview - to convince the hiring manager that he/she really wants me specifically, so I CAN have this power. Not everyone will care.
    – enderland
    Jun 16, 2013 at 2:32
  • look, if you hit the lottery and actually get a "top" candidate to apply, hi will drive negotiations as he likes regardless. (and for the case I'd suggest drop big part of the HR process, and cut to the chase). And if you look reluctant you just increase the chance he'll join the next firm that is openly enthusiastic. And for the average case it still looks redundant, those happy to drive negotiations will do it any time and those reluctant go in binary mode.
    – Balog Pal
    Jun 16, 2013 at 8:54
  • "if I leave an interview or phone interview knowing the company wants me specifically" -- you'd leave the phone interview knowing that you passed the phone screen without any need to pause for consideration, and have a real interview coming up. Now, if your false assumption that the next interviewer will love you just as much, gives you the confidence to negotiate better, then that's good for you. But there are probably things you could do as a candidate to kid yourself without the help of the first-screen interviewer, so does it really make that much difference to you? Aug 23, 2014 at 13:32

You're not obligated to provide specific feedback on the spot.

You can always simply say:

"Thank you for your interest. I will contact you within (a specific timeframe) if you are selected for the next round of interviews."

If you believe they've passed, it is possible you will decide later that they are not among the strongest candidates, and that you'd prefer not to take the time to bring them in for a second round, especially if you receive a large number of applications. You may find it useful to compare notes on all your candidates before making a commitment to bring anyone back. However, if you are certain they are a strong candidate, you can always end the call by scheduling the next round of interviews.

If you are certain they've failed, there is almost never an upside to telling them so. They will inevitably want to change your mind, ask for a reason, or even possibly become emotional. Since your objective is to quickly screen out those who are a poor fit, putting yourself in the position to need to deal with these complications is counter-productive. Again, you can use the above statement. Saying that you'll contact them if... is not lying, it is simply a polite way to reject them indirectly. Specifying a specific timeframe (ie. will contact them within the next 3 days if...) can be helpful in providing the unsuccessful candidate with certainty about the outcome of the interview.

  • Bear in mind these are people you're dealing with. In my world view, people have a responsibility to others to notify them that they will not be hired. Job searching is stressful enough without making someone fret themselves to pieces wondering if you'll ever call back. Jul 22, 2013 at 19:05
  • @JohnGordon Ideally you'd touch base with everyone on their status. However, there are often cases in my company where a manager may be hiring for multiple roles, and for each of which you receive dozens if not hundreds of resumes. By design, a phone screen is designed to reduce the number of people who look good on paper to those you want to bring in for an in-person interview, and unfortunately it's not always practical for a manager to make dozens of additional calls. It's not ideal, but in my experience hiring managers are often limited by time to activities that serve their interests.
    – JAGAnalyst
    Jul 22, 2013 at 22:22

Depending on your decision , my general response would be "ok I will review your profile and have word with my senior and will get back to you" , always keep a senior boss like figure so the guy know you don't have full authority even if you do .

Now suppose if you had to select that guy just make a call and tell him know and in case if he is not suitable for the job just write him a mail to avoid awkward phone conversation.


If you are in sole charge of the verdict, AND have it right there, sure, announce it. (Not forgetting that it is binding.)

I bet though that it is not so frequently the case -- say your positive mark may still get filtered by other things, or you might get undecided and need a few more minutes to think.

Always telling just the "we'll see" is certainly the easy way out for the interviewer and the company, but it is NOT the one for the candidate. The "respect for people" approach is to go with the first whenever able. Actually if you like the candidate and post a positive, I'd suggest to tell exactly that at end, explaining that other factors are still in play (if they are).

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