For employers and candidates alike, a job interview can be a time-consuming endeavor. At the same time, cover letters and resumes can only tell an employer so much. Good news! There’s an intermediate step that can help guard against wasting anybody’s time: the phone screen.
The purpose of a phone screen – a relatively short phone call of 15 to 30 minutes – is to add context to the skills and experience listed on a candidate’s resume, while also getting an initial feel for organizational fit. By the end of the call, a recruiter should have a good idea of whether a candidate should be moved forward in the hiring process.
Given the stakes (wasting time and resources on candidates who never really had a chance), there’s a lot riding on the phone screen when you're hiring employees. That’s why it’s crucial to approach the screen in a strategic way.
And that is why we present to you these five ways to get the most out of your phone screens.
Respect the Candidate’s Schedule
Scheduling the phone screen is likely the first real interaction you’re going to have with a candidate. You want to be sure to make a good impression on behalf of your organization. Rather than giving the candidate a hard, take-it-or-leave-it date and time for the screen, suggest a few dates and times and ask what works best for their schedule. Do your best – within reason, based on your hiring timeline – to be accomodating.
Keep it Professional and Courteous
You and the candidate each potentially have what the other wants (a job with a great company, and the skills to fill a need in your organization, respectively), and the purpose of the screen is to determine whether there may be a match. It’s important to stay focused on that mission and take a professional, thoughtful tact. At the start of the call, let the candidate know why their application stood out, what the company is looking for and roughly how the call will proceed. Such an approach shines a good light on you and your company, and it puts the candidate more at ease, laying the foundation for a more constructive call.
Have a Structured Process
It’s been said that preparation is the key to success, and so it goes with phone screens. For the employer, a big part of preparation is creating a standardized process that will allow you to vet each candidate you screen in a very similar way – that means having a structured flow for the calls and asking each candidate the same questions. There will be variations based on a candidate’s answers and any follow-ups they may prompt, but having a structured process will help you when it comes time to evaluate candidates side-by-side.
Ask the Right Questions
The phone screen is not a deep dive. The questions that you ask at this point should be aimed at qualifying whether a candidate should move onto a full interview. So this isn’t the time to ask a lot of behavioral and scenario-based questions. Instead, seek to get information about a candidate’s:
- Skills and experience: Tell me about your background?
- Interest in the job: Why are you looking for work?
- Perceived match for the job: Why do you think you’re a fit for this role?
- Job-related motivations: What do you need from an employer to be successful?
- Interest in your company: What do you know about our company?
Also, ask questions based on the candidate’s resume – What was your biggest accomplishment at XYZ Corp.? – to get more context about their professional background. In addition to gathering details about their technical skills and experience, the candidate’s answers to all of these questions can provide insights into how they think and communicate, which can help you form some initial impressions on potential fit within your organization.
Finally, be sure to ask the candidate whether they have any questions for you.
(The Society for Human Resource Management provides this helpful checklist for phone screens.)
Be on the Lookout for Red Flags
A candidate may look great on paper, but resumes can be deceiving. And that’s the whole reason for the phone screen – to determine whether a candidate is the real deal before you invest too much time finding out that they’re not. To that end, keep a keen ear for indications that, technical skills notwithstanding, they are not right for your organization.
- Complacency: We all make mistakes, some people just don’t know it. If a candidate comes off as smug, arrogant and less-than-introspective, be wary. Growth and success come from knowing when we’ve fallen short and then learning from it.
- Distraction: Issues can crop up during a phone screen, but if a candidate is unable to give their full attention for the duration of a short call, it raises questions about their ability to focus on work-related tasks – or, it could be that they don’t care that much
- Lack of preparation: Similarly, if the candidate is unprepared for a scheduled phone screen, it indicates that they aren’t all that interested, or that there are other issues that would prevent them from being a top performer.
- Lack of enthusiasm: You're likely excited to be talking to the candidate. After all, they may be someone who can do great things for your organization. Likewise, you’d hope that the candidate would be enthused by the prospect of a job opportunity. If they aren’t, you may want to find someone who is.
- Badmouthing previous employers: The candidate doesn’t have to be enamored with their previous employers, and there are plenty of times where hard feelings are justified. However, the inability to discuss those things maturely and diplomatically could point issues with the candidate’s attitude, as well as an inability to work with people and successfully weather conflict.
- Not asking questions: A candidate should come to the phone screen with some questions – or, at least, have some by the end of it. Not asking questions when the opportunity is given indicates that the candidate is not inquisitive or doesn’t care about the job one way or another.