Phone screening: a recruiter's pain or gain?

Lesley Vos
Career Specialist
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How often did it happen to you?

You invited candidates for an interview and… realized they were totally wrong for the job despite their impressive resumes, relevant job titles, and well-crafted cover letters.

With so many interview techniques you know and use as a part of your recruiting strategy, such odd catastrophes don't work in your favor and discriminate your hiring talents.

And that's the moment when short phone screenings help out.

HR managers use such screens to determine whether a candidate's experience and salary needs meet a job position and an employer's expectations. Phone calls save time, eliminate unlikely candidates, and allow to make a short list of applicants to invite for a face-to-face interview.

It's gain!

Thus, my colleague Nancy Christinovich has created a profile of an ideal candidate who can join the team. Her company is in the niche of plagiarism detection, so she knows exactly what soft skills, as well as personal characteristics, her candidates should have to advocate the brand's mission and communicate its message to clients.

A big fan of Eric Herrenkohl's How to Hire A-Players, Nancy practices screening to verify those initial characteristics.

But phone calls can be a recruiter's pain as well.

Why? Well, it's not that easy to organize an effective conversation, come up with the right questions, and engage candidates without the benefit of body language.

To improve the process of phone screening and identify applicants worth interviewing face to face, HR professionals suggest the following:

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Do your homework.

Before you come up with a short list of applicants eligible for a screen, you will check dozens of resumes and cover letters.

No need to call every candidate who meets initial requirements; to hire a top talent, follow the lead of Nancy – and determine your A-player profile to pick up resumes that meet its overall patterns of accomplishments.

Also, you can scan candidates' LinkedIn profiles and connect with them to check past performance and interests. It allows you to kill two birds with one stone:

  • first, you'll know what to ask about qualifications;
  • and second, networking with you will help a candidate feel more comfortable during a phone screen.

Pay attention to their answers to screening questions.

RecruiterLoop Cofounder Paul Slezak, who has 25 years of experience in recruitment, recommends starting your phone screens with three questions (after you've introduced yourself, of course):

  • Do you remember applying for this job?
  • What has attracted you to the role?
  • Where are you up to in your job search?

Answers to these questions will tell a lot about candidates and their attitude toward job search, responsibility, your company in particular, and work life in general. After all, there's a big difference between a person looking for a specific job and someone desperately sending dozens of resumes wherever they can.

Come up with the right questions.

No need to prepare long lists of questions to ask a candidate during phone screens. Sure thing, you will ask about their availability for a face-to-face interview, but there are also two types of questions for a recruiter to ask by phone:

  1. Open-ended questions

These ones allow you to understand if a candidate has any specific examples to affirm qualifications he mentioned in the resume. If he speaks only in generalities, big chances are he lacks applicable accomplishments and experience.

In other words, keep them talking. The questions such as “Why so?” or “How did you do that?” allow a recruiter to dig beneath prepared answers and find out what a candidate's true achievements are.

  2. Follow-up questions

Your phone screening is not an interrogation. Be conversational and provide feedback by asking follow-up questions to help a candidate elaborate on pre-prepared answers.

Also, your conversational tone and smile contribute to the initial indication of personal skills to understand if this person can get along with other people at your company.

(Yes, recruiters recommend smiling during a phone interview even though a candidate can't see you: it encourages to speak with enthusiasm and mirrors your positive to your interlocutor.)

Take notes on their strengths and weaknesses.

When I hire freelancers for my writing projects, this trick helps to recall the interview and decide whether I want to move forward with any given candidate. And I don't mean interview scorecards most hiring managers use to evaluate applicants, though it's a good practice to filter wrong candidates at once.

What I'm talking about is writing down some insightful word-for-word responses, aka quote verbatims, a person says during a phone screening. Going back to those notes after an interview, you'll have a better understanding of this candidate's traits and attitude toward his whole job searching process.

Putting these suggestions in place will help you and your colleagues turn a phone screening from pain into gain and get the most out of it for hiring top talent for your company.

It's just a 10-15 minute telephone call, but it can tell you a lot about candidates to decide whether you need to invite them for a face-to-face interview or it would be a waste of time to do so.

About Lesley Vos


Lesley Vos is a career specialist for college students, helping them deal with job searches, resume and portfolio writing, and professional traits building. Lesley is a seasoned web writer contributing to publications on writing, e-learning, ed tech, college life, and personal growth.

Lesley is open to new friends, so you can always contact her on Twitter to find more works of hers there, or read some more information about her interests and career at her page


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