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Phone Screen Interview Best Practices for Hiring Managers

Recruiting the right candidates involves several stages of interviews, screenings and verifications. A phone screening interview is your first contact with talent and is vital to building a relationship with them. An effective phone screen interview helps a candidate learn about your company as much as it helps you learn about them. Here’s a guide to getting the most out of your screening phone calls.

 

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Purpose of a phone screen interview

Phone screening is the stage of the interview process when you or your recruiters contact candidates to determine if you want to meet them for an in-person interview. Most phone screening interviews include broad, functional questions to understand how each candidate communicates, what skills and experience they offer and if they’re still interested in the position. You’re able to speak with each candidate and learn what they’re looking for in a new role and how they communicate while clarifying any questions you have about their resume and skills. Phone screening allows you to focus your face-to-face interviews on candidates who are the best fit for your company and the available position.

Preparing for phone screening

Preparation is key for a successful screening interview. It ensures you have some background information on the candidate, and it helps you be consistent in how you conduct the interviews to get more accurate comparisons. Here are ways to prepare for a phone interview:

 

  • Determine what’s most important. Prioritize what you want from your candidates, such as the skills you need them to have. Determine your deal-breakers and must-haves to help you screen applicants. This information can guide the questions you ask in the phone interview.
  • Read their resume. Spend time reading applicants’ resumes before calling them for an interview. Being comfortable with their employment history and skills they list can help you focus the phone screening on any gaps in their work history. It can also help you determine if there are any discrepancies in what they say during the phone call.
  • Know what you want to ask. Develop a list of questions to ask based on what’s necessary for the role. Use the same list of questions for each candidate to create a consistent, fair screening process. Create a recording sheet that includes space for notes.
  • Limit how many interviews you do each day. You may want to schedule up to four phone screens per day, so you can focus on each candidate and avoid burnout. If you schedule too many, you might get tired of interviews, or the interviewees may start blending together.
  • Allow yourself an hour for each interview. While most phone screening interviews are only about 15 minutes long, scheduling an hour for each call gives you time to ask probing questions and follow up on any concerns you might have. It also lets you process what you hear and make notes after the call. If you’re scheduling back-to-back phone interviews, allowing an hour for each one can help you stay on schedule.

Types of questions to ask during a phone screening interview

Phone screening questions are usually used to eliminate candidates who don’t meet your company’s needs. Here are the most common types of questions that you should ask during a phone interview:

 

  • Salary: A candidate’s current salary can tell you how their role compares to the position you’re offering and how likely they are to accept the position. You can also ask about their expected salary for your position to see if it’s in the range you can offer.
  • Why they’re leaving: Understanding why the candidate is leaving their present position can help you learn about their motivation and how they talk about their current supervisor, team and work environment.
  • Work availability: It’s important to determine if candidates are available during the hours you need them and if they have any obligations that might keep them from working the shift you’re trying to fill. Asking about their availability will also let you know when they can start working.
  • Interest in the position: Asking why they’re interested in the position can help you learn what kind of work they’re drawn to and how familiar they are with the role and your company.
  • Work experience and skills: You can learn what they value and any differences between what they tell you on the phone and their resume when you ask them to describe their work history and skill set.
  • Broad personality questions: While in-depth questions are usually asked during a face-to-face interview, asking broad questions about preferences in their work environment, whether they can work on a team or how they resolve conflict can help you determine if they’ll fit in with your company culture.
  • Candidate questions: Leave time at the end of the interview for the candidate to ask questions. Their questions can help you gauge their interest, and the answers you provide can help them determine if they’re a good match for the position.

Related: Phone Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Things to avoid during a screening interview

You’re shaping the candidate experience with every interaction, so make sure it’s a positive one. Here are some things to avoid during phone interviews:

 

  • Setting false expectations: While you want to be engaged and positive when you’re conducting a phone screening, you don’t want to guarantee anything about the position.
  • Only asking “yes or no” questions: Phone screenings are great tools for learning about the candidate, and asking close-ended questions can limit how much information you get. Instead, focus on open-ended questions that encourage them to share details about their experience.
  • Being distracted during the interview: An effective phone screener focuses on the conversation to pick up on discrepancies between the candidate’s resume and what they’re saying. Distractions can also cause you to miss important information about whether they’d be an excellent fit for the role. Go to a private location for the interview, and turn off any devices that might distract you, such as your computer or cellphone.
  • Using a monotonic, disengaged tone: If you aren’t engaged and positive during the screening, the applicant might feel you aren’t interested in hiring them or that the company isn’t invested in their employees.
  • Closing the call without mentioning next steps: Many candidates will feel confused or unsure if you end the screening without letting them know what to expect in the coming days. While some screeners schedule an interview at the end of the call, others let the candidate know when they can expect to hear if they’ll be interviewed in person.

Phone Screen Interview FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about screening phone calls:

 

How do I conduct an effective phone screening interview?

To conduct an effective and successful phone screening interview, begin by explaining to the candidate how the process goes, so they can be prepared. During the interview, make detailed notes of the candidate’s answers, so you can refer to them again later when deciding whether to invite them to the next stage in the process. Ask questions that focus on why the candidate is a good fit for the role and wait to ask more technical questions during the in-person interview.

 

How many people should you contact for a job phone screening?

A general recommendation is to contact six to 10 candidates for a phone screening, but you can contact as many people as you feel could fill the job well. Consider how much time you want to dedicate to the phone interviews. Most hiring managers invite between two and four candidates to interview in person. If you don’t have enough candidates for in-person interviews after the phone screenings, go back to the resumes to find more people to call.

 

Can you use video conferencing instead?

You can use video conferencing instead of audio-only phone calls to conduct your screening interviews. Using virtual interviews to screen applicants can create a more personal experience, and you can see the person’s body language while they speak. Also, it can be easier to understand what the person is trying to say when you see them as they talk. Let the candidates know well in advance that the screening will be a video conference, so they can prepare.

 

Who conducts phone screening interviews?

The structure of your company and HR department often determines who conducts phone screening interviews. In many companies, a recruiter or HR generalist calls the top candidates to ask the screening questions. That person compiles a short list for the hiring manager, who typically conducts the in-person interviews. However, in a smaller company, the hiring manager or an assistant might call candidates for screening interviews. Even in a larger company, some hiring managers may prefer to screen the applicants themselves.

 

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