October 22, 2015

Great Hires Start With Great Phone Screens

PhoneA scene from my past: Finally, after reviewing more than 50 resumes, the hiring manager gives me a handful of them and says, “Let’s talk to these people.” Happy to be making progress, I leave to create a set of good questions for the phone-screening round.

The Objectives of a Phone Screen

I have conducted my fair share of phone interviews as a talent acquisition manager. I always use this opportunity to find red flags that might rule a candidate out.

The basic purpose of the phone screen is to make sure the candidate behind the resume warrants a face-to-face interview. While there is basic information that you need to gather during the phone screen, you can also use this conversation to dive even deeper into the candidate. This information will help you throughout the hiring process.

The main objectives of a phone-screening interview are:

  1. To obtain enough information to decide if you should proceed with the interview process
  2. To get enough information to answer the hiring manager’s questions about a candidate
  3. To agree on a time, date, and place for a face-to-face interview

The Key Ingredients of Phone Screening

To ensure that you invite only the best-matched candidates in for a face-to-face interview, your phone screen should focus on the following areas of concern:

  1. Job match
  2. Cultural fit
  3. Motivators
  4. Context

1. Job Match

Does the candidate have a clear understanding of the job roles and responsibilities? Answer this question first. You don’t want to be in a face-to-face interview when you discover the candidate was not well-suited to the position from the start. That’s a waste of your time and the candidate’s.

Even if the candidate is not a match for the job, you should finish the phone interview — not only out of respect for the candidate’s time, but also because there may be other positions the candidate could fill.

That being said, you should never try to force a match between a person and a position. If the candidate doesn’t fit the current position or seem to be a potential match for a different position, the candidate doesn’t warrant a face-to-face interview.

2. Cultural Fit

Is the job opportunityField and company culture a good fit for this candidate?

Studies show that good cultural fit is a critical component of a new hire’s success. Conversely, and poor cultural fit is often the reason for an early departure.

3. Motivators

What motivates this candidate? You need to know what is important to the candidate and why this opportunity is interesting to them. Where are they in their career? Include a short conversation about compensation.

This information will help you determine how to make an enticing offer to a candidate, should the time come. If you know what matters to the candidate, you can craft an offer that gives them those things, effectively beating out competitors who may also be courting the candidate.

Later in the hiring process, if a candidate’s requirements begin to shift, you can refer to this conversation and remind them of things that they said were important to them.

4. Context

Finally, ask questions about the candidate’s context to discover where the candidate is in their job search. Determine their mental state of readiness to commit. This knowledge will dictate how fast you will have to move if you decide to move forward with the candidate.

Behavioral Interview Questions for the Phone Screen

Because every job is different and every individual is different, you will want to create a customized list of behavioral interview questions for each candidate. This customized list will become your interview guide for each phone screen.

1. Job Match Questions

Provide a brief overview of the role, the organizational structure, and the group.

Invite the candidate to ask clarifying questions, and make notes about any inconsistencies or misunderstandings.

Some example job match questions include:

– Tell me about the elements of this position that make it a good fit for you.

– Give me an example of how the job responsibilities may be a challenge for you. 

– Give me an example of work you have done that is most comparable to this position. 

2. Cultural Fit Questions

Take some time to explain the culture of the organization to the candidate. Then, ask the candidate about their cultural preferences. Example questions may include:

– Describe a work environment that brings out the best in you.

– Tell me about a company culture where you thrived.

Jet3. Motivator Questions

The goal here is to dig into what matters to the candidate. Example questions include:

– Give me an example of a comparable role where you were highly motivated.

– Give me examples of what motivated you the most in your current or most recent position. (Money, growth, people, commute, flexibility, variety, etc.) 

– Tell me about your current compensation package.

– What kind of compensation would prompt you to make a move?  

4.  Context Questions

With these questions, you want to get a feel for where the candidate is in their job search and who your competitors for this candidate might be. Example questions include:

– Tell me about where are you in your search.

– Give me examples of other companies you are interviewing with.

– What offers are you considering currently?

If you measure quality of hire by retention rates, then it is just as important for the job to be right for the candidate as it is for the candidate to be right for the job. A good match between candidate and job produces the best retention rates.

Well-designed and well-orchestrated phone interviews make us and our hiring teams much more efficient. All candidates are potential customers. As a team, we enhance our employer brand with all who interview with us, those we make offers to, and those we don’t. In this case, great customer service starts with a phone call.

Do you have other phone-screening tips and techniques that work for you? I’d love to hear about them!

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John is founder, chairman, and CEO of Accelerate, which he founded in 2004. He is responsible for setting the overall direction and product strategy for the company and leads the design of Accelerate's services and products. After studying at Texas A&M University, John applied himself in the real world of corporate recruiting and training in SiliconˇValley, honing his skills at Atari, Apple, and Netscape. John’s work at Apple University was the catalyst for his vision to leverage evolving technologies to simplify managing people.