Screening CandidatesThe art of the pre-interview, screening phone call can’t be practiced enough. It allows for careful insight into the mind of the candidate. Screening candidates accurately and efficiently often separates good recruiters from average recruiters.

Here are 5 easy tips that can help you conduct better telephone screens of your candidates.

1) Do your homework: If you’re a novice recruiter trying to fill an unfamiliar position, take time to do some research before you get on the call and start firing off increasingly irrelevant questions.

Talk to industry specific hiring managers or use the Internet for more information on the specific skills needed to succeed in the job you’re trying to fill. That way, you can ask open ended questions and understand if the candidate is speaking intelligently about the subject.

2) Environment is everything: Don’t discredit someone because they sound nervous or they have to reschedule your call. If you sense hesitation or awkwardness, they might be at work. Be flexible in when you do the interview and offer to talk off-hours.

Candidates have enough on their plates without taking yet-another-coffee-break with their cellphones in their car.

Do you think the candidate’s sitting back in a cool dry office that smells of lemon zest? Or are they stressed out and sweating at home with kids in the other room? Try to be forgiving. (Within reason, of course).

3) Some people talk weird on the phone: This is a fact of life. It’s hard to gauge a person’s reaction through an earpiece. Their tone may sound unenthusiastic or impatient.

But in reality it may just be a product of the phone itself. Some people hate talking on the phone and can’t do it!

While this data is inherently valuable for other reasons (i.e. communication is a jobskill), don’t assume an individual is incompetent just because they hate talking on the phone or are bad at it. Always examine their performance in the context of the position you are hiring them for. If they are a sales person and they do engage you, they’re obviously not a fit.

4) I like Dungeons & Dragons: Charismatic candidates are usually held in higher esteem. Sometimes you get on the call and your personalities instantly mesh. The conversation comes nice and easy. Other times not so much…

But in the end, it’s a bad idea to throw away candidates with different personalities or interests than your own. Just because they’re quiet or reserved isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (Example: think back-office, highly technical positions.) What good is a cheerleader when it comes time to write JavaScript? Again, view everything in the context of the job and perhaps more importantly, the personality of the hiring manager that you are recruiting for.

5) Be brief, get to the point: Some chit-chat is okay, but be sure to get the fundamental screening questions out of the way fast. You can be friends later. Your goal is to see if this candidate is a viable option. Ask the right questions, thank them for their time, move on if necessary. Focus first on the big factors (salary, geography, job title) and make sure there is at least a potential fit. Many recruiters ask the most important questions last, and waste a lot of time in the process.

The best recruiters often enjoy jumping on the phone with candidates – it’s the best part of their day. They love introducing new jobs that might be a perfect fit and getting to know a candidate that could turn out to be a future placement.

The most important element to successful telephone interviews is of course attitude. Approach each call with the idea that the candidate will be happy to talk to you and that you’re happy to talk to them. With the right attitude and little bit of thoughtfulness, you can whip through a list of candidates efficiently, while still building the foundation for a long-term relationship and making a great first impression. 

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