The official blog of Abacus Group — a place to share our knowledge and thoughts on trends in recruiting

April 20, 2012

Select with Certainty: A Guide to Candidate Phone Screens

A previous Abacus Group Blog post called Phone Screens: Five Tips to Favorably Impress explained guidelines for successful phone screens from the candidate’s point of view. Equally important to the hiring process is the employer’s thorough understanding of best practices associated with conducting phone screens. Given that phone screens function as a simplification tool, employers must administer them effectively to ensure that the most promising candidates are invited to face-to-face interviews. The primary objective of the phone screen – to reduce the number of candidates – is entirely missed if the employer cannot adequately discern anything of value about the candidate’s qualifications and personality.

checklist1. Create a single introductory script
Before you begin a series of phone calls, prepare an overview of the organization and a description of the position’s duties and requirements. Together, they will constitute a standardized, introductory guideline that can be used when speaking to each candidate. It’s helpful to compose descriptions of the organization and the position in your own words – rather than to read them verbatim from another source – to provide the candidate with a more personal understanding of both the culture of your firm and the objectives of the role. By explaining the organization and the position to the candidate in simple language, the conversation will flow more naturally, allowing you to better assess how well the candidate will fit in the role.  In addition, the process of preparing this text in advance will help reinforce the profile of your ideal candidate. Note that your introductory speech should not last more than a few minutes, as you will need to allot the majority of the phone screen to asking questions.

2. Carefully craft a list of relevant questions
Your major objectives include both confirming the candidate’s qualifications and determining if he or she will successfully fulfill your organization’s needs.  To do so, you must create a list of standard questions to allow yourself to objectively assess each candidate. Begin with basic questions in order to eliminate any candidates who overtly lack the experience or skills necessary to succeed in the position, including questions involving:

  • Verification of past positions, duties and employment dates
  • Verification of particular technical capabilities
  • Verification of certain industry experience
  • Explanation of current organization’s business



Once the candidate’s basic qualifications have been confirmed, you can proceed to ask questions related to their achievements and professional goals, focusing on:

  • Major accomplishments in current or previous role
  • Challenges faced in current or previous role
  • How current co-workers would characterize the candidate
  • Reason for leaving current position
  • Reason for seeking available position
  • Management style
  • Ideal work environment


3. Consistently ask additional open-ended questions
When asking the questions listed above, constantly follow-up with additional questions such as, “Why did you do that?” in response to the candidate’s decision to pursue a career in a different industry or “What did you learn from that?” after the candidate discusses key involvement in a particular project. By consistently pressing the candidate for information, you will ascertain many important qualities, namely, their ability to think beyond standardized answers, their level of articulation and their capacity for responding quickly under pressure.  Additional probing also helps to ensure that you are receiving the most honest answers possible. 

4. Don’t rely on your memory; take notes!
Since you are likely to be screening multiple candidates in one sitting, you’ll benefit tremendously from taking notes about each person to whom you speak.  To facilitate your note-taking, print multiple copies of your interview questions with blank space to jot down each candidate’s answers.  Additionally, take notes about the candidate’s level of enthusiasm, including whether or not he or she had any questions for you at the end of the screen.  Finally, it’s helpful to include a brief “scorecard” section for the candidate on each sheet of paper, in which you can quickly evaluate his or her performance in various areas (communication, technical knowledge, experience, etc.) on a scale of 1 to 5.  By preparing sufficient notes both during and after the phone screen, you’ll save time and effort in determining which candidates should be further pursued for the position.

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