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7 Tips for an Efficient Phone Screen

So you posted your job, went through the daunting task of looking through a huge stack of resumes, and managed to find a few potential candidates who you’d like to interview.  You need to call them to book an interview and most recruiters know this is the perfect opportunity for an initial screen.  After all, you don’t want to waste both your time and the applicant’s time in an unnecessary interview. phone-interview

The question is: how useful are your phone screens?  According to results of this month’s Virtual Recruiter Quick Poll, most hiring managers find phone screens give an accurate idea about a potential candidate.

A great initial phone call should qualify the candidate, get pertinent details, and keep the person excited about the opportunity, all while respecting their time.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Plan ahead
    Like everything else in business, preparation before you call the candidate is key to saving time and being as productive as possible. Identify exactly what you need in a candidate and prioritize it. Use the top criteria to create a template of questions you will ask every person you call. This not only keeps the phone call moving in the right direction, but it will ensure you’re comparing apples to apples in the evaluation process.
  2. Get the right questions
    The simplest rule: no fluff. If you’re calling your applicant out of the blue, they may not be in a position to talk for too long (if at all).  You need to be respectful of their time but you also need to assess them.  Only ask essential questions that will tell you if an interview is worthwhile and ask them in order of priority.  If you learn right away that they don’t qualify, you can politely thank them for their time and move on to the next candidate all within minutes.  For example, confirm they have the basic qualifications such as education or certifications, get a quick idea of salary, and confirm that their ideal start date works with your needs.  Simple yes/no questions are often all you need here, but you may consider a few open-ended questions to reveal conflicting desires (ex. they may mention that they prefer to work in a smaller organization, a different sector, or from home).
  3. Make it a conversation
    If you only want to ask questions, get answers, and hang up, then hire a robot to do your phone screens. This call may be the applicant’s first view into your organization, so you want it to be positive.  Open the dialogue by giving a quick overview about yourself, the company and the opportunity (don’t steal the show), give them time to respond to your questions in detail, and express an interest in the answers they give.  When you complete your questions, give them a chance to ask you questions.  They may screen you out right away – and that’s fine.  Nobody wants to do an interview that isn’t going to go anywhere.
  4. Avoid off-topic conversations
    You’d hate for 10 minutes to pass and realize that all you learned about is their hobbies and extra-curricular activities. Keep an eye on the clock and follow your plan.  Save the “getting to know you” conversation for the interview, the phone screen is all business.
  5. Assess communication skills and read between the lines
    After each phone call, before speaking with anybody else, write down a few notes. Do they do well on the phone?  Did they understand the questions?  What kind of vocabulary did they use?  Did they speak quickly?  Do they seem soft spoken? Depending on the role, some of these questions are more relevant than others.
  6. Find out if there are other opportunities
    Investigate if they have other offers on the table to gauge the urgency of your response. You would hate to lose a candidate because you took too long to schedule an interview. If you have a great potential candidate and they tell you they’re going for another interview tomorrow, schedule your interview as quickly as possible.
  7. Set expectations
    What’s involved in your recruitment process? Will it be a long interview? Keep candidates in the loop about what’s happening and what type of commitment you need from them during the hiring process.  The answers may not be favourable, but when you set expectations, they can prepare and will likely accept it.

Do you have any tips to add?  What do you think makes the perfect phone screen?  Please share your advice with other recruiters and hiring managers in the comments section below!

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