Hire Smart: Simple Steps to Better Phone Screening

October 21, 2013

Looking to save time and resources by streamlining your hiring process? Use this simple checklist and examples of sample phone screening questions to quickly identify the best candidates while filtering out the rest.


When you post a job opening, you may often receive submissions from a wide variety of applicants. Some may be overqualified (i.e., a senior software engineer applying for more of an entry-level developer position), while others may possess very few of the mandatory qualifications you requested.

In either of those circumstances, it can be relatively easy to screen or disqualify applicants. But what about the candidates whose qualifications and experience fall somewhere in between? You can’t bring every applicant in for an in-person interview, so how can you determine whether “borderline” candidates should move forward in the recruiting process?

The answer: Effective phone screening.

Phone screening gives you an opportunity to conduct a brief initial interview with candidates without having to commit to a bevy of in-person meetings. The goal with these screens is to explain the company, culture, and position in detail, and to better understand the candidate’s experience to determine if he or she truly aligns with your target profile and company culture.

5 Things to Cover in a Candidate Phone Screen

While phone screens can be a time-saver, they can also be a time suck if you try to cover too much ground or acquire too much information about a candidate.

Again, the objective here is to ascertain if a candidate meets certain requirements, possesses the core qualities you’re looking for, and shares some of the same personal and professional goals of the rest of your staff.

With that in mind, here’s a checklist of five things you should cover during an initial phone screen:

  1. Experience: Ask the candidate to walk you through his or her background, noting career highlights. Look for patterns. Determine how the person’s experience aligns with the role, and make note of any areas for further vetting. In addition, find out what is motivating the candidate to consider a new role.
  2. Compensation: What does the candidate currently earn? Get a full compensation breakdown (base, variable, options, etc.). What is the candidate’s compensation expectation for the job at your company? Is it in line with your company’s budget? This will help you to create a competitive offer should the candidate be selected for the role, and help prevent back-and-forth compensation negotiations after an offer is presented.
  3. Timeline: What is the candidate’s timeframe for making a career move? Is anything keeping them at their current company until a certain date (e.g., bonus, potential promotion, etc.)? Would anything else prevent them from starting by a particular date? Timing is an important factor when recruiting candidates. It’s essential to know a candidate’s timeframe to determine his or her viability.
  4. Job Search: Ask candidates about any other job opportunities they are pursuing and where they are in the process. Don’t automatically assume that your company’s opportunity is the best one out there.
  5. Next steps: When ending a phone screen, give candidates an understanding of who at your organization they can expect to hear from next, and what the rest of the interview process will be like.

Candidate expectations can have a significant influence on the outcome of a search, so it’s vital to start measuring and managing them in the initial stages of the recruitment process. The more you ensure that a candidate’s expectations align with the position and the company, the better your chances of avoiding any eleventh-hour breakdowns when it comes time to make an offer.

Sample Questions to Ask During a Phone Screen

During a phone screen, it’s important to ask questions that are brief, open-ended, purposeful, and to the point. Here are some sample questions you might consider using during an initial phone interview:

  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why do you feel you would be an asset to our company?
  • What do you find most challenging in your current role?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What’s prompting you to explore other opportunities?
  • What is your current compensation breakdown?

Ultimately, the purpose of those questions is to uncover contextual information about a candidate and weed out the fringe applicants who might cloud your vision of the ideal candidate for a position.

If a candidate bombs the interview or delivers answers that don’t align with your company culture, don’t feel bad about moving forward without that person. Your goal, again, is to move closer to the ideal candidate throughout the interview process. If a phone call reveals a fatal flaw in someone’s resume or character, don’t hesitate to cut them from your list.

Take the Next Step: Download the Free eBook

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  • Assemble and manage a successful, high-output talent team
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Have you had any memorable experiences with candidate phone screens? Any tips you’d give to expansion-stage hiring managers who are responsible for identifying the very best talent? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Photo by: Billy Brown

Director of Talent

<strong>Carlie Smith</strong> was the Senior Talent Manager, Sales & Marketing at OpenView. She worked directly with hiring managers and key stakeholders within OpenView and its portfolio to lead vital searches and provided process guidance on recruitment strategy, including talent identification, strategic sourcing, relationship building, and competitive intelligence. Currently, Carlie is the Director of <a href="https://www.circle.com/en">Circle</a>.