Phone Screen Interviews: The Essential Step in Your Recruitment Process

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>In This Guide You’ll Learn</h2><p><ul><li>Why Telephone Interviews save you time and effort in the long run.</li><li>How to set up a Telephone Interview.</li><li>How to conduct a Telephone Interview.</li><li>How to make a decision.</li><li>How to set up interviews with successful candidates.</li></ul></p></div>

Speak with Shortlisted Applicants Immediately

As soon as you shortlist a job applicant, you should do a Telephone Interview with them. Telephone Interviews are a quick, easy and essentially free way of screening applicants and help you to:

  • Avoid unnecessary interviews, because by having a chat with the applicant early on, you can quickly see if they’re likely to be a good fit.
  • See if the applicant is serious about your job, or just fishing.
  • Avoid chasing after “ghosts”; applicants you’re chasing for an interview but who don’t reply to you.
  • Judge if your Great Performance Profile is realistic.

Telephone Interviews are more effective than fancy new technologies like Video Screening software where applicants record answers to questions online for employers to later view. Applicants are often reluctant to go to the effort of doing these. The same goes for psychometric tests. Applicants are unlikely to want to sit a test early on in the recruitment process and tests should never be a substitute for speaking to an applicant. (For more on psychometric tests see guide: Using Psychometrics in Recruitment).

How to Arrange a Telephone Interview

There’s little point in trying to arrange a time to call as this often turns into a long-winded process. Instead try the following:

  1. First send the applicant a text message. This will help them get familiar with who you are and why you’re contacting them.
  2. Call the applicant. Ask them if they’re free to talk. If they’re busy or you can’t get through, send a text and an email.
  3. Call a few days later. Try to speak to them again, but don’t start going round in circles. If you can’t reach them after a few attempts, then it may be time to cross them off your shortlist.

Promise of a Reference Call

  • One of the most powerful tools to use in the recruitment process are Reference Calls – more specifically, telling the candidate explicitly that they will be helping to arrange reference calls. I call this the Promise of a Reference Call (PORC).
  • Throughout the recruitment process you should keep reminding candidates about the PORC, and this begins at the Telephone Interview stage.
  • The PORC acts like a truth serum: you almost always get more honest answers. It also filters out liars and Poor Performers who don’t want you to check the exaggerated claims made on their CVs with their former bosses. For more on references, see guide: How to Conduct a Background Check.

How to do a Telephone Interview

  • It’s a good idea to ask a fixed set of questions to each candidate. This allows you to compare candidates with the competencies defined in the Great Performance Profile.
  • Calls should be between 5 and 15 minutes long. It’s a good idea for them to be carried out by someone who’ll also be involved in the later Structured Interviews (see guides: How to Carry OutTelephone Interviews & Interview Questions for Employers) because they’ll be able to spot any inconsistencies in candidates’ answers.

Here is a good structure for a Telephone Interview (you can find a full Telephone Interview Script at the Guides & Checklists section of our website):

Opening remarks

  • Introduce yourself and explain the purpose of the call. Introduce the PORC.

Disqualification questions

<p><ul><li>These are broad questions intended to uncover any big issues and to see if the candidate is likely to be a good fit. If you find red flags, then speed up or skip forward.</li><li>Here are a few questions that you might use:</li><ul><li>"What’s most important for you about your next job?"</li><li>"What are you really good at professionally?"</li><li>"What would you not like to do again?"</li></ul></ul></p>

Employment overview

<p><ul><li>If you’re happy with what you’ve heard so far, then begin exploring the candidate’s recent employment.</li><li>You might ask:</li><ul><li>“What were your main responsibilities?”</li><li>“What were your successes?”</li><li>“How would your boss rate your performance?”</li><li>“Where could you improve?”</li><li>“Why are you leaving your current job?”</li></ul></ul></p>

Do they want the job?

<p><ul><li>You could ask:</li><ul><li>“What do you know about our organisation?”</li><li>“What questions do you have about the job?”</li></ul></li>

<p><ul><li>Don’t rule out a candidate just because they don’t know much about your job or organisation; this is often the case because jobseekers may be applying for lots of jobs. On the other hand, if they have read up, then you may have found a serious candidate. </li><li>Asking the candidate if they have any questions can give you a sense of how keen they are – watch out if they’re only interested in the money rather than the actual job.</li></ul></p>

Making a Decision

  • Having spoken to the candidate, ask yourself: Do they have the competencies needed for the job? Will we be able to deal with any weaknesses? Are we excited about this person?
  • Beware of anyone who lies or exaggerates. Deceit is often worse than any deficiency the candidate is trying to conceal from you!

You’ll now have obviously unsuitable candidates, ones that you’re unsure about and ones that you want to take forward.

Unsuitable Candidates

  • Tell them respectfully and clearly that they’ve been unsuccessful. If you can, do it straightaway. It’s better for them and saves you having to follow up later.
  • If they ask for further explanation, you might say that you have other applicants with more relevant experience.

If You’re Unsure

  • If you haven’t found any clearly suitable candidates, you could try to Telephone Interview again and probe areas that you have doubts about.
  • You could ask someone else in the Recruitment Team for their view.

Suitable Candidates

<p><ul><li>Tell them immediately that you want to interview them. Remind them of the PORC.</li><li>It’s amazing how many candidates fail to show up for interviews. To minimise the risk of this, do the following:</li><ul><li>Arrange the interview over the phone rather than by email.</li><li>Tell them how long the interview will be.</li><li>Ask if they need provision for visible or non-visible disabilities.</li><li>Avoid scheduling interviews in lunch hours.</li><li>Confirm arrangements by email and send a calendar invite.</li><li>Follow up with a text the day before.</li></ul><li>What if you don’t find suitable candidates? Keep looking, while considering whether your Great Performance Profile is too stringent. Another option might be to train up an existing employee for the role.</li></ul></p>

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p><ul><li>Telephone Interviews help you avoid wasting time doing interviews with unsuitable or uncommitted applicants.</li><li>Telephone Interviews work better than Video Screening software or psychometric tests.</li><li>To arrange Telephone Interviews, warm up applicants with a text message, then call them.</li><li>Throughout the recruitment process remind candidates of the Promise of a Reference Call.</li><li>Use set questions for the Telephone Interviews to help you compare candidates with your Great Performance Profile.</li><li>Make a decision and promptly set up interviews with the successful candidates; quickly tell unsuitable applicants that they’ve been unsuccessful.</li></ul></p></div>

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Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

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We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment