A quick guide that covers everything you need to know before conducting a phone screen interview
A phone screen interview has become a vital step within any recruitment process, but even more so as we find ourselves facing travel bans, social distancing requirements, and an increase in remote work. Not only do they allow employers to overcome these barriers, but they also save them immense time in narrowing down the most suited candidates for the role.
Despite this, many employers don’t know how to successfully conduct a phone screen interview, including how to prepare for one, the questions to ask, and the appropriate actions to take once the interview is over.
We’ve put together this helpful, in-depth guide to assist you to overcome these dilemmas and conduct your most successful phone screen interviews yet.
Here’s What You Need to Know Before Conducting Phone Screen Interviews
- 1. What is a phone screen?
- 2. What is a pre-screening interview?
- 3. How does a phone screen interview works?
- 4. How to prepare for a phone screen interview
- 5. How to conduct a phone screen interview?
- 6. Phone screening interview questions to ask
- 7. Following up after the phone screen interview
- 8. Phone screen interview tips
- 9. Phone screen interviews FAQs
1. What is a phone screen?
A phone screen is a brief job interview that occurs over the phone, between a recruiter or coordinator on a company’s talent acquisition team, and a potential employee. Usually, it lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. Its main role is to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the position you are advertising, and it is one of the first steps in the hiring process. If deemed to be well-suited to the role, the interviewee will then progress through to the remaining interview steps, including a lengthier and more in-depth phone interview.
During a phone screening interview, the recruiter will ask the candidate questions relating to their background, including their qualifications, availability, and salary requirements. By doing so, they are able to “screen” each candidate and quickly narrow down the most suitable group of applicants worthy of your time and attention as an employer.
While a phone screening interview takes place over the phone, it may be in the form of a standard, voice-only phone call or a video call, where the recruiter and applicant can see each other face-to-face.
Conducting a phone screen interview offers the following advantages to employers:
- Convenience in scheduling: It’s a lot easier for both interviewers and interviewees to find the time for a phone call, rather than an in-person interview, particularly when travel is involved.
- Higher-volume screening: By starting the interview process with a phone interview, you are able to filter through a higher volume of candidates in less amount of time, as you can call each one in quick succession.
- Decreased travel expenses: If members of your organization are based across several different locations, a phone interview is the most convenient solution.
2. What is a pre-screening interview?
A phone screen interview isn’t to be confused with a pre-screening interview, as each of these occurs at different stages throughout the hiring process.
As the term suggests, a pre-screening interview takes place before the phone screen interview questions. It is the very first step in the recruitment process and is the interview a candidate must ‘pass’ in order to move onto the phone screening phase.
Think of the pre-screening interview as a questionnaire that allows a recruiter to ask follow-up questions in relation to a candidate’s application or resume. It focuses on the applicant’s career goals, job preferences, abilities, knowledge, and more.
Typically, you or your recruiter will only give the pre-screening questionnaire to candidates they are highly interested in. It helps you to screen out candidates who may not be a good fit for the position you’re looking to fill.
Benefits of pre-screening interviews
Pre-screening interviews offer many benefits for employers. Firstly, they can help you or your recruiter collect information about the candidate they didn’t include in the resume, such as their hobbies, challenges they’ve overcome, or their goals for the next five years.
This information delves deeper into who a candidate really is and can help you determine if they may be suitable for your company.
Additionally, a pre-screening interview can save you time and effort down the track by reducing how many questions you’ll need to ask in subsequent interviews. By removing candidates who aren’t a great fit for the position early on, your company is able to improve the process and experience of recruitment.
Pre-interview questions to ask candidates
When it comes to the questions you should ask during a pre-screening interview, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, you should think about the things that are most important to your company and ask questions that will address these.
There also isn’t a standard length for pre-screening interviews. You can ask as many or as few questions as you need to. Additionally, you can encourage candidates to answer these questions in the form of ranked lists, as well as short or long replies.
If you require some ideas for pre-interview questions to help you get started, don’t fret. We’ve provided a long list of these in Chapter 6 of this guide to get the ball rolling.
3. How does a phone screen interview works?
The phone screening process first requires you, or the person acting on your behalf for the recruitment process, to contact the candidate and organize an interview time. Remember, this screening interview will take place over the phone, so simply ask the candidate to set aside 15 – 30 minutes for the call, depending on how many questions you plan on asking.
Typically, the phone screen interview will then take the following format:
1. Ask the candidate to tell you about themselves
This is a great ice-breaker and allows you to instantly gain a better idea about the person you’re interviewing. Ideally, a candidate’s personality should shine through their answer, giving you an insight into whether they would be a good fit for the position and company culture.
2. Gather more information about their work history
This next part of the phone screen interview process involves you asking the candidate to reveal more about their previous work history. This allows you to fact-check their resume, as well as to determine how their prior jobs may contribute to any valuable skills and experience needed for this position.
3. Inquire about their salary requirements
No one wants to go through the entire recruitment process thinking a candidate is a perfect fit for the role, only for them to turn it down due to different salary expectations. While this question can be difficult for applicants to answer, allow them to provide you with a required salary range, rather than a single figure if it makes them more comfortable.
4. Ask the candidate why they specifically want this position
The phone screening interview is the perfect place to find out what it is about this position and your workplace in particular, that they desire. Prompt them to be as specific as possible, so you can determine if they will share the same passion and commitment to the company and role.
5. Focus on skill-based questions
At the end of this process, you will also ask the candidate more skill-based questions to determine if they have the experience and knowledge required to succeed in this role. You’ll want to be as specific to the position as possible. For example, for a candidate being screened for a social media marketing role, you might ask the following:
- Have you had experience setting up and overseeing social media campaigns?
- What social platform have you had the most experience with as well as the least?
- How would you add value to our social media team?
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4. How to prepare for a phone screen interview
Unlike a face-to-face interview, you must rely solely on the verbal cues of your interviewee, rather than body language, when conducting a phone screen interview. This is why planning ahead is key. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to ensure you’re prepared, each of which we’ve outlined below.
Determine what really matters
Firstly, think about the needs of this role:
- Do you require someone to fill the position immediately, or are you looking to hire within the coming weeks or months?
- Would you need a successful candidate to relocate?
- How many hours, and when, will they have to work?
- What specifics do you require for this role, or are you more flexible and willing to adapt the requirements to the right candidate?
These are just some of the important questions you should think about in the lead-up to a phone screening interview, as they will help you to clarify which candidates are worth pursuing.
Read their resume
Familiarizing yourself with the candidate’s resume allows you to learn about their background. Additionally, it’s the only way to verify their information or ask about gaps in their employment, plus it makes you look more professional. Print out a copy too so it’s on-hand to refer to.
Before you begin interviewing potential candidates, remind yourself that the purpose of this phone screening is to determine whether that person is suitable for a follow-up interview. Therefore, you’ll want to clear your mind of any bias beforehand. It’s easy to read through a candidate’s resume and decide they’re the perfect person for this position, or alternatively, not well-suited to the role. However, it’s only with an objective mind during the recruitment process that you can find the most suitable candidate.
Be prepared to discuss the role in depth
You should also allow your interviewee to ask you questions to help them understand the position and company better. If you need to clarify details about the role, don’t hesitate to reach out to relevant managers or employees for additional information. Ensure you have a clear description of the role and what’s required. Furthermore, by the end of the call, a candidate should know exactly what the next steps in the process may be.
5. How to conduct a phone screen interview?
Once you’re ready to start conducting phone screening interviews, the process is relatively straightforward. Follow these steps:
Step 1. Prepare your questions: Draw on what is most important for this role, then base your questions around these factors.
Step 2. Schedule the interview: Reach out to each applicant you wish to screen and ask them to schedule an interview session. To make this easier, use scheduling software such as Calendly, Acuity Scheduling, or HubSpot Meetings.
Step 3. Start with a polite and brief introduction: Introduce yourself to the candidate, including your role within the company and hiring process, then begin with your interview questions, starting with the easier questions and leading to the more technical or in-depth questions.
Step 4. Ask the same main questions for each candidate: This helps you to assess each candidate on a level playing field and makes a comparison between interviews much easier. By sticking to a group of core questions, you can branch off with related follow-up questions, if necessary.
Step 5. Take notes: During the phone screen interviews, take notes of any notable responses or information that will later help you determine if the candidate is worthy of a follow-up interview for the role.
Step 6. Ask the candidate if they have any questions: This is one of the last, vital steps in the phone interview process and allows a candidate to clarify any information or showcase further knowledge about the company or role.
Step 7. Tell interviewees what to expect next: End each phone interview with a reasonable timeline of when the candidate can expect an outcome, as well as how you will contact them.
Step 8. Follow up with interviewees: Regardless of whether a candidate has made it through to the next round of the recruitment process or not, it is professional to reach out to them about the outcome of their interview.
Step 9. Arrange the next interview with successful candidates: Finally, reach out to each successful candidate and ask them to schedule the next interview. You should also give them an indication of what this next interview will entail.
6. Phone screening interview questions to ask
Of course, one of the most important aspects of any phone interview is the questions you have prepared for the applicant. To help you out, we’ve listed all of the questions you might consider, including those you should avoid.
Pre-screening interview questions
Earlier in this guide, we discussed pre-screening interviews and how they help your company gather additional details about the applicant. To further help you with this process, we’ve rounded up a list of 30 insightful questions to ask:
- What work tasks are you best at?
- What topics or areas are you most knowledgeable about?
- Which topics do you need to strengthen your expertise in?
- Do you possess any additional skills or talents that haven’t been listed on your resume?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses? How can you overcome these?
- How would you apply your expertise to this position?
- What are your biggest goals on a professional level?
- Where do you see yourself in three years?
- How would you like to develop professionally?
- Describe what the perfect manager is to you.
- What type of management do you excel under and why?
- What areas of management frustrate you the most and why?
- What leadership skills do you excel at?
- Which aspects of leadership are your weakest?
- How would you rate your interpersonal skills?
- What has frustrated you the most about your role or position in the past?
- How would you describe your work style?
- What does an average day in your current role look like?
- What’s one thing you wish you could’ve done differently in your previous/current role?
- What are your top three job accomplishments so far?
- What do you think makes work fun?
- Why did you quit your last job? Or, why do you want to leave your current job?
- Have you applied to other roles too?
- Has another company made you an offer recently?
- What are you personally looking for in a role?
- What positive aspects do you wish to get out of this role?
- What salary would you expect within this role?
- If hired, when would you be able to start work?
- Can you provide samples of your recent work?
Now that you’ve learned the top 30 pre-screening interview questions, let’s turn our attention to the phone screening interview questions you should — and shouldn’t — ask candidates during this next phase of the recruitment process.
Phone screening interview questions you should ask
1. The basics
It’s best to start off by asking simple questions that the candidate will find easy to answer, and this is a great way to also uncover their personality. Basic questions might include:
- Please tell me about your background?
- Why are you looking for a new job?
- How is your job search progressing?
- When would you be available to start work, if selected?
These questions are also perfect for indicating whether a candidate is suitable for your position from the get-go. If you need the role filled immediately, for example, but they are unable to start for at least a month, then you know this candidate may not be a good fit.
2. Salary expectations
Topics involving money can be awkward for candidates and interviewers to discuss, however, it’s a vital component at this stage of the hiring process.
Salary-based questions include:
- How much would you like to earn in this role?
- Are there specific benefits that are important to you?
- If we are unable to offer (a specified salary or benefit), would this be a deal-breaker for you?
If a candidate is reluctant to discuss these topics so early on, you can also consider asking them later on in the recruitment process, if they progress. During the phone screening interview, these questions aim to purely give you a general idea about their suitability.
3. Desire for the job
Before you discuss topics such as the interviewee’s skills, knowledge, or previous experience, you’ll need to gauge their interest in the position. Some may be applying for any role they find, while others will genuinely want to work within your organization. The following questions will assist you:
- Why are you thinking about leaving your current job?
- What attracted you most to this position?
- Describe your current role’s responsibilities.
- What motivates you within a role?
During their responses, pay special attention to any mention of:
- Workplace cultural preferences
- Interpersonal skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Leadership qualities
- Other soft skills
4. Knowledge of the organization
Anyone who’s serious about the role you’re hiring for will have prepared by doing some research. To determine who is the real deal, ask questions such as:
- What do you know about our products or services?
- What is it about our company that attracted you to this job?
- Do you have any experience using our products or services?
When listening to a candidate’s answers, try to determine if they have shared values with your company, support its mission, or are genuinely passionate about what your products or services have to offer.
5. Resume details
It’s recommended you dedicate a larger portion of the phone screen interview to a discussion about the candidate’s resume, including their previous employment, education, and experience. This allows you to determine if they have the skills, capability, and aptitude you’re looking for. Additionally, it gives you a chance to ask them follow-up questions regarding their resume. Examples include:
- How are your skills a good match for this role?
- What skill areas have you recently improved or gained?
- Why did you leave your last employer?
- What were you doing during this gap in employment/study?
- Did your internship/previous role give you specific experience that you can apply to this job?
- Your resume mentions that you were responsible for (specific accomplishment) at your last company. How did you achieve that?
Try to prepare some questions that are completely unique to each candidate after reviewing their resume. This will provide you with a greater understanding of the information they’ve listed.
6. Answering their questions
The final question you should ask an applicant during their phone screening interview is whether they have any questions for you. Although it might sound like a formality, this question actually provides plenty of value to both you and the candidate you’re interviewing. It allows them the chance to clarify information regarding the role or company to ensure they’re also on the same page. Additionally, questions regarding a company’s mission or past achievements can hint at a genuine interest in the company culture and triumphs. Questions that seem to focus only on salary or vacation allowance, for example, may just hint at other motives.
Phone screening interview questions you should avoid
Along with interview questions you should ask, there are also some types of questions you should avoid during this process.
1. Questions that ask for personal information
Although the aim of the phone screening interview is to gather as much information as possible about the candidate, there are some topics that are off-topic for both you and the interviewee. These include questions relating to:
- Marital status
- Citizenship status
- Sexual orientation
- Mental health
- Plans to conceive
As none of these topics should have an impact on a candidate’s suitability, they are unnecessary. You and your company don’t want to be accused of having bias, so it’s best to avoid these subjects throughout the interview — even if the candidate themselves were to bring them up.
2. Questions asked for the sake of passing time
Don’t feel pressured to fill a time slot and begin asking questions that don’t add value to your decision. A phone screen interview offers a recruiter a valuable opportunity to determine if an applicant is suitable for a position, and therefore worthy of continuing in the hiring process. Think about each question you wish to ask and what significance it plays in your interview process.
7. Following up after the phone screen interview
Once you finish the screening interviews, your work isn’t over just yet. Thankfully, what comes next is also a fulfilling and vital part of the recruitment process, and will take you even closer to hiring the best candidate for your company.
Firstly, you’ll want to start by deciding which candidates stood out the most and will continue on to the formal and more in-depth interview stage. You want to secure the top talent for your business, so it’s vital to act as quickly as possible here, rather than risk an outstanding applicant being hired by a competitor.
Additionally, you’ll need to determine how you will conduct the next step in the interview process. Will it be a series of one-on-one meetings — whether in-person or via video call — or an interview featuring a panel of company executives, for example?
Once you’ve made these decisions, it’s important to schedule these follow-up interviews with both the candidates and any applicable staff, straight away. This allows the momentum of the process to continue while information is still fresh in everyone’s mind, plus enables enough time for each party to prepare as necessary.
Another follow-up activity is to ask candidates to send relevant work samples that they can examine before the next interview takes place. Along with these work samples, you’ll also be digging deeper into an applicant’s employment and education background, assessing their skill levels, collecting feedback from staff who have met them (such as recruiters), cross-checking references, and considering the salary offer.
Of course, while our world is still in the grips of the global pandemic, it would be wise to schedule a remote interview where possible. If this is the case, be sure to brush up on the phone interview tips and FAQs following this section.
8. Phone screen interview tips
When done correctly, a phone interview can provide greater insight into a candidate and offer more depth of information than a resume or cover letter can.
We’ve included several phone screen interview tips below to help you perfect your own.
Tip 1. Schedule phone interviews on the same day: You should determine how many candidates you will be screening, along with how much time you will spend with each. Then, work out if you can fit all of these interviews into a single day. Doing so will provide you with an advantage, as it allows you to evaluate each candidate on a more equal footing.
Tip 2. Know who you are interviewing: It’s really helpful for you to familiarize yourself with each applicant’s resume, portfolio and/or social media accounts before you speak to them. Again, this allows each candidate to become more individualized within your mind, plus you can draw on this information to refer back to during the interview, where relevant.
Tip 3. Interview in a quiet place: It probably goes without saying, but you’ll need to hear each candidate clearly during their interviews, so you should choose a quiet place free of distractions when interviewing over the phone. Be sure to take factors such as phone reception into account too.
Tip 4. Engage candidates in conversation: Don’t overlook the opportunity to create a connection with each candidate by engaging them in conversation. Initially, you’ll want to build rapport with interviewees by asking them simple icebreaker-type questions, whether it be about their hobbies, previous role, or what they know about your company. Then, you can move forward with the technical and in-depth questions about their experience.
Tip 5. Let the candidate do most of the talking: This ties in with our last point, but the aim of these phone screen interviews is for you to find out about the candidate, therefore they should do most of the talking. It’s your role to ask questions, including follow-up questions where necessary, and be a great listener.
Tip 6. Listen for voice cues: One disadvantage of a phone interview is that you can’t see the candidate in person, and therefore, can’t pick up on subtle body-language cues. Over the phone, however, you can pay attention to verbal cues, including hesitation, shakiness, confidence, and determination. These can give you clues about their demeanour and temperament.
Tip 7. Apply in-person interview strategies on the phone: Just because the interview is taking place over the phone doesn’t mean you can’t employ strategies you’d typically use in person. These include using strategic pauses after a question to prompt the candidate to fill the silence. Additionally, you’ll need to “read the room” and go beyond your list of phone screen interview questions if you need more information. Finally, even body language can go a long way when interviewing someone. Smiling, nodding, and standing up in eagerness, for example, can all translate through the tone of your voice.
Tip 8. Don’t multitask during the interview: Although many of us are used to multitasking during a phone call, it’s recommended you don’t do this during the phone screen process. You’ll need to stay focused and absorb as much of the information as you can. To do this, try using a headset instead of listening to the candidate on speakerphone. Keep your space and thoughts organized, and have a notebook or computer in front of you so you can take notes throughout the interview.
9. Phone screen interviews FAQs
By this point, you may have some questions about phone screen interviews that haven’t already been answered. To help you out, we’ve addressed each of the frequently asked questions about phone interviews below.
How do you conduct a good phone screening interview?
A good phone screening interview is one where you begin to prepare. Familiarize yourself with the candidate beforehand by reading their resume, cover letter, and any sample work they share with you. Additionally, print these out so you can have them in front of you for reference.
Start with simple, ice-breaker questions first, then move on to the more in-depth questions regarding their suitability for the role. Remain engaged and focused during the interview, and don’t hesitate to use the same body language you would use in an in-person setting, such as smiling or nodding in agreement, as these can enhance your tone of voice too.
What questions to expect from a candidate in a phone interview?
There are several different types of questions a candidate may ask you during the interview to further clarify the role or company. These include:
- What would you say are the main responsibilities of this position?
- What specific qualities are you looking for in a successful candidate?
- If hired, how would I be interacting with you and your department?
- What are your measures for success, or KPIs, in this role?
- How would I get feedback in relation to these success measures?
- What is considered to be the most challenging part of this job?
- Who does this position report to?
- How would you describe the company culture?
- What is the typical work week for this position? Is overtime or travel involved?
- Do you offer benefits such as healthcare and dental costs?
- What type of retirement package is offered to employees?
- What opportunities for advancement exist within this role?
- Do you provide continuing training opportunities for your staff?
- If I am offered the job, when would you need me to start?
- Is there anything else about my past educational or employment history you would like to know?
- Do you require my list of references?
- What is the next step in the interview process?
- When can I expect to hear from you?
How long do phone interviews last?
On average, a phone screen interview will last for approximately 30 minutes, although interviews between 15 – 45 minutes are not uncommon.
When should I conduct a phone interview?
There are numerous reasons for conducting a phone interview, including:
- Screening interviews
- Second interviews
- Interviews for remote jobs
- Executive interviews
Phone interviews not only minimize the requirement for travel or a shared location but are also becoming the norm in our current climate, due to social distancing requirements of the pandemic.
What are some warning signs I should be aware of?
During a phone interview, there are a number of warning signs to look out for. These can be strong signs that a candidate simply isn’t the right person for the job and include:
- A lack of enthusiasm indicates a candidate isn’t passionate about the role.
- Not asking any questions, which may hint at a lack of planning and interest.
- Sounding distracted, as though they’re scrolling through Facebook or texting their friends during the interview.
- Negative comments about former employees, demonstrate poor tact and diplomacy.
- Focusing only on money, which indicates they’re focused on the money and perks, rather than being an asset to the company.
- Cursing is another example of unprofessionalism and gives you a reason to be concerned about the candidate presenting to senior management or clients.
As you’ve learned, phone screen interviews are one of the most significant first steps in the recruitment process. They allow employers to narrow down their list of applicants to only those that may be most suitable, plus helps companies to save time and costs since travel and location are no longer a barrier.
Armed with knowledge about how to prepare for a phone screen interview — as well as how to conduct one successfully, the questions to ask and avoid, the follow-up process, and more — you’re now well on your way to reaping the immense benefits that these phone interviews provide.
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