10-Minute Phone Screen is All You Need to Assess Candidates

Interviewing 10-Minute Phone Screen is All You Need to Assess Candidates

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Businesswoman holding a set of documents speaking on the phone.

Phone screens provide a unique opportunity to assess candidates that in-person interviews do not. During a phone screen, you are relying on only the voice on the other end of the line and not as many other cues that in-person interviews provide. This enables you to distinguish subtle signs that you might not otherwise notice.

The Candidate is Unprepared

How could they?

When you have an appointment with a candidate and they are late or miss your call at your scheduled time, this is a bad sign. Let that red flag fly! This same logic applies to in-person interviews as well; if there is traffic or an accident on the freeway getting to the interview, this probably means the candidate didn’t allow enough time for the possibility of such circumstances, which means they didn’t think ahead, which means they might make bad decisions, which means you don’t want to have a bad decision-maker on your team, right? Right.

Their Demeanor or Phone Etiquette Leaves Something to Be Desired

They answer the phone irritated, like they just woke up, or sigh heavily when asked a question. You introduce yourself and ask if this is still a good time to talk and can’t help but feel like you just interrupted them. You begin your typical interview line of questioning and they become further annoyed or hesitant to share information or are otherwise disengaged somehow.

Just because you are conducting a phone screen as opposed to an in-person interview doesn’t make the circumstances different. You are still conducting a legitimate interview and your candidate should take it just as seriously.

They Know Nothing About Your Company

Generally, at the beginning of an interview, you may tell the candidate a bit about your company. Usually, you ask what they know about the company even before that. If a candidate hasn’t bothered to do their research on your company and doesn’t know really what makes you unique from your competitors, this is likely a negative indicator. They may not be genuinely interested in the position and this often can leave you with a bad first impression. Rightly so.

Getting Information Out of Them Feels Like Pulling Teeth

And you’re not a dentist. You’re a manager, or boss, or recruiter, ill-equipped with only a pen and paper for notes, not dental-grade teeth/past work history extracting equipment. When you ask a candidate about previous positions they’ve held and they can’t remember specifics, or fumble through trying to explain things in a cohesive way, run the other way.

It is a bad indication when you ask a candidate a direct question and they cannot answer your inquiry with a simple, direct answer. Good candidates may not always remember everything on a whim but should have a good idea about what they did and how. If they fail to provide answers to direct questions, consider this a warning sign that your candidate could be stretching the truth, covering something up, or withholding information.

If a candidate is hesitant about divulging their previous supervisor’s or boss’s names to you or responds with “he/she doesn’t work there anymore” when you ask if so-and-so would give them a reference, this is likely a bad sign. If they become defensive or speak negatively of their boss during this time, this is even worse! Firstly, because you didn’t ask if so-and-so still worked there, you asked if they would give a reference. Secondly, because this may show that the candidate is assigning blame to his or her previous boss, and no one likes a blamer.

They Don’t Have Questions

Candidates don’t have to grill you about the position or company, but, if they’re genuinely interested in the role, they should have questions that come up during your time together.

Phone Interview Tips for Effective Screening of Potential Candidates

A brief phone interview can make the hiring process quicker and easier. You can engage candidates without setting up time-consuming in-person interviews and eliminate those who are clearly unsuitable. In addition, you can contact more people and discover gems who you might have otherwise dismissed.

A phone interview is also an excellent chance to ask questions about indicators of ambition, drive, and motivation. Hiring expert Lou Adler recommends a “forensic” phone interview. This means searching out a pattern of behavior in a candidate that is indicative of these qualities.

To do this, you will want to answer some important basic questions as well as questions that really explore your candidate’s abilities.

Here are some things you want to accomplish in order to make the most of your phone interview:

Confirm that the candidate is (still) interested in the position.

If a candidate was discovered by a recruiter or a web search, you will want to confirm that the person in question is still looking for a position. If they look like a great fit, but it turns out that they are presently employed, ask them what would make them want to make a change.

Get a brief introduction to the candidate.

What are they doing now? What are they looking for? Why? Pay attention to how they answer these questions. If they are at a loss to explain their goals or abilities clearly, make note of that. Try to nudge them into a better answer by asking probing questions, but don’t lead them to the answer you want to hear.

Ask about accomplishments.

Specific accomplishments are the best responses. Maybe they were able to save their employer money. Less concrete but still notable examples might include the completion of a particular project. This question will tell you something about what the candidate is proud of, what they consider important, and what they have actually done with their ambitions.

Ask follow-up questions.

Once a candidate has shared a past experience or a future goal, ask follow-up questions. A candidate may have prepared an answer to a specific question, but these extra questions can reveal dishonesty or lack of confidence. Can they actually explain what they did? Do they have a plan to improve themselves?

Ask for their feelings about a past job, supervisor, or experience.

Asking candidates to share their reaction to a person or event can reveal a lot about their thought process as well as their ability to think on their feet. Have they demonstrated what was learned from past experiences? Does their answer show that they have reflected upon their career and professional relationships?

Let them know that you will be contacting their past supervisors.

Some candidates do not expect their potential employers to really follow up on their references and backgrounds. A phone interview is a good opportunity to let them know that you take the hiring process seriously. It may inspire the candidate to be more forthcoming about anything negative in their past.

Solicit information about salaries, benefits, or compensation requirements.

It is important to understand the candidates’ expectations in this area and review how they align with your own. This may be especially significant if the candidate is currently employed elsewhere. If past compensation is significantly higher than what you are offering, ask yourself why this person would be happy with a lower standard of living?

Ask if they have any questions.

The candidate should have a clear opportunity to ask you questions. You can quickly clarify misunderstandings and get another chance to understand their priorities, thought processes, and communication skills.

 Have they paid close attention to you? Is there an obvious question they should ask you, but don’t? Do their questions demonstrate critical thinking?

You may also want to ask a few exploratory questions during your phone interview. Ask the candidate to expand on something they have said. The key here is to get the candidate to demonstrate their thought process and exhibit something of their attitude towards their work.

Be sure that you are prepared to take good notes during a phone interview. Don’t rely on your memory to recall the details and nuances of the conversation. Phone interviews are a great opportunity, so use them to your best advantage.

Identifying the Subtleties

Any one of these warning signs can quickly and easily weed out the good from the bad candidates. Bad candidates will often reveal themselves in many subtle ways. Being aware of these subtleties is key to determining whether you are on the right path or moving down a slippery slope with your potential prospects!

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