Phone Screening

If you are involved in the hiring process and candidates aren’t being phone screened by you or someone else in your organization you are making a big mistake.

Just because someone has a nice looking resume is no reason to invite him or her in for an interview. Remember a face-to-face interview takes time. Even if it is obvious that you don’t like the person from the onset you are still obligated to conduct the interview (in the interest of fairness) and that is a complete waste of time.

Some people are quite willing to tell the candidate to piss off if they don’t like him or her in the first 10 minutes. This is fine for you but incredibly rude to the person who took time out of their workday to come and meet you. For the interviewer it might cost an hour, for the interviewee it is also the transit time to your place of business. In a big city like Toronto for example that could mean round trip travel time of two hours or more. So effectively it takes them out of commission for a half day.

Phone screening candidates is one of the most powerful time management tools you have at your disposal. You can interview three candidates in the time it takes to conduct one face-to-face interview and you can make decisions on a candidate’s status without having to worry that you have unfairly inconvenienced the person.

Now I am not advocating that you eliminate meeting people face-to-face. I am just saying that you should only meet those people that you are really excited about.

Phone interviews should be roughly 20-30 minutes in length and should be purely fact based and resume focused. Save the behavioral questions for the face-to-face interview. What you want to do is establish if the person has the baseline skill set to do the job.

In a phone interview you concentrate on things like: career progression and job movement. Find out what were the reasons a person left one job for another. If there are red flags dig deeper.

Also you can quickly assess baseline technical skills over the phone such as exposure to methodologies or computer languages. How many IT folk do you know who list about 100 computer languages in their skill set. Do you want to waste a whole day interviewing people only to find out they really are only strong in one application?

I helped design a phone screen process for a client company for their HR department. The phone screen tool was used for the initial screen in sales hires. The HR person would do the phone screen and if the candidate did well the Sales Manager would interview the person. This eliminated the need for HR staff to conduct a face-to-face interview and assured the Managers that they were getting quality candidates who were already prescreened. It was a tremendous savings in time for the HR group, the Managers, and the Candidates.

Here is a list of some of the questions that we used:

What product do you sell?

What is the length of your sales cycle?

What is the value of the average sale?

What is your territory?

How many accounts are you currently managing?

How many customer calls would you make on a good day

What are the steps involved in selling your product

Did you hit quota last year?

Sales record over past three years

Have you won any awards for performance?

Ranking (among sales force)

Biggest achievement or sale?

Before you start phone interviewing you should prepare a list of questions and have them on a sheet of paper in front of you. The questions should be specific to your job opening and focused on the hard skills as opposed to soft skills.

Make sure that you ask everyone the same questions.

One drawback of phone screening is that you typically can’t call the candidates at work. People are often not in a position to talk freely at work and are more able to do phone screens at home. This means you will have to do some evening work. But the payoff is that you will only doing face-to-face interviews with candidates that you are really excited about, not wasting time with those you aren't.

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