how important a phone screening isPhone Screening: The Unsung Hero of the Selection Process

Until recently, conducting a job candidate phone screen was an overlooked or minor part of the employee screening process. But lengthy, in-depth phone screen calls are becoming the norm. Some companies devote an hour or more conducting the kind of discussion that used to only take place at the interview table. After choosing viable interviewees from your big pile of resumes, it may be tempting to skip the phone screen.

Or, you may want to limit your phone screen to a quick check that the person can actually operate a telephone, follow simple instructions and is professional enough not to, um … flush a toilet while speaking to a potential employer!

But before you blow off this important piece to the employee selection puzzle, consider this…

5 benefits of conducting a thorough candidate phone screen:

1. It saves time: Yes, even if you dedicate a full hour to the process, phone screens are quicker for both you and the candidate. No waiting for the person to show up, no need to move from your office to a conference room, no need to walk away from everything you were doing. (Of course, you should give this process your full attention, but at least you don’t need to close up all your files and walk away… and if you happen to get someone who rambles endlessly, you can always check your email.)
2. Saves resources: Since phone screens can be done from anywhere, you don’t need to reserve a conference or interview room, provide beverages or print out forms for the candidate to complete. This is even a bigger deal if the call quickly reveals that the candidate is a dud!
3. Flexibility: Phone screens do not necessarily need to be conducted during normal business hours. This can mean fewer interruptions and greater availability for both of you.
4. Determines candidate’s ability to think on his/her feet. Most people won’t expect an involved screening over the phone. This is your chance to find out what they really know, rather than what they are able to find out before they have (what they would consider) their “real” interview.
5. Objectivity: Since you won’t be able to see the person, your initial reactions will be based solely on the answers given and how responses are delivered, rather than by looks, clothes or facial expressions. Obviously, professionalism in dress should be considered, but you can think about that after the candidate passes the phone screen and moves on to the in-person interview.

Here are some tips for conducting an effective phone interview:

  • Make sure you have a good connection. You don’t want to spend the whole time shouting or saying, “WHAT?” – Land lines are usually best.
  • Start with basics: Did they dial in on time? Are they polite? Can they avoid calling you “dude”?
  • Just like in a face-to-face interview, review the person’s resume, so you can discuss what he or she brings to the table. Explore why they are looking to move on from their current role. Did they quit their last job or were they fired? Do they have at least the minimum skills and experience you need?
  • If all goes well, move on to the heavier stuff. Introduce questions that you would normally save for an in-person discussion: How experience relates to the job, examples of specific successes, strengths and weaknesses, etc.

The phone screen process can be as quick or as elaborate as you would like. The point is, try to determine if you have a good fit and if it is worthwhile to bring the candidate in for a face-to-face interview. The more you find out on the phone, the easier it is for everyone. Especially if you are doing a number of interviews, take good notes and write down your overall impressions as soon as the conversation ends. Pre-employment phone screens can help you to quickly pick up on potential signs of trouble, and tell you where you should really be spending your time, resources and energy…on the people who may be the real deal.

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