Phone Screening – How to weed out the unqualified from the qualified with a brief phone interview

“Phone Screening” or having a brief phone interview to gauge an understanding of an applicant is one of the most valuable ways to eliminate unsuitable applicants; allowing you to focus on only the suitable applicants which saves you time.

Phone InterviewIf you have ever found yourself sitting in an interview realising that this person is not right for the role based on some key questions, then phone screening is a valuable step in your recruitment process that can fix this problem. The sooner you introduce this, the sooner you will save time and feel more in control of the process. The time may vary for the questions asked but usually allow 5-10 minutes per suitable applicant. When I say suitable applicant I mean you have already reviewed their CV and cover letter and they look like they may be suitable.

What is a knock out question in a phone interview?

This is a question you can ask that will potentially take the applicant out of the equation all together, eliminating the need to interview face to face. Some examples of knock out questions are:

  • Are you legally entitled to work in NZ?
  • What remuneration are you looking for?
  • What area do you want to work in?
  • How many hours per week are you available to work?

Now what?

Once you have asked some of those key knock out questions create a list of secondary screening questions that are based on the “must have” experience or qualifications relevant for the role.

Some examples of secondary screening questions for a Truck Driver for a Building Supplies Company are:

  • Do you have a clean and current drivers licence?
  • Do you have a current class two licence?
  • Are you physically fit and able to lift?
  • How many years’ experience have you had in the building industry?
  • Are you prepared to undertake drug and alcohol testing?

The answers to these questions will allow you to gain an understanding if the person has the “must have” experience, qualifications and requirements you need.

One of my favourite questions to ask every person that has passed those initial questions is “What attracted you to this role?” It is a good way to test the applicants that are motivated and have taken the time to do their homework about your company versus the ones that are applying for everything and anything.

By now you will have a good understanding of the applicant’s ability to communicate and think on their feet. The next step is to ask them about their previous/ current employment to gain an understanding of why they are actually leaving. If there are any alarm bells at this stage this is where you should feel comfortable to be able to ask probing questions until you are satisfied with their responses.

If things don’t add up just ask- you will be saving yourself a huge amount of time and hassle in the long run. If you don’t think that they are being honest with you and their story doesn’t sound right then end it while you can! Thank them for their time and wish them all the best! If this person is someone that may be suitable for your organisation you can either:

A)     Organise an interview time with them while you have them on the phone OR;

B)      Advise them you will be back in touch with them once you have completed the phone screening of all shortlisted applicants.

My personal preference and recommendation is B. Why not take the time to phone screen the applicants before organising interviews? You will have a much better understanding of the stand apart applicants by the end of the process to be able to make an objective decision; saving you time and money.

As a Professional Recruiter I personally would spend at least 20 minutes on each short listed applicant throughout this stage. This time would be spent on asking roughly 20 questions including some of the ones listed above. It is better to know you are spending the time talking to the right person in the early stages than organising interviews and getting to an interview only to find they are totally unsuitable for the role.

Make sure you have the same phone interview questions prepared for each applicant (all applicants should be asked the same questions), are able to take notes on their CV and are able to listen out for any potential alarm bells.

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Tanya Gray highly driven individual, passionate about helping business owners understand and enjoy the recruitment process.

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