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9 Steps For Phone Screening Job Applicants

9 Steps to Phone Screen Job ApplicantsYour business is growing, and you need additional support. Recruiting can be a time consuming process that takes away from day-to-day operations. You don’t have the time to meet with every qualified candidate – this is where the phone screen fits in.

After sorting through resumes and selecting the top qualified candidates, a 15-20 minute phone screen can help determine who you want to meet with in person. A good initial phone screen can provide valuable information about how the candidate fits with your vision of the position and your company culture—and it gives you the opportunity to narrow down the number of applicants invited for an in-person interview.

Here are nine steps for successful phone screens:

  1. Prepare an Interview Template.

Create a standard set of 5-7 open-ended questions for the position. The point of these questions is to invite the candidates to talk about themselves, saving the deeper questions for an in-person interview. (Read recruiters’ favorite screening questions.)

The template ensures you are asking the same main questions to each candidate. It’s important that you gather the same information from each candidate. Following a template gives all candidates the same opportunities to showcase their strengths or to highlight their weaknesses. If you need clarification regarding a candidate’s specific response, you can tailor follow up questions accordingly.

  1. Read the questions out loud prior to making your first call.

Hearing the questions can help you decide if they are too formal or too casual in tone. You are representing the company culture during the interview. Your tone will set the stage for the candidate’s feel for the company.  Too formal and stiff and you may come across as an inquisitor and un-relatable; too casual and you may seem too loose and without structure.

You may discover tricky wording. If you find your tongue getting twisted, you can re-phrase a question in advance and not search for alternate words during the interview.

  1. Make an appointment for the phone screen.

Email the candidate to set up a time. Setting an appointment allows the candidate to create space to focus on you. They may have to take an early lunch or arrange a different break time to be able to speak with you during traditional work hours. Make it your goal to speak to candidates when they feel relaxed and prepared, not stressed about someone overhearing them or because they only have five minutes. If you use Gmail, you can use an app like which offers a candidate the opportunity to choose from up to three appointment slots. Once accepted, the appointment appears on both your calendar and the candidate’s calendar.

If you call directly and want to screen the applicant at that time, be sure to ask if it is a good time to talk or if an alternate time for the interview would be more convenient. If you can hear background noises—like traffic or dogs barking—it may not be the best time to hold a conversation.

  1. During the call, have no distractions.

Create an environment similar to an in-person interview. Close your office door. Turn off notifications from your phone or computer. Notify your staff/co-workers that you will be unavailable during this time.

Don’t multi-task. You don’t want to have to ask a candidate to repeat a response because you were distracted by a text or an email. Remember, you wouldn’t do that if they were sitting in front of you–extend the same courtesy during a phone interview

  1. Smile when talking on the phone.

A smile translates into the tone of your voice. Remember, the candidate is interviewing you at the same time you are interviewing them. Make a good impression.

  1. Document each candidate’s responses.

Either write or type each candidate’s answers into the template. This aids in reviewing candidates and helps in side-by-side comparisons.

That being said, do not document information that refers to a protected class. Under federal law, employees and job applicants are protected against discrimination due to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, and there may be additional protections under state and local laws.

Note – Not all employers are covered and not all employees are protected by the law. The EEOC website has more details regarding federal protected classes.

  1. Aim to keep the phone calls 10-15 minutes long.

Phone screens of less than 10 or 15 minutes do not give you enough time to get a good feel for the candidate’s manner and personality. Longer than that, you won’t be able to screen as many candidates.

  1. Provide follow-up information.

Give a time frame in which to expect a response. Let each candidate know how you will respond (phone, email, letter, etc.).

  1. Actually follow up.

Send that email, mail that letter or make that phone call whether or not the candidate is moving forward in the interview process. Applicants are anxiously waiting to find out their status. Following up in the time and manner that you communicated is a basic professional courtesy and provides closure to the candidate. Then, begin the next round of the recruiting process…the in-person interview.

Michelle Merksamer is an administrative human resources consultant with HRinDemand, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth. Subscribe to HR Tips for more human resources news and tips.

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