How to conduct the Peerfect phone screen interview: A Recruiter’s Guide

10 min read

It’s more than just picking up the phone and asking some questions. A successful phone screen interview needs to be planned and well-thought out to do its job: screening candidates!

Read this guide to learn:

So, without further ado, read on to nail your next talent recruitment!

First off, what is a “screening interview”?

The biggest clue is in the “screening” - it’s a verb that means to evaluate, test or assess somebody or something.

And in this case, you have to screen candidates and their compatibility for the job you’re offering.

Not easy, right?

That’s why a screening interview exists! Think of it as a filter, which will help you select the most compatible candidates before you invite them for a face-to-face interview at the company.

It saves both you and the candidate time.

What does the “phone” change in the interview?

The phone changes a lot. Think that in a face-to-face interview you have complete human interaction.

You can:

  • Check out gestures
  • See emotions
  • Evaluate their posture
  • Exchange ideas more freely

When you’re on the phone all you’ve got is audio. That means you have only one sense of five to rely on: your listening.

Basically, you have to evaluate the candidate with only a fifth of your senses - and especially without sight, which is maybe the most important of all when meeting somebody.

You’ve already heard “make the best of your first impression” right?

Well, all is not lost. Here are some tips to make the best of a phone screen interview:

  • Conduct the interview in a quiet and calm place
  • Have the candidate’s resume in front of you
  • Print out the questions you’ll ask with spaces to take notes on answers
  • Pay attention to their intonation, pauses and slang

Now read the 6 steps below to nail your phone screen interview and pick the best candidates!

Step by step: how to conduct a Phone Screening Interview

#1 Write a solid job description

Make crystal clear the requirements and roles of the job. This will filter out better candidates automatically, as they read the description and decide if the job is best for them.

Of course, job seekers that have been unemployed for a while tend to go into “test your luck” mode and apply for any position that is related with their CV.

However, a well-written CV attracts qualified candidates better than a sloppy one, which stable candidates with experience will certainly avoid.

How to write a solid job description

  • Use bullet points to specify promptly the necessary qualifications and roles
  • Ask the manager of the future candidate what can’t miss out on the description
  • Avoid jargon and use simple terms to describe the job
  • Be inclusive and avoid biases regarding gender, ethnicity or culture when asking about qualifications
  • Less is better - don’t “overdo” and list the main tasks of the position instead of focusing on off-the-bat obligations

#2 Define who the company wants for the job

This means “who is the ideal fit for this position?”

You should find out some details about the candidates before you even reach the phone.

Implementing a short quiz and asking for a brief resume can do wonders and bring you some footing before making the call.

So, get to know each candidate by reading their CV and then ask questions that will clarify how their experience aligns with the culture of the company.

How to ask about company values

  1. Determine the values of your company. Let’s imagine for example a school which believes in communication, diversity, and dedication in a candidate for a teaching position
  2. Then ask questions about each value:
  3. For communication you can ask “How do you deal with an argument in the workplace?”
  4. Thinking on diversity you could ask “Have you ever put yourself in somebody else’s shoes?”
  5. And finally, for dedication you could ask “where do you see yourself in five years?”
  6. You can also create “deal-breaker” questions, which eliminate a candidate if the answer doesn’t comply with the expected value. This can be a question about leadership for a management position - candidates that aren’t leaders will be eliminated
  7. Once you’ve defined the questions, write them down and include them in your questionnaire for the phone call

#3 Study the candidate: CV, LinkedIn, Social Media, GitHub…

This is the time to understand who the candidate is. Of course, people are more than just a resume, so look for clues and what questions you can make from them.

Here are some tips for studying a candidate:

Read their resume with a critical eye

Search for inconsistencies or things out of the ordinary, such as dropping out of colleague or a short time at a position.

Instead of being negative, you can ask interesting questions about these inconsistencies and find great answers.

Being critical helps you find out all the details beforehand, instead of having unsatisfying surprises later.

On LinkedIn, look out for connections and posts

Connections show how well networked the candidate is. If there’s only friends and classmates, possibly the candidate doesn’t have that much work experience.

Connections with key leaders in the segment though show the candidate is more in sync with their area and usually, more qualified.

Posts are important to gauge what the candidate considers important. Check out the most shared topics and their comments to have an insight on their values.

Be careful with personal Social Media

The main problem with social media is that it’s personal. Apart from LinkedIn, other channels such as Facebook and Instagram are used by candidates to interact with their families and friends.

It’s important to remember that how a candidate acts with friends doesn’t necessarily mean how they work in the office.

So, the main tip here is to check personal social media with a pinch of salt.

Find the best developer on GitHub

If the position isn’t for a developer, skip this step.

GitHub is a social coding site that developers around the world use to host open source code.

That means you can find talented folk and even check out at the same time what projects they are working on.

GitHub can be confusing to a newcomer, but here’s an easy step-by-step:

  1. Create an account on GitHub
  2. Use the search bar. You have three parameters to find developers: language, location, followers
  3. Use these parameters to search for the candidate. Remember that Language = programming language. Followers is useful to gauge experience. The more followers, the more skilled they are (and expensive to hire!)
  4. Imagine for example you want a Javascript developer in Sacramento, California with at least 10 followers. This is what you type in the search bar: language: javascript location: sacramento followers:>10
  5. You can also use a country in location such as location: netherlands. For followers you can use .. for a range (10..20 is “between 10 and 20 followers”) and < for “less than”
  6. Now you will find a list of repositories (coding projects) by default. Click on users by the left to find the developer you need!
  7. You can also click on Sort: on the right to order the candidates according to other filters, such as “most followers” or “most repositories”.
  8. Good luck!

#4 Make sure you have at least 30 minutes for the interview

This doesn’t mean you should interview the candidate for 30 minutes. This is more of leeway - an ideal interview should last 15 minutes.

So, before you get in touch with the candidate and ask when they’re available, you have to find out when you have at least 30 minutes to talk with them.

#5 Schedule the phone screening interview with the candidate

Ask the candidate beforehand when they are available for a phone interview. It’s best to send an email with a few options so they can pick the best time.

Don’t call out of nowhere and ask, “can we talk now?” You might catch the candidate off guard, and they might answer your questions when they aren’t at their best.

You can use Calendly to show your available times easily for the candidate and let them book automatically a time when both of you are available.

#6 Have a questionnaire ready and right in front of you!

There isn’t a magic formula for a questionnaire, but you need to think about what you need to find out the most about the candidate.

If culture is a key aspect for the company, prioritize questions about values.

If it’s a senior position though, asking questions about their expertise is a top priority.

To avoid bias, use the same set of questions for every candidate. This makes sure everyone has equal footing and also helps you compare candidates with more rigor.

Print out the questions and get a pen so you can take notes.

It’s important to ask in your questions:

  • If they understand clearly the responsibilities for the position
  • If they are qualified for the position
  • Why they want the position
  • Their expected salary

Need help? Check out this sample questionnaire:

  1. Nice to meet you John. Could you please tell me why you applied for this position?
  2. Why do you wish to be a part of our company?
  3. Please tell me how your routine was like at your former job.
  4. What do you consider most important in a workplace?
  5. What are your professional objectives?
  6. What do you usually do on weekends?
  7. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  8. What do you consider your biggest achievement?
  9. What do you value most in a partner?
  10. I see you graduated as a mechanical engineer five years ago. What classes did you prefer at university?
  11. How do you prioritize tasks?
  12. Is there anything in your life you wish to have done differently?

#5 Apply a technical test to verify their qualifications

It’s not enough to simply ask the candidate’s qualifications. You’ve got to put them to the test.

Each role has the best type of test but try to think outside of the box and don’t ask too much from the candidate. Asking for a bunch of exams can fend off good candidates and be exhausting.

Here are a few ideas:

  • short story or an illustration if it’s a creative position
  • sales pitch if it’s a marketing or advertising position
  • coding challenge for a developer position
  • seminar for a teaching position

#6 Tell the candidate what will happen after the phone screening interview

As soon as you’re finished with your questionnaire and technical test, give the candidate a deadline for a response.

Unemployed job seekers are usually trying out several positions at the same time and it’s important for them to know when they’ll get a response.

If the candidate already has a job, they’ll be less desperate, but still want a deadline so they can organize their lives.

So, tell them when they’ll get a response and if it’s going to be through email or a phone call.

It’s also important to tell them what the next steps are. Most companies invite the candidate for a face-to-face interview after the phone screening. But of course, that’s all up to you!

Thanks for reading this guide! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send me a message!

I’d love to hear from you :)