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If you take a full-funnel approach to your hiring process, possibly the first and most important step is the phone screening interview. Screening interviews are generally a 30-minute (or less) conversation between a candidate and HR (or a recruiter) designed to narrow down the pool of applicants and identify a group that will exit the process and a group that will continue onto the next step.
If we reverse engineer the hiring process and begin with the end goal of bringing in extremely productive, talented employees, who are a great fit for our customers, company, culture, mission, and values, then the phone screen should accomplish the first qualification step toward that end... put simply, assessing if the candidate we're speaking with truly an overall fit for the job.
As a recruiter or hiring manager, you'll want to come to the screening prepared with screening interview questions and answers that enable you to quickly assess whether this applicant is well suited for the position before investing any more time and resources into them.
We found that the best approach is to bring around 10 semi-structured qualification questions to the phone screen interview. These should be a mix of past-performance bases, skill-based, and behavioral (OR) personality-based questions that give you an overall view of the candidate’s background, qualifications, experience, and fit.
We'll dive more into these questions in later sections but if you'd like to skip the "5-minute read" and see a list of 1000+ interview questions; specific to each role and targeted to help you acquire the best talent possible, click here to chat with someone from our interview intelligence team.
The first step of any good hiring process is always a phone screen. The reason for this is that it takes almost no time to complete, and it's convenient for both the recruiter and the candidate. This brief conversation between a candidate and HR or recruiter is a powerful indicator of whether this applicant should move forward with the hiring process or exit it, so it's vital to have a few things in place before you begin:
-Know the role and the goal - Make sure you know the job role and what you're looking for in a new hire.
Last year I was working for another startup that was growing fast and needed to hire a new sales manager. As a team, we'd chatted with several of them but had our hearts set on a candidate that we all knew well and had worked with in the past - a wonderful human being who we thought would perform well in the role but he had no previous experience leading sales teams.
We ended up hiring him and realized all too late that as good as he was, he'd never be able to help us hit our goals because he was in completely unfamiliar territory. This is a dilemma we all face in hiring and why I say, know the role and the goal.
Once you know the role and the goal, create a phone interview cheat sheet. This is one of the best ways to prepare for a phone interview.
- Prepare your questions - Phone interview question and answer examples will be covered in detail later on, but be prepared with questions so that you can easily assess whether this candidate is a good fit or not.
- Have an agenda – Set out a clear agenda at the beginning of the call, letting them know how long it's going to take and what you expect from them.
- Set the stage - Give candidates a bit of an introduction to who you are, what the company does, and why they should care about working there.
- Keep it conversational and friendly, but also be sure to explain that this is a screening call for a job opportunity in case they don't already know.
Here's a quick phone interview script for interviewers as they kick off a phone screen:
"Hi, my name is (name), and I'm a recruiter with (company name). Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today- (ice breaker) I noticed that you went to (alma mater)- I did as well, go (team)! (Leave 10- 15 seconds for icebreaker conversation). As you know, we’re looking to hire a new (role) and the purpose of today's call is to get to know you better and see if there's a fit. Can you tell me a bit about your experience with (last role)? …
Simple and to the point but also warm and detailed.
In the previous section, we covered how to start a phone interview as the interviewer, now let's dive into some common phone interview questions.
What to ask applicants on a phone screen. For years, we've started off interviews with a simple question. "Can you tell me a bit about yourself?" As someone who regularly interviews people, I can tell you this is the worst way quickly derail a phone screen. The question is generic, doesn't give us the data that we need to make a great hiring decision, and can be interpreted in 100 different ways by the candidate.
A better option is: "I see that you worked for (company), tell me about how they helped you develop into a leader that can perform well in this role." These types of questions will allow the candidate to give you specific examples of how they have succeeded in similar roles, and provide better. opportunities for follow-up questions that give you real data to reference later when speaking with referrals.
Other common phone interview questions could include:
- What motivated you to apply for this job, now?
- Could you walk me through a difficult project you had to manage in your last position? What made it difficult and how did you overcome the challenges that you faced?
- What would your former team consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
That last question always gets me. It will help you see very quickly house self-aware your candidate is. If you asked this question on every single phone screen, and then refer back to it, when you have a conversation with that candidate's referrals, you quickly understand whether the person is self-aware enough to realize the impact they have on others around them.
Questions like these are far more dynamic than the "generics' we've been asking for years, and that's why they work in the modern complex workplaces we operate in today.
One of the best ways to save time and have access to these types of questions is to use interview intelligence software that comes pre-baked with a library of dynamic interview questions that can easily be added as prompts during the interview. That way you're creating safe, equitable, and objective hiring criteria with little to no opportunity for bias.
Screening questions for recruiters may look a little different than those of hiring managers. If you think about it, most recruiters need a candidate to stay in their new role for a certain period of time (maybe 12 months or more) to capitalize on the full compensation for each role.
HR screening questions (or internal phone screen questions) will most often be tailored to uncover any potential red flags that may make the candidate unsuitable for the role or company directly with less consideration given to how long an employee stays.
Common recruiter screening interview questions and answers include:
Question; "How long have you been in your current role?"
Answer: "I have been in my current role for 1 year and 7 months."
Question; "Tell me about your current role. What performance expectations and quota requirements do you have?"
Answer: "I am currently an AE, and my goals are 120K per quarter in closed deals, and keeping my active pipeline at 3.5x of quota or more."
Question; "What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career so far?"
Answer: "My biggest accomplishment to date was leading a team that closed the largest deal my company had ever seen. We sold our high-end software package plus 280K in added services."
Questions like these will allow recruiters to get an idea of the candidate's experience, expectations, and abilities. By asking questions like these, recruiters can make sure they are bringing in candidates who have the right skills and background for their company culture and team dynamics. They also give the recruiter something to refer back to when checking references. I know that I hammer this point, but if you're not noting actual metrics to double-check in your phone screens, are you even interviewing?
To make things easy, especially for new recruiters and hiring managers on your team, create an in-house phone screen questions template. You can name this anything from "Screening Questions for Recruiters," to "HR Screening Questions and Answers," but the purpose is to have an existing framework for phone interview questions to ask candidates.
HR phone screen questions will be specific to each role on your team, so make sure you have a good understanding of the job description and its associated scope and KPIs before creating your template. It's also critical that you don't forget about competency-based questions for those key behavioral traits (e.g., problem-solving, collaboration, preferred work style, etc.).
You may also want to include a list of pre-screening questions to answers to have on hand for anyone posting about open roles on LinkedIn or sharing job posts with their network. By having a few consistent questions you can use for each role, you'll be able to quickly and easily weed out any candidates who don't fit the bill.
Remember: You want your phone screen questions template to be comprehensive but concise. That way, you're not wasting valuable time during the first round of candidate screening.
If you're currently assessing your hiring process and would like to see better results, book your demo of Pillar today. Over the past 12 months, we've helped our customers lower employee turnover by 50% and saved customers hiring more than 5 people a month $1.5M+ annually on hiring costs. Chat with someone on our team to see how we can help you do the same.