Applications are in — time to start filtering candidates.
Phone screening helps you learn more about the person behind the resume and it aids you in whittling down numbers for the next stage of the recruitment process.
This screening stage is essential and can help you avoid unnecessary face-to-face interviews while taking you closer to identifying and hiring the best person for the job.
But what questions should you be asking during an initial phone interview?
Here we’re going to take a look at some good phone screening questions — and a few phone interview tips too.
A few tips for before you start phone screening
✱Let your application form do the groundwork
Design an application form with phone screening in mind and you’ll already have essential information about a candidate’s education, job history, and experience when you start the screening process.
Armed with that information, you can skip the obvious questions, and focus on what really matters.
For instance, you can create good phone screening questions based on a candidate’s application form answers, seeking clarification on anything you’re unsure about.
The application form is a great place to collect information about social mobility and diversity too. This will give you the context you need to screen candidates fairly and without bias.
Learn more about Headstart’s customizable and inclusive application experience, which captures the information you need to streamline the early stages of recruiting.
✱Figure out your must-haves
Need someone to start as soon as possible? Looking for someone with skills in a particular software?
While you can use the phone screening questions we’ve included below for any role, there will be some specifics you need to establish early on.
Figure out which aspects of the role are essential and create questions with these must-haves in mind.
✱Remember that phone screening is for filtering, not final decisions
Keep in mind the format and function of phone screening. You can’t find out all you need to know in just 20 or 30 minutes.
You’re not looking to find the person for the job at this stage in proceedings. You’re simply trying to filter out people who aren’t a good fit for the role.
Keep things relatively simple. Save your open-ended, in-depth questions for in-person interviews.
✱Stick to the script
You can’t script every aspect of a phone interview. The conversation will naturally take you to different places depending on a candidate’s responses.
But where possible, it’s a good idea to have a basic interview script, so recruiters know which questions they need to ask. Asking every candidate the same core questions also makes the process fairer.
As for what to put in that script? We have some suggestions…
8 good phone screening questions to help you hire the best talent
1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
We know — the bog-standard question. But this little sentence is first on every interviewer’s list for a good reason.
It’s a solid way to get the conversation started. It helps put a candidate at ease and gives an interviewer lots of useful background information that they won’t necessarily know from resumes and cover letters.
Fair screening tip 👇
Keep an open mind when fielding responses to this question. There is no right or wrong answer and if you’re hiring for an entry-level role, you should set your expectations accordingly.
2. What salary range would you expect for this role?
Money can be a touchy topic, making this an awkward question for candidates to answer. But it’s important to get a clear idea of how close — or far apart — everyone’s salary expectations are.
If they answer with a figure or a range that is way beyond your budget, tell them what kind of range you’re working with and then ask if they’re still interested in the role.
Don’t forget to ask which benefits would be important to a candidate too. Flexible working, an excellent pension plan, or gym membership may swing the balance in your favour — even if you can’t offer as high a salary as a candidate would like.
Knowing what a candidate is looking for in terms of salary and benefits will help you rule out some interviewees — and make a great offer when the time comes.
Fair screening tip 👇
There are a lot of arguments that support sharing salary ranges in job descriptions.
Questions about salary can be awkward for candidates and millennials and Gen-Z tend to prefer greater transparency in the hiring process. Putting the onus on candidates can also lead to disadvantaged graduates earning less than their privileged peers.
We know that it’s not always possible to share a salary range, but in general, the more you hide from candidates, the less inclusive the hiring process will be.
4. What type of work environment supports you to do your best work?
Employers these days are much more aware of how environment impacts productivity, creativity, and efficiency — and how the same environment doesn’t necessarily work for all employees.
You can find out how a candidate would fit into a remote, hybrid, or office-based work structure by asking this question. You can also ask about ideal work schedules and preferred methods of communication.
This will help you determine how well a candidate will adapt to your work environment and culture. And for any neurodivergent and physically disabled candidates, this is a great opportunity for you to learn how you can offer them a supportive working environment.
5. Why do you want to leave your current role?
Another essential question. This one will reveal how interested a candidate is in the position you’ve advertised.
Having concrete reasons for a job change is preferable — you don’t want to get all the way through the hiring process only for a candidate to change their mind about leaving and turn down your job offer at the eleventh hour.
A candidate’s answer will also give you a clear idea of what they expect from a role with you.
👉 Leaving their current job because they don’t feel challenged? They’re looking for a step up in terms of responsibility — and possibly salary too.
👉 Feeling out of sync with their current company culture? Think about whether your organization can offer them the culture change they’re looking for.
6. What appeals to you about our company?
There’s some overlap with the previous question here. But this question encourages the candidate to give a slightly different perspective.
They don’t just need a solid reason for moving on from their current workplace. They need a solid reason for wanting to work for you.
By asking this question, you’ll get to hear how much research a candidate has done. What do they know about your company, its operations, and its values?
You’ll also get a sense of their enthusiasm. Are they really excited to work for your company? Or are they simply looking for any job in a particular pay band?
You’re ultimately looking for people who’ll feel invested in your company and its objectives — and a candidate should be able to convince you of that.
Fair screening tip 👇
Be realistic about how your company is perceived and your employer brand. It’s much easier for a candidate to give a strong answer to this question when your company is forthcoming about its values and culture.
7. How soon would you be able to start?
Sometimes it comes down to the right place at the right time. You might not be able to wait around for the perfect candidate. So work out the logistics.
What kind of notice period does a candidate have to serve? Depending on how quickly you need to fill a role, this question may help you count some candidates out of the running.
8. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
A big picture question that will help you gauge someone’s mid-term ambitions.
What skills do they want to develop? Where do they want to go with their career? What time scale do they have in mind for each new career milestone?
Consider a candidate’s answer alongside company objectives. Ask yourself whether there’s scope for them to achieve their ambitions within your company or whether they’ll have to hit the job boards again in search of a promotion.
While a short-term stint may suit your company, knowing how long a candidate is likely to stick around can be useful.
Fair screening tip 👇
This can be a hard question to answer for those who are inexperienced, nervous, or already unsure of how they might fit into an organisation.
If a candidate is struggling, try rephrasing the question with a shorter time frame. Or asking directly about their professional interests and where they think this job could take them next.
8. Are there any questions you’d like to ask us?
A phone interview should be a two-way screening — a chance for candidates to gather information and decide whether the role is right for them.
By the end of this phone call, a candidate should have all the information they need about your company, the recruitment process, and what will happen next.
This is also another opportunity for candidates to show their interest in the role. They should be able to ask thoughtful and insightful questions that build on the research they’ve already done into your company.
Looking for more ideas for good phone screening questions? Check out our 12 unique (and telling) interview questions for Gen Z grads.
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Build the perfect candidate screening strategy with Headstart
Good phone screening questions are just part of the process. Before you perfect your interview script, you first need to identify who you’re going to speak with.
Headstart makes that easy and ensures your candidate screening process is both fast and fair. Our clients spend less time screening and more time talking to top quality talent.
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