SmartRecruiters Blog
Phone screening

Phone Screening: A Guide To This Essential Recruiting Step

This is a guest post from our friends at Kayako

Are you using phone screening as part of your interviewing process? If not, you should be! Hypothetically, you’ve made it to the other side and are now working for a company you love. But rather than trying to get a job, you’re trying to find the right employees for your company. Crawling through job applications and resumes can be tough, but there is a way to do it that is less painful, and even fun!

What you shouldn’t be doing

If you’re like a lot of internal recruiters, you’re spending way too much time inside the hiring process – this isn’t as effective as it could be.

You might be:

  • Spending too much time on lengthy face-to-face interviews.
  • Interviewing candidates who are totally unsuitable for the role.
  • Missing out on suitable candidates because you don’t have time to interview everyone.

While you’re spending time managing your process, you’re wasting valuable time that could be spent on other recruiting activities!

I want to show you how the first stage of the hiring process can be conducted over the phone.

It may sound cynical, but screening through phone calls is an effective way to streamline your recruitment process, benefiting both your company and prospective candidates. It saves your time, and theirs – especially if used well.

You don’t want to be messing around meeting all your prospective candidates in Starbucks, only to find that the majority are completely unsuitable for the post. Video conference calls also help to reduce running costs.

How to conduct effective phone screening

We’ve got some best practice methods for you to follow to ensure you get the most out of the phone screening process, and can sail off into the sunset with your new employee (hopefully).

At Kayako, we use all of these methods to smooth out our hiring process, because we know that our customer service team is our company’s greatest asset.

Here are some of our best practices that could be useful to you and your recruiting team:

1. Explain the process

As with anything in life, make sure everyone knows what to expect. As soon as you start bringing a prospective candidate into the pipeline, tell them how the process of the interview is going to go.

Let them know when they can expect a phone call, when they will know if they have been successful, what the next steps are and when they would receive an offer. This stops candidates from becoming confused and frustrated, and being driven to a different offer. This will also give a great impression of the efficiency of your company and the power of your brand. Every interaction you have with a non-employee is a brand experience, so make it a great one by providing an efficient and delightful candidate experience.

2. Make notes of their answers

When you’re actually conducting the phone interview, make sure you’re taking detailed notes. Always follow a predefined structure so your notes on all candidates are consistent, and easily interpreted by people conducting follow-up interviews. Even your future self will struggle to decode a mess that your past self has written.

If your Applicant Tracking System has a mobile app or desktop app, you can even keep notes within the software to review later. The more data you put in, the better data you’ll be able to get out.

Detail is key here. When you finish each call, you may want to set some time aside to finish up your notes. It will benefit you to review what you’ve written while you can still remember the interview to make sure it makes sense to your hiring team.

3. Focus only on essentials

While you’ll want to capture the details, you’ll also want to keep the phone call as brief as possible – no more than 20-30 minutes. If you subconsciously know you have limited time, you’ll be less tempted to waffle and stray off-topic, or let the candidate do so.

At this stage, don’t bother asking about their specific experience of technologies or technical details at this stage. Leave that to the next phase interview, as your job here is to uncover the most important information about the candidate – which is whether they will be a good fit for your company.

Always keep the same questions for the position you’re hiring for, because thinking of fresh ones every time can be exhausting. Then you can focus on whether you’re getting enough information to invite them in for an interview, not what to ask them next.

For example, what this looks like at Kayako, as customer support is a job that needs attitude before skills, our customer service interview questions will find that passion using these:

  • Why are you leaving your current role / what interested you in this role?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you really good at professionally?
  • What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
  • Who were your last five bosses, and how would they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Any questions for me?

Remember to: dig deep into their answers with “who, how, what.” And take notes, at this stage it is super important for collecting what you may want to follow up on in the in person interview.

4. Selling the company and job

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only factor is deciding which candidate you want to hire. Many hiring managers have been thwarted when they think they’ve locked the perfect candidate, only to be told that the candidate accepted a job elsewhere!

Use the phone interview as an opportunity to “sell” your organization to the candidate. Expand upon what they have absorbed from the job description, your company website, and social media profiles. Make the best first impression you can to attract top candidates.

Briefly explain the job requirements and be sure to include key information about why you think the job role is worthwhile and challenging. Great candidates will respond favorably to opportunities to grow professionally.

What to do next

Once you’ve conducted all your phone interviews, take a closer look at who’s left, and decide who you feel is a good candidate for an in-person interview.

You must focus on your the ultimate goal of finding the best person for the entire time you are conducting this screening process.

The goal is to select only candidates who are likely to be the right fit for the company based on their personality, career history and attitude. If any one of these qualities is missing, then you’re sadly wasting your time.

So, ditch the old habit of meeting every prospective candidate in person, and start scheduling in phone screening interviews with everyone who you think could be a good fit (limit the interviews to a certain number of people if lots of candidates catch your eye). With SmartRecruiters’s built-in interview scheduling, it’s easier than ever to get these coordinated.

Clearly explain to each candidate the process you are expecting them to follow, with dates and next steps included.

Make detailed notes during each interview, while at the same time restricting yourself to a maximum of thirty minutes. With practice, you’ll get a lot better at setting the pace, and, if you think you might run over, just politely tell them you have another appointment in your schedule.

Don’t forget that you are the ambassador for your company, and it’s your job to let the candidate know exactly why it’s a great place to work. Don’t be afraid to let your natural enthusiasm shine through in the interviews, and you’re all set for success with phone screening.

Jamie Edwards

Jamie Edwards is the COO of Kayako, the unified customer service platform. Jamie is helping customers deliver customer service so good it becomes their competitive advantage.