The Phone Screen: Standardize Your Team’s Candidate Questions

August 14, 2017 in HR Best Practices, Interview Tips


The initial phone screen isn’t just a formality to confirm your candidate isn’t a total weirdo. Executed properly, this conversation is an opportunity to identify non-starters and, most importantly, to understand if this person truly is who their profile says they are. Your team of recruiters is going to be conducting these constantly and–in the interest of candidate experience and consistent assessment–it’s important to standardize these calls. There are a host of questions you can ask candidates no matter what role you’re filling.

Phone Screen Question One: Why are you interested in our company?

Primarily for inbound candidates, this question helps you gain a sense of how engaged the candidate is and how prepared they are for the conversation. The answer here ought to reveal if the candidate is actually interested in your organization or is merely rampaging on a campaign of “Apply Now” button clicking.

Why did you take this call?

Related to the above question, but on the outbound side, this question will reveal how active in the job market the candidate is and, if you dig a little deeper, how satisfied they are in their current role. People may claim that it’s merely smart to keep a pulse of what’s out there in the market and to cultivate many career options, but the truth is if they were getting everything they wanted out of their current gig, they would never have taken the call.

Tell me about your background.

It’s easy to sound important and productive by using action verbs in a resume or LinkedIn profile, but having a candidate walk you through their experience is a different story. Make sure to prod for specifics here because it’s your best shot to determine the relevance of their previous work. While their title might make them seem like a good fit, that alone isn’t enough to know whether they are prepared for the specific challenges and opportunities presented by a new role.

What is going to be most important for you in your next opportunity? What motivates you professionally?

Here, you’ll get a little more context around the candidate’s state of mind at their current gig. Their answer will shed light on what they’re not currently getting, as well as their ambition for their next role. Moreover, you can get a pretty good idea if your open role represents a good fit.

Where are you in the interview process? Where else are you interviewing? What is your timeline?

If your candidate is moving forward, these questions are crucial. Understanding where they are with regards to other offers will tell you how quickly you need to move to avoid losing them. If they’re passive and only talking to you, you can spread the interviews out if you have to. If they’re in hot pursuit of their next move, you better pump those pistons.

What are you looking for in terms of compensation?

While this can feel uncomfortable at first, it’s important to get a ballpark estimate to make sure expectations aren’t grossly misaligned. If a candidate is depending on a salary far beyond what you can offer, it’s important to surface this early. Getting all the way to the offer stage to find there’s no hope for negotiation is a colossal waste of time.

What are you looking for when deciding on offers?

While this answer does speak to a candidate’s overall motivation, at this point you’re gathering intel for deeper in the hiring funnel. Their answer here can be weaved into conversations with hiring managers later on as you close in on the offer stage.

Final Steps

OK, time to wrap it up. Close the call with some information regarding a timeline of next steps, and what those next steps would be if the candidate were to proceed.


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Editorial Note: The content of this blog originally appeared in the July, 2017 edition of ABR Employment Services e-newsletter,  HR Insights. It was written by Rob Stevenson.