Hiring 101

How to Screen Job Candidates Over the Phone

Phone screening is a big time-saver. Whether you've received 100 applications or just a handful, a quick phone screen allows you to efficiently qualify—and disqualify—candidates in advance of a full interview.

To help you make the most of your conversation, the Hire team has put together an effective phone-screening interview process—including 15 screening questions—designed to generate useful insights and a clear, actionable outcome.

How to Make Phone Screening More Effective

To help you put every question in your phone screen to best possible use, whether you're the recruiter or the hiring manager, we’ve outlined a few simple principles to guide your conversations with candidates:

  • Standardize the process. Many companies with strong hiring programs follow a structured interview process—they pose the same questions to each candidate. In doing so, it becomes easier to mitigate bias, compare responses across applicants, and ensure a consistent candidate experience. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that interviews structured in this way function as effective predictors of job performance.

  • Keep it short. A phone screen is fundamentally different from a phone interview— aim to answer the question “Should we interview this person?” and not “Should we hire this person?” Choose a handful of concise questions that will help you to identify candidates who aren't the right fit.

  • Focus on the areas that really matter. Use the phone-screening process to home in on make-or-break criteria, as the job description can only do so much of the work for you upfront. If you need to fill a key role in the least time possible, place particular focus on the candidate's availability; if you need a particular skill set—like competency with a certain type of software—dig into the candidate's experience in that specific area.

15 Sample Phone Screening Questions

There are a handful of key areas every phone screen should touch upon.

Experience and educational background

Experience can come in different shapes and sizes, and the phone-screening process is an opportunity to dig into each type. Choose questions that explore a candidate's educational background, experience in your industry, and relevant experience that's unique to the role—like their familiarity with important tools and methodologies.

Sample questions:

  1. Describe the degree program you completed at Northwestern.

  2. Tell me about your experience in the design industry.

  3. How would you describe your familiarity with MATLAB?

  4. Have you ever run a design sprint?

Candidate interest

Every new hire has a dramatic effect on your company, so finding candidates with a genuine passion for the role is beneficial for company and candidate alike. Ask questions that dig into a candidate's interest in the specific role on offer, explore their general working ethos, and try to understand what they're looking for in their job search.

Sample questions:

  1. What attracted you to apply for this position?

  2. Why are you leaving your current job?

  3. What are your looking for in your next step?

Salary requirement

In states where it's legal to do so, asking about a candidate's current salary provides useful information for gauging the market rate and ensuring a fair offer, but it's easy for unconscious bias to color this process—anchoring pay decisions to a candidate's current salary instead of the job's worth. To mitigate this risk, companies can base salary decisions on the role, not on the current salary of the person applying.

Sample questions:

  1. What is your salary in your current role?

  2. What are your salary expectations for your next role?

Resume questions

Resumes alone are an imperfect means of screening talent. The phone-screening process provides an opportunity to expand on a candidate's resume, understand relevant experience, clarify unclear information, talk through any employment gaps, and learn about their work history.

Sample questions:

  1. What did you learn from your last position?

  2. What did you do during the 6 month gap between jobs?

  3. Do you have any important experience that isn't reflected on your resume?

Availability

While skills and experience are vital, factors like the candidate's current notice period and their eligibility to work will affect your decision and ability to hire. If the role comes with any requirements—for example, driving roles that require a relevant license—it's helpful to work these into the first few phone interview questions.

Sample questions:

  1. Are you willing to provide three employment references later in the hiring process?

  2. Will you require visa sponsorship to work in the United States?

  3. What period of notice do you need to give to your current employer?

Keep in mind that these are 15 phone screening questions you can ask, but if there's something the candidate says that you want to dig into further, don't hesitate to ask follow up questions to make the most of your phone screen.

How to Run the Phone-Screening Process

With your questions planned out and a group of applicants ready for screening, it's time to start the ball rolling on the screening process.

Schedule calls

The screening experience begins with the very first email sent to a candidate, so your communication needs to be clear and efficient. Many companies use an Applicant Tracking System to avoid going back and forth during the scheduling process, allowing you to:

  • see all of your interviewers’ schedules side by side;
  • drag and drop phone and in-person interviews into available slots;
  • sync all interviews to your calendar and automatically send invitations to applicants; and
  • view and manage questions and RSVPs from a central interface.

Balance Consistency and Personalization

Research conducted by Google shows that interactions with interviewers are the top-mentioned factor in candidate feedback. We've found that taking a few extra minutes to personalize communication—whether in an email or on a phone call—has a big impact on a candidate's perception of the hiring process and the company as a whole.

At the same time, this personalization needs to be balanced with a clear, consistent interview structure that allows you to compare across candidates.

Qualify your candidates

To reduce bias and generate useful comparisons between candidates, it can be helpful to use a grading rubric to evaluate candidate responses to your interview questions. This allows you to apply a more standardized, quantitative scale to assess and compare candidates across criteria, including less tangible areas, such as communication style and attitude.

A simple way to start this process is to group interview question responses into one of four categories—Excellent, Good, Mixed, and Poor—and assign a point score to each:

  • Excellent (3 points)
  • Good (2 points)
  • Mixed (1 point )
  • Poor (0 points)

Ideal responses would fall into the Best category, responses that don’t include the most important elements of an optimal answer would fall into the Poor category, and others would fall somewhere in between. Here's an example in action for a UX design role phone screen:

Free Phone Screen Template Preview

Tallying up a candidate's responses provides a clear, objective way to compare with other candidates.

Follow-up with every candidate

At the end of the screening call, set expectations for when each candidate will receive a response, and follow up as soon as you're able.

  • If the candidate is suitable for a face-to-face interview, congratulate them, and then send details for the next stage of the hiring process—the formal job interview.

  • If the candidate isn’t a fit, promptly notify them by phone or email. If applicable, consider recommending these candidates for other suitable roles.

About Hire by Google

Hire is a recruiting app by Google that uses AI to make the hiring process faster and simpler. Because it is designed specifically for G Suite users, with Gmail, Google Calendar and other G Suite integrations, Hire streamlines administrative tasks so that your team can hire the best people, faster.

Request a Demo to learn more about how you can hire smarter, together, faster, with the recruiting app for G Suite.