Select with Certainty: A Guide to Candidate Phone Screens

A previous Abacus Group Blog post called Phone Screens: Five Tips to Favorably Impress explained guidelines for successful phone screens from the candidate’s point of view. Equally important to the hiring process is the employer’s thorough understanding of best practices associated with conducting phone screens. Given that phone screens function as a simplification tool, employers must administer them effectively to ensure that the most promising candidates are invited to face-to-face interviews.  The primary objective of the phone screen – to reduce the number of candidates – is entirely missed if the employer cannot adequately discern anything of value about the candidate’s qualifications and personality. In order to utilize phone screens to facilitate the candidate selection process, employers must familiarize themselves with the following strategies:CheckList

1. Create a single introductory script

Before you begin a series of phone calls, prepare an overview of the organization and a description of the position’s duties and requirements. Together, they will constitute a standardized, introductory guideline that can be used when speaking to each candidate. It’s helpful to compose descriptions of the organization and the position in your own words – rather than to read them verbatim from another source – to provide the candidate with a more personal understanding of both the culture of your firm and the objectives of the role. By explaining the organization and the position to the candidate in simple language, the conversation will flow more naturally, allowing you to better assess how well the candidate will fit in the role.  In addition, the process of preparing this text in advance will help reinforce the profile of your ideal candidate. Note that your introductory speech should not last more than a few minutes, as you will need to allot the majority of the phone screen to asking questions.

2. Carefully craft a list of relevant questions

Your major objectives include both confirming the candidate’s qualifications and determining if he or she will successfully fulfill your organization’s needs.  To do so, you must create a list of standard questions to allow yourself to objectively assess each candidate. Begin with basic questions in order to eliminate any candidates who overtly lack the experience or skills necessary to succeed in the position, including questions involving:

  • Verification of past positions, duties and employment dates
  • Verification of particular technical capabilities
  • Verification of certain industry experience
  • Explanation of current organization’s business

Once the candidate’s basic qualifications have been confirmed, you can proceed to asking questions related to their achievements and professional goals, focusing on:

  • Major accomplishments in current or previous role
  • Challenges faced in current or previous role
  • How current co-workers would characterize the candidate
  • Reason for leaving current position
  • Reason for seeking available position
  • Management style
  • Ideal work environment

3. Consistently ask additional open-ended questions

When asking the questions listed above, constantly follow-up with additional questions such as, “Why did you do that?” in response to the candidate’s decision to pursue a career in a different industry or “What did you learn from that?” after the candidate discusses key involvement in a particular project. By consistently pressing the candidate for information, you will ascertain many important qualities, namely, their ability to think beyond standardized answers, their level of articulation and their capacity for responding quickly under pressure.  Additional probing also helps to ensure that you are receiving the most honest answers possible. 

4. Don’t rely on your memory...take notes!

Since you are likely to be screening multiple candidates in one sitting, you’ll benefit tremendously from taking notes about each person with whom you speak.  To facilitate your note-taking, print multiple copies of your interview questions with blank space to jot down each candidate’s answers.  Additionally, take notes about the candidate’s level of enthusiasm, including whether or not he or she had any questions for you at the end of the screen.  Finally, it’s helpful to include a brief “scorecard” section for the candidate on each sheet of paper, in which you can quickly evaluate his or her performance in various areas (communication, technical knowledge, experience, etc.) on a scale of 1 to 5.  By preparing sufficient notes both during and after the phone screen, you’ll save time and effort in determining which candidates should be further pursued for the position.

Views: 978

Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on April 30, 2012 at 4:05pm

Where's your salary requirement question?  And how up front in the phone screen do you ask that?  Very important step!

Comment by Ben McGrath on May 2, 2012 at 6:00pm


I would argue the discussion regarding salary and benefits comes later in the process.

What we are looking for initially, is if the candidate believes in the job opportunity and that the company culture will be a good fit for them.

Many candidates will make lateral moves or even consider less money initially if all other factors meet or potentially exceed their expectations.

If however, it is a candidate that you are looking to place, the salary and benefits discussion happens in hte first 10 minutes. I believe this article is written from a direct hire perspective.


All the best,



Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on May 3, 2012 at 2:07pm

I disagree with you.  The salary converstion has to happen in the initial phone screen, typically at at 15 minutes into it.  Money makes the world go around and it's wise to not waste your time and the candidates if you're not in sync with salary.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on May 3, 2012 at 3:59pm

Hmmm. As a corporate recruiter there is no 2nd step following the phone screen if we don't have the salary conversation. I bring it up towards the end of the call, after I make sure there is a good possibility of a match - but salary discussion HAS to happen in the initial call. No point moving forward if the salary range is too far off their expectations.

Comment by Rajpreet on November 2, 2012 at 5:57pm

What happens if a recruiter realizes in the first few minutes that the candidate is a dud? They'll be wasting the time they took to prepare for the interview and the interview itself. Additionally, the candidate has to find time to talk. They may have to take time off work. With automated voice interviews, candidates will be able to interview on their own time. Plus, each candidate is guaranteed consistent questions because they are all the same. In #4 of your article you talk about taking notes. If the interview is automated, the recruiter can refer back to it and pass it on to a hiring manager.

Comment by Emma Xue on May 9, 2019 at 3:19am

Agreed above. Salary matching takes very important role in candidate selection . Better ask candidates about their current salary information and expected salary. Meanwhile, we can gain the market salary infor to Hiring managers. This can help us to discuss with hiring managers about further hiring plan.  


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