How do I cut down my interviewing and screening times?

Hello all, and thanks for taking a minute to read this....I'm struggling to get my interviewing times down from 60 minutes to 30 minutes for in person and phone, and my phone screening times down from 30 minutes to 10 minutes or less.  

I've tried being more aggressive in controlling the interviews better (I'm overly nice and I allow a lot of wasted chit chat because I am sympathetic to those seeking employment - I'm working on finding a balance that is true to me yet keeps me moving forward, remembering I am not a counselor).  Sometimes I'll let the interviewee know I have limited time and XX amount of questions to get thru.  

I've also tried cutting down to just 5 questions, but then I feel like I don't even know the person at all when the Hiring Manager starts asking me questions and I can't answer them.  

Does anyone have any ideas or best practices they are willing to share?  I've reached out to a couple of friends in both Corporate and Agency, and they had a few suggestions (setting time limits, redirecting, having a script, explaining my role to the Candidate), and re-assured me I am not the only one who struggles with this...(thank goodness!)

I know from reading this blog for the past year now that there are a lot of briliant minds I'm hoping for some more great ideas, and maybe we can help others who are dealing with these issues as well.  

Maybe some suggestions on how to get the Candidates focused and staying on the question at hand, while still feeling like you have enough content to determine if the person can match your company and the job duties?  Or are there some great screener questions you've found that get you basic info in a short amount of time?  Do you have a polite but direct way of letting the Candidate know they haven't answered the question you asked, or a polite way of interrupting their long drawn out tangents?  

Thank you!

Views: 677

Comment by Sandra McCartt on May 31, 2012 at 8:09pm

Instead of a list of prepped questions ask a candidate to start with college and give you a career progression.  Why they chose their degree field, and move forward with each job and why they left each one.  It lets them talk a lot while you take notes on the reasons for changes.  If something sounds funny or they go into too long an explanation just put a big check by it and circle back after they have finished doing their career story.  It gives them a chance to talk without being pressed to answer questions when they want to tell you something else.  That being done they usually feel they have had a chance to talk about what they did, how they did it and anything of note they accomplished.  Then go back and ask for clarification on anything you checked.  That being done i ask them to bring the resume to life for me.  what do they do for fun, what drives them crazy when working with other people, the most fun they ever had at work and the worst experience they every had.  Let them talk and get a feel for who they are and what they are about.  Then you can ask the relevant questions concerning travel, management style.  If they get off on a tangent, interrupt them by saying somethng like.  Great, so what you are telling me is that your management style is lead by example, right or whatever you have already figured out. 

I tell them the process, give company information, provide a web site and tell them to email me with questions or comments they might think of after we hang up.  When they feel they can have an opportunity to ask or comment after you get off the phone the sense or urgency to keep talking often goes away.


Stay in control of the interview.  If it is one of those who never take a breath or end a sentance just keep talking they won't be a fit for most situations anyway so just stand up after looking at the clock, walk around your desk, shake their hand.  They will stand up and close fast.  I have had to walk toward the door but they will follow you.  I repeat "thank you , i have what i need" a lot to end an interview.  As far as a polite interruption, "Wait, clarify something for me." normally gives me the opportunity to take the conversation where i need it to go.


I do however feel that a face to face interview should last an hour unless the candidate is a total wreck and 30 minutes is a fiarly short time for a phone interview unless the candidate simply can't talk or can't be heard.

Comment by Bill Schultz on May 31, 2012 at 10:45pm

Well yeah- as Sandra said in the end, you don't need to cut down the time.

Maybe you just need to be more discriminating.  But 1 hour in person and 30 min phone is what I allot as well.

Comment by Catherine King on June 1, 2012 at 8:44am

30 minutes is what I set aside for a first phone interview. I would not feel comfortable submitting a candidate after speaking with them for only 10 minutes. I have a list of questions in front of me to help me stay on track but I also like to let them talk sometimes because how they talk, how they communicate, the personal things they choose to share are all very important to me and tell me more about the candidate than what is on the resume. 

Comment by Rudolph Stewart on June 1, 2012 at 8:57am

Dear Megan, I am also very new to recruiting.  I set up my own agency last year without any experience in the industry.  I have been learning as I go along so you may want to take my advice with a pinch of salt.  My first question to you is not whether your interviews are too long but whether you are conducting too many interviews.  Perhaps you need to do a better job at screening candidates before you interview them.  When I review CVs, I do them in a group.  By looking at several (hopefully similar) candidates at once, the better ones tend to jump out.  Those that jump out, I put in a follow up folder for a second look a few days later.  If they still look good to me, I will schedule a telephone interview.

When I schedule the telephone interview, I explain that I want to spend 15 minutes doing a preliminary interview and will be in touch at a later time for a more through interview if they candidate is successful at this stage.  I usually have a good idea after 1 minute if the candidate is a good fit but they then have another 14 to change my mind.  I like Sandra's approach to the questions for the second interview.  I prefer to leave it up to the candidate to "walk me through their CV" however they wish for the first discussion.  They way they approach this tells me a lot about their preparation for the interview and communication skills.  If all goes well, I am happy to schedule another 1 hour phone interview or a face to face meeting.

When I present a CV to a client, I include a cover sheet that summarises: 1) education and qualifications, 2) relevant experience,  3) any concerns, 4) how soon the candidate can start, 5) whether I have met the person and 6) salary expectations.  In preparing this summary, I sometimes realise that I have additional questions about the candidate. I then go back and clarify my questions prior to submitting the CV.  In most cases, if my client has a question about the candidate, I can answer it.  Because I know I will prepare a summary and have a chance to double check something that does not seem right, I am relaxed during the interview and focus on getting a feeling of how the candidate will perform in the role and within their team.

Comment by Gordon Alderson on June 1, 2012 at 10:01am


It all goes back to getting a detailed brief from the hiring manager and any subject specialist who is assisting the hiring manager.  Once you have the Hiring Manager agree in detail as to which attributes are THE most important for you to find in the exemplary candidate (I have them give me the percentages of importance and I'm keen to get them to reveal the attributes they need beneath the obvious ones) you've got the whole recruitment and selection process defined.  Life becomes so much easier for us recruiters.

Now you can pick out attributes near the top of the Hiring Manager's list for your telephone interview.  Early rejection becomes easy and candidates actually appreciate being told early that they are no longer in contention. Now you have fewer interviews to do.

Go back to your Hiring Manager's list and compile an Interview Questionnaire based on behavioural-event questions.  Give youself room on your form to write down what they say and never go to the next interview until you have scored the candidate you have just interviewed.  Score them specifically on the Top Attributes.  This form of interview goes deep and should take less than 60 minutes.  Good candidates enjoy the fact that you are being so professional and they are more inclined to be open with you. It does not take long to learn how to quickly drill down using behavioural-event questions.

You'll likely have a few attributes that need some form of assessment.  For instance, even though I'm an engineer I have yet to find out how to interview for numerical critical reasoning skills.  In Australia we can ask candidates to do an on-line test for this and many other hard skills (as distinct from emotional intelligence attributes).  Unless you've already done so, you'll need to find out whether this form of testing is allowed where you operate.

Now you're down to 2 or 3 quality candidates.  Present them for the Hiring Manager to select The One.

Report to the Hiring Manager as to your assessment of their credentials as to how they match the attributes at the top of list when you were briefed.

This structured approach is actually quicker once you get organised.  And now your reputation can be built for delivering quality candidates and doing that fast.

Hope this helps.

Comment by Julia Briggs on June 1, 2012 at 10:44am

30 minutes is the right length to be talking to (don't forget, you have to do a sell) to a candidate, if it is all going in the right direction.  However, never be afraid of stopping a telephone interview if a candidate has just ruled themselves out with something - I would say that is about 1:3 times if not more.  As long as you are polite and also give them feedback that they can benefit from I think that is acceptable.  You have saved BOTH of you time.  

Comment by Amy on June 1, 2012 at 3:35pm

This is a concerning question-- It sounds like there is pressure from the business/hiring managers to seriously limit the time you spend talking to candidates. As a recruiter, that's your job! If you can't take the time to get to know your candidates, you can't be a good recruiter or make good hiring decisions!

So first of all, that is the issue I would address. Half an hour is a reasonable amount of time for a phone interview. 60 minutes in person is about right too, depending on how many other people they're meeting with. Of course, if things are clearly not going well, you do need to have the ability to find a way to politely wrap up.

If you're consistently spending less than 10 minutes talking to a candidate, even for an initial screen, there's no way you can make an accurate decision about their skills/experience/abilities. And if you reject them with little feedback after that, it is not going to leave a good impression on them since they will feel as though you didn't really give them a chance.. which you haven't. It's almost better not to talk to them at all!

If you have several absolute "must have" requirements, skills or logistical (ie: "Do you speak fluent Spanish?", "Are you willing and able to work at the designated work location?", etc), try incorporating those in a screening questionnaire that's filled out with the application. By having candidates verify they meet your minimum requirements, you should be able to eliminate some of those initial phone screens and have more time to speak with the qualified candidates.

I take the same approach Sandra described and it has worked very well for my organization. We work really hard to provide an exceptional candidate experience-- regardless of if we hire or decline a candidate, we treat everyone with respect.

I'd be happy to connect directly with you if you'd like to talk further. It sounds like you're in a tough spot, and we're all here to help each other!

Comment by Linda Ferrante on June 7, 2012 at 1:45pm

I have a huge concern if someone is telling you to limit your time with your candidates!!  I've been told this over the years but I stand by my successful fill percentage!  There are some really good tips here, but I would caution you to take a look at the way you are handling the interview itself and not the time limit(s) imposed (real or imagined).  Food for thought, our initial phone call is based on the candidates' 'viability'.  If we determine they are not the right fit, end the conversation and move on.  At any point during the initial phone call can you end it and move on.  Ours usually last about 60 minutes before we bring them in for an interview.  The interviews go the same way, end if/when you discover they are not the right fit.  Don't waste your time or theirs.  Our interviews end up being around 3-4 hours in length, very different from the norm.  

At the end of the day, we spend about 8 hours each with the candidate before we present them to the client.  By the time they are on-boarded, we've spent about 15 - 17 hours with them and the hiring manager.  That's a huge investment, but it pays off.  Our candidates stay in their positions, successfully.  We're not the cheapest, by far, but our process works.  

For all those in the past who have told me that I'm spending too much time on the phone....I would challenge you and say that our process works!

Good luck, Megan.  I hope you find balance.  :)

Comment by Daren J. Mongello on June 7, 2012 at 6:51pm


Lot's of info. What did you decide to implement?

Here's an idea that works for some: Use email technology to your advantage. Email your candidates with NO MORE THAN 5 templated prescreen questions relevant to the role you are hiring. Reply/copy/paste/send/done. These questions should be created with the input of the hiring managers. Responses will provide content that you can forward to your hiring managers and help the two of you separate the wheat from the chaff before your first call. It also helps assess writing ability / communication skills, is passive and doesn't require scheduling.It can measure the seriousness of the candidate: did they respond in a timely manner? did they respond at all?

Amazingly managers will want to see candidates based on their pre-screened answers alone.Test it out on one position with an agreeable hiring manager. See if it is worth implementing through out your desk.

Good luck.


You need to be a member of RecruitingBlogs to add comments!

Join RecruitingBlogs


All the recruiting news you see here, delivered straight to your inbox.

Just enter your e-mail address below


RecruitingBlogs on Twitter

© 2021   All Rights Reserved   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service