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A phone screen can be an effective way of cutting down on interview time and getting some extra data about your candidates, prior to inviting them in for a face to face interview. This is especially useful if you are short on office space or man power, as your group of potential employees can be cut to a manageable number of in-person interviews, saving you time and money.

In order to make the most of this process, it pays to take some time to focus on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of your phone interview.

Preparing to call: What’s your plan of attack?

In preparation for your phone interviews, work out whether you want to make all the calls in one day, or whether you can afford to arrange times individually with each candidate throughout a week.

Choosing to slot phone calls in between the rest of your appointments means you can fit your calls around the rest of your day, but clearing a day simply to work through all your applicants can leave you with a solid picture of how many face to face interviews you will be booking, with more consistency between how your interviews are conducted.

Once you have decided on your approach, it’s time to think about what you want to ask, and how your interviews will pan out.

Since you want to actually filter down to the best candidates for face to face interviews, rather than just book through everyone who you talk to, this step should take some time and thought. It’s a good idea to have questions and reminders jotted down, so you keep to a similar sequence and structure for each interview.

A good way to divide up the time spent on the phone would be to allow the first few minutes to talk about the company and the role itself, then allow a chunk of time in which to ask your questions, leaving time at the end for the candidate to ask any questions (remember, all good candidates should have at least one question for you!)

A phone interview is an ideal time to get a three dimensional picture to the one dimensional character drawn by their CV. Use the time to ask about why they are interested in the role, or perhaps to fill in gaps and answer questions regarding their CV.

Remember, you want the face to face interview to be a way to find the best fit out of the best candidates, so the more information you can harvest now, the better.

Dig for Information

Once you have introduced yourself and established what the call is about, you can begin to really dig for information. Make sure you start off with easier questions, leaving the more challenging questions until the candidate is in the swing of things, because even the most savvy and confident person can be thrown by a challenging question, if they’re still trying to create rapport with you.

Try to stick to questions related to the job rather than risk getting pulled up for being discriminatory. For example ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ ‘When can you start work?’ ‘What would you view as your greatest strength/weakness?’

A good idea might be to do a trial run of the questions with a coworker, in order to feel confident that they flow and seem appropriate.

At this point it also pays to ask some practical question. Why not ask if the location is suitable to them, whether their expectations of salary match up with your budget, and if they want to work the hours you will be asking of them. There’s no point in bringing someone in for an interview if they are not realistically able to commit to the job!

Pay Attention, Please.

Use this time to observe the candidate’s phone manner and general attitude as well. Do they answer questions confidently? Are they actually answering the question you asked? When they answer, are they avoiding ownership of their actions? Are they interrupting you or do they let you talk?

Another important thing to pay attention to is the type of questions they ask. For example, if the first question out of their mouth is about money, then this says a lot about what they are most concerned with, and you might think twice about hiring them.
Also remember that most candidates who prepare for interviews will have a question or two planned, so it pays to see if they seem flustered or calm when you ask them this!

Wind it up and Write it Down

Once you have wound up the interview, and indicated when they can expect to hear back about a follow up face to face interview, jot down some notes and first impressions about the candidate.

It might help to come up with a way of scoring each candidate on different criteria, for instance professionalism, attitude, job fit, and overall impression.

This means that each candidate can easily be compared against the others, helping narrow down your final selection of face to face interviews.