Connect with us


Get recruitment savvy: Phone Screening

Ever had a candidate look great on paper but been a dud at interview? Or have you made an offer only to have the candidate turn it down for money or something that should have been discussed sooner?

Last updated by



Ever had a candidate look great on paper but been a dud at interview? Or have you made an offer only to have the candidate turn it down for money or something that should have been discussed sooner? An early phone conversation with a candidate, or what we recruiters call a ‘phone screen’ is a massively valuable weapon in your recruitment arsenal, ideal for shaping your short list.

Recently I’ve been surprised by how many companies are still relying purely on CVs to decide who they will interview when quick phone calls to candidates could save them hours of time. In addition there are many reasons a company shouldn’t rely solely on CVs:

  • Many people now pay for CV writing services, or at the very least people always ‘sanity check’ their CV with friends and family beforehand, so it’s not necessarily representative of their written communication, grammar or spelling
  • Spoken communication is vital for many roles, a phone screen is a good way to gauge these skills
  • Unless someone has written a great covering letter you won’t know what their motivation is for applying to your particular role or company
  • Critical must haves for the role such as ‘can work weekends’ or ‘salary expectations’ aren’t included in a CV but can be discovered through a five minute conversation
  • After talking with a candidate they may take themselves out of the running saving yourself time

There are certain elements that you really want to discover early on in the process. Any critical attributes should be covered off as early as possible. Questions fall into two areas:

Killer questions – where the response can knock someone out of the running immediately, for example;

“Are you legally allowed to work in this country?”

Show stoppers or red flags – for example;

“What are your salary expectations?”
“Can you attend training across certain hours?”
“Can you start at a specific date?”

If you have the benefit of an ‘applicant tracking system’ (ATS) then such questions can be included on that. ATS’s also have the wonderful ability to prioritise who you should speak to first, the more right answers the higher on the ‘call’ list. With or without an ATS a phone screen is necessary.

A phone screen is also the first place you could introduce a behavioural question. Perhaps there’s something critical to the role that could be asked here.

Predominantly the CV covers off whether an applicant ‘can’ do the role. Unless you are using personality testing linked to the application (again through an ATS) the phone screen is the first opportunity to check whether someone ‘will’ do the role. In other words are they congruent with what the role offers?

Good phone screen? Here’s how:

  • Evaluate anything that could stop you proceeding such as eligibility to work in the country
  • Check for show stoppers – location, salary, availability
  • Assess motivational fit being the ‘will do’ vs ‘can do’. Ask yourself – is the candidate genuinely interested in your opportunity?
  • Observe and assess the candidate’s communication skills as required by the position
  • Assess behaviours – this is a good opportunity to assess a critical behaviour before the interview
  • Evaluate risk factors – did the candidate leave a previous role for a similar reason that may be present in this role? You can measure attrition risk at this stage and only proceed with those who have low or medium attrition risk

Phone screens can also be useful for employers to get a picture of realistic market expectations from applicants for a specific job.

Although to some it may appear that phone screens add another step to the process, by spending five minutes you can save yourself an hour in an unnecessary interview. A free phone screen template is available on the resources page of

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Share your comments on this business blog article