How To Phone Screen Candidates

Mobile Phone

Welcome to the world of phone screening – an essential component of the hiring process that allows employers to evaluate candidates before inviting them for in-person interviews. Phone screening offers a convenient and efficient way to assess a candidate’s qualifications, communication skills, and overall fit for a position without the need for face-to-face interaction. In this article, we will delve into the strategies and best practices for effectively conducting phone screens, highlighting the key steps and techniques that can help you identify top talent. Whether you’re a seasoned recruiter or a hiring manager looking to make the most of your phone screening sessions, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and tips to unlock the potential of each phone call and make well-informed decisions about your candidates.

Inside This Article

  1. Understanding the Purpose of a Phone Screen
  2. Preparing for a Phone Screen
  3. Conducting the Phone Screen
  4. Evaluating Candidates during the Phone Screen
  5. Common Mistakes to Avoid during a Phone Screen
  6. Conclusion
  7. FAQs

Understanding the Purpose of a Phone Screen

When it comes to the hiring process, phone screens play a crucial role in identifying qualified candidates. Essentially, a phone screen serves as the first point of contact between potential candidates and the hiring team. Its primary purpose is to assess a candidate’s qualifications, experience, and overall fit for a role before moving forward with in-person interviews.

One of the key reasons for conducting a phone screen is to save time and resources. By conducting an initial screening call, employers can quickly identify candidates who may not meet the basic requirements of the position, eliminating the need for them to come in for a face-to-face interview. This helps streamline the hiring process and ensures that only the most promising candidates progress to the next stage.

Phone screens also provide an opportunity for employers to gauge a candidate’s communication skills. During the call, employers can assess how well candidates articulate their thoughts, express their ideas, and respond to questions. Strong communication skills are often essential for success in many roles, making the phone screen an invaluable tool for evaluating this crucial competency.

Furthermore, phone screens allow employers to get a sense of a candidate’s enthusiasm and motivation for the position. Through the conversation, employers can gauge a candidate’s level of interest in the role and assess their eagerness to contribute to the organization. This helps ensure that candidates who move forward are genuinely passionate about the opportunity and have genuine enthusiasm for the role.

Another benefit of a phone screen is the opportunity it provides to gather additional information about a candidate’s qualifications and experience. While resumes and cover letters provide a snapshot of a candidate’s background, a phone screen allows for more in-depth discussions. Employers can ask specific questions to gain a better understanding of a candidate’s skills and experiences, helping them make more informed decisions about moving forward with the candidate.

Preparing for a Phone Screen

Before conducting a phone screen, it’s essential to adequately prepare. This preparation will ensure that the phone screen is efficient and effective in evaluating candidates. Here are some key steps to follow when preparing for a phone screen:

1. Review the Job Description: Familiarize yourself with the job description and note the key qualifications, skills, and experience required for the role. This will help you tailor your questions and focus on assessing the candidate’s suitability for the position.

2. Create a Phone Screen Script: Develop a script that includes a set of standardized questions to ask each candidate. This script will help provide consistency and ensure all relevant information is collected during the phone screen. It’s also important to prepare follow-up questions based on the candidate’s responses.

3. Understand the Company Culture: Gain an in-depth understanding of the company culture, values, and work environment. This knowledge will allow you to assess whether the candidate aligns with the organization’s values and will thrive in the company’s unique setting.

4. Research the Candidates: Take the time to research each candidate before the phone screen. Review their resume, cover letter, and any other application materials. This will help you familiarize yourself with their background, accomplishments, and specific areas you may want to explore during the conversation.

5. Set up the Phone Screen Environment: Choose a quiet and distraction-free location for the phone screen. Make sure you have a reliable phone connection and any necessary interview materials, such as the candidate’s resume and the phone screen script, readily available.

6. Plan the Timing: Determine the appropriate length for the phone screen and schedule it accordingly. It’s important to allocate enough time for meaningful conversation and allow for any possible delays or additional questions that may arise during the call.

7. Develop an Assessment Criteria: Establish a clear set of criteria to evaluate candidates during the phone screen. This could include factors such as communication skills, relevant experience, problem-solving abilities, and cultural fit. Having specific evaluation criteria will help you make more informed decisions during the screening process.

8. Compile a List of Additional Questions: In addition to the scripted questions, prepare a list of additional questions that may arise based on the candidate’s responses. These extra questions will help you further explore specific areas of interest and delve deeper into their qualifications and experiences.

9. Practice Active Listening: Cultivate active listening skills to ensure you fully understand the candidate’s responses and can ask follow-up questions effectively. Engaging in active listening demonstrates your genuine interest in the candidate and allows for a more fruitful conversation.

10. Familiarize Yourself with Legal Considerations: Ensure you are familiar with relevant legal considerations during the screening process, such as equal employment opportunity guidelines and any applicable state or local laws. This knowledge will help you conduct phone screens in a fair and compliant manner.

By following these steps and investing time in the preparation process, you can conduct a more effective phone screen and make informed decisions about which candidates to move forward in the hiring process.

Conducting the Phone Screen

Once you have prepared for the phone screen and have a list of potential candidates, it’s time to conduct the actual phone interviews. This step is crucial in determining if the candidate is a good fit for the role and the organization. Here are some key steps to follow when conducting a phone screen:

1. Set a Professional Tone: Start the phone screen by introducing yourself and your role in the company. Make sure to set a professional and friendly tone, as this will help put the candidate at ease and create a positive first impression.

2. Establish the Agenda: Outline the purpose of the phone screen and let the candidate know what to expect during the call. This will help them focus and be better prepared to answer your questions.

3. Ask Relevant Questions: Prepare a set of thoughtful and relevant questions that will help you assess the candidate’s skills, experience, and qualifications for the role. Consider asking about their previous work experience, their knowledge of specific technologies or tools, and their problem-solving capabilities.

4. Listen Attentively: During the phone interview, listen attentively to the candidate’s responses. Take notes to help you remember important details and follow-up questions. Pay attention not only to their technical expertise but also their communication skills and cultural fit.

5. Engage in a Conversation: Remember, a phone screen is not just a one-sided interrogation. Engage in a conversation with the candidate to establish rapport and make them comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences. This will also give you a deeper insight into their personality and how they may fit within your team.

6. Be Flexible: While it’s important to have a set list of questions, be flexible and adapt to the conversation. If the candidate brings up an interesting point or shares a relevant experience, allow the conversation to explore further. This will help you assess their ability to think on their feet and adapt to different situations.

7. Address Any Concerns: If you have any concerns or doubts about the candidate’s qualifications, experience, or fit for the role, address them in a professional and constructive manner. Give them an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings or provide additional information.

8. Close the Conversation: Wrap up the phone screen by thanking the candidate for their time and letting them know what the next steps in the hiring process will be. If applicable, inform them of any additional assessments or interviews they may need to complete.

By following these steps, you can conduct a productive and insightful phone screen to help you identify the most promising candidates for further consideration in the hiring process.

Evaluating Candidates during the Phone Screen

During the phone screen, you have a valuable opportunity to evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, communication skills, and cultural fit. Here are some key factors to consider when evaluating candidates:

1. Communication skills: Pay attention to how candidates articulate their thoughts and ideas over the phone. Do they speak clearly and concisely? Are they able to effectively communicate their experiences and achievements? Strong communication skills are crucial for any role, so take note of how well candidates are able to express themselves during the phone screen.

2. Technical competency: Depending on the nature of the position, it’s important to assess a candidate’s technical competency during the phone screen. Ask specific questions related to their skills and experience in the relevant areas. Listen carefully to their responses and gauge their level of expertise. This will help you determine if their technical skills align with the requirements of the role.

3. Problem-solving abilities: Use the phone screen as an opportunity to assess a candidate’s problem-solving abilities. Present them with hypothetical scenarios or ask them about specific challenges they have faced in the past. Effective problem-solving skills demonstrate a candidate’s ability to think critically and come up with innovative solutions.

4. Cultural fit: Consider whether the candidate’s values, work style, and personality align with the company culture. Ask questions that help you gauge their fit within the team and the organization. This will ensure a harmonious working environment and increase the chances of long-term success for the candidate within your company.

5. Professionalism and attitude: Pay attention to the candidate’s professionalism and attitude during the phone screen. Were they punctual for the call? Did they demonstrate enthusiasm and interest in the position? Professionalism and a positive attitude are important qualities in any employee, so assess whether the candidate exhibits these traits during the phone screen.

6. Listening skills: Evaluate the candidate’s listening skills during the phone screen. Are they attentive to your questions and statements? Do they ask clarifying questions to ensure they understand the information being conveyed? Effective listening skills are crucial for effective collaboration and understanding in the workplace.

7. Overall impression: Trust your instincts and consider your overall impression of the candidate. Did they make a positive impression during the phone screen? Do you believe they have the potential to excel in the role? Remember that while evaluating a candidate based on specific criteria is important, your overall impression can also provide valuable insights.

When evaluating candidates during the phone screen, take thorough notes to help you compare and assess each candidate objectively. This will make it easier to make informed decisions and proceed with the most promising candidates to the next stage of the hiring process.

Common Mistakes to Avoid during a Phone Screen

When conducting a phone screen with candidates, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes that can hinder the effectiveness of the process. By avoiding these mistakes, you can ensure that you gather the necessary information and make informed decisions. Here are some common mistakes to steer clear of during a phone screen:

1. Lack of preparation: One of the most common mistakes is not preparing adequately for the phone screen. Failing to review the candidate’s resume, job description, and any other relevant materials beforehand can lead to a disorganized and unproductive conversation. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the candidate’s background and the role they are applying for.

2. Poor time management: Time management is crucial during a phone screen. Avoid running over the allotted time or rushing through the conversation. Allocate enough time for each question and make sure to listen actively to the candidate’s responses. Being mindful of time will help you maintain a structured and productive phone screen.

3. Asking leading or biased questions: It’s important to ask open-ended and non-biased questions during the phone screen. Avoid leading the candidate to a specific answer or asking questions that may reveal personal information that is irrelevant to the job. Keep the focus on assessing the candidate’s skills, experience, and fit for the role.

4. Interrupting the candidate: While it’s essential to guide the conversation and keep it on track, interrupting the candidate too frequently can be seen as rude and disrespectful. Allow the candidate to finish their thoughts and provide concise answers before interjecting. Active listening is crucial during the phone screen process.

5. Not taking thorough notes: During the phone screen, it’s important to take detailed notes to refer back to later. Failing to do so can result in forgetting important details and mixing up candidates. Develop a system for organizing your notes to ensure you capture all relevant information and can make accurate comparisons between candidates.

6. Neglecting to provide information about the company: Remember that the phone screen is not just an opportunity to evaluate the candidate, but also a chance to showcase your company. Take the time to provide information about the company culture, values, and any other relevant details. This helps candidates assess whether they would be a good fit for the organization.

7. Making snap judgments: It’s crucial to remain objective and avoid making snap judgments based on a single phone screen. Keep in mind that this is just one step in the hiring process, and it’s important to evaluate candidates based on their overall qualifications and fit for the role. Take thorough and thoughtful considerations before making any decisions.

8. Failing to follow up: After the phone screen, it’s important to follow up with candidates to provide feedback or inform them about the next steps in the hiring process. Failing to do so can create a negative impression of your company and harm your employer brand. Make sure to communicate promptly and professionally with all candidates.

Avoiding these common mistakes during a phone screen will help you conduct more effective assessments and make better-informed decisions. Remember to approach each phone screen with preparation, professionalism, and an open mind. By doing so, you can maximize the benefits of the phone screen stage in the hiring process.


Phone screening candidates is an essential part of the hiring process that can save you time and resources. By conducting effective phone interviews, you can evaluate a candidate’s qualifications, assess their fit for the role, and narrow down the pool of potential hires. With the right preparation and approach, you can gather valuable insights about a candidate’s skills, experience, and attitude, helping you make more informed decisions.

Remember to establish clear criteria, prioritize key questions, and actively listen to the candidate’s responses. Take notes during the call to refer back to later and be mindful of maintaining a professional and engaging phone presence. Don’t forget to document your evaluations and compare candidates objectively, considering both their technical abilities and cultural fit within your organization. By following these best practices, you can conduct productive phone screenings that streamline the recruitment process and increase the likelihood of finding the perfect candidate for your team.


1. Why is phone screening important in the hiring process?

Phone screening allows employers to assess a candidate’s qualifications and suitability for a position before investing time and resources in a face-to-face interview. It helps in narrowing down the pool of applicants, saving valuable time during the hiring process.

2. What are the key benefits of phone screening?

  • Efficiency: Phone screening helps filter out unqualified candidates quickly, allowing hiring managers to focus on the most promising applicants.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Conducting initial screenings over the phone reduces the need for arranging in-person interviews for applicants who may not be a good fit.
  • Time Saving: Phone screenings are usually shorter than face-to-face interviews, allowing recruiters to evaluate more candidates within a shorter timeframe.
  • Early Insight: Phone screenings provide an opportunity to assess a candidate’s communication skills, enthusiasm, and initial alignment with the company culture before investing further in the hiring process.

3. What should be included in a phone screening questionnaire?

A phone screening questionnaire should include questions that help assess a candidate’s qualifications, relevant experience, availability, and salary expectations. It should also cover questions about the candidate’s knowledge of the company and their motivation for applying to the position. Additionally, it can include situational or behavioral questions to gauge their problem-solving abilities and cultural fit.

4. How long should a phone screening typically last?

A phone screening usually lasts between 15 to 30 minutes. This timeframe is sufficient to ask essential questions, evaluate the candidate’s responses, and determine if they meet the initial criteria for the role. However, the duration may vary based on the complexity of the role and the amount of information to cover during the call.

5. What qualities should employers look for during a phone screening?

During a phone screening, employers should look for qualities such as clear and effective communication skills, a positive attitude, professionalism, and enthusiasm for the role. Additionally, employers can assess the candidate’s ability to articulate their experience and qualifications, problem-solving skills, and their potential cultural fit within the organization.