An effective telephone screening can reduce the number of in-person interviews you conduct by as much as 50%. It is an extremely effective tool for winnowing down your list of prospects. Telephone screening allows you to address any concerns you have about a particular candidate and gets the basics out of the way so that you can go deeper in the face-to-face interview.

Here are 10 steps to take for a successful telephone screening:

1. Review the position description

You should have already written a position description and used it as an "expectation blueprint" during the resume review. You don't necessarily need to be aware of every detail in the position description, but you should have a strong narrative summary of the job in front of you, along with a bulleted list of 5-10 essential job qualifications.

2. Create a list of job responsibilities

In addition to the position description, you should prepare a short list of the daily activities the job will require. Try to anticipate typical questions a prospective employee might ask about the job and have answers prepared in advance. You might also include a modest list of goals the new hire should accomplish in his or her first three months of employment.

3. Prepare a "first impression analysis"

During the resume review, you should have red-flagged any potential problem areas or issues that require further clarification. Creating a "first impression analysis" by listing the positives and negatives about the candidate can be a helpful way of structuring your phone interview. Bear in mind, however, the telephone screening is not intended to be a subtle or exhaustive evaluation. You won't have time to delve into the nuances of character and personality. The telephone screening should always stick to the most essential job qualifications and performance expectations.

4. Give applicants advance notice

Be aware that calling applicants at their workplace to set up a phone interview could be inconvenient or even compromising to them. Never call the applicant and immediately launch into an on-the-spot interview. You should always prepare candidates for the telephone screening by calling and asking if they have 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. If they don't, make an appointment for a date and time that is mutually acceptable.

5. Designate a specific time to make the call

When making the initial phone contact, have your calendar handy so that you can schedule an appointment if it is not convenient for the person to talk with you at that time. After you've set up the appointment, make sure your schedule has been cleared so that you can give your full time and attention to the prospect during the phone screen. Inform your co-workers that you'll be unavailable during that period. Make sure you call the candidate promptly, and be conscious of the fact that he or she may not have a lot of time to talk.

6. Create a list of "killer" questions

It's always a good idea to begin the interview with a brief overview of the company, the expectations of the position and what you do at the company. After these preliminaries, you're ready to get down to business. These telephone screening questions have proved highly successful at getting at the most critical information about your prospects:


  • What kind of experience do you have? (quality of experience, not quantity)
  • What are the most critical tasks you perform at your job?
  • What are your most significant professional accomplishments?
  • What are your team management abilities?
  • What have you done that has made the biggest impact on your company's performance?
  • What do you think someone in this position needs to know to perform well?
  • What personal qualities do you think someone in this position should have?
  • What do you think is the most important task this job requires? Can you describe something you have done that is comparable?
  • How does your position relate to the overall goals of the organization?
  • What do you like the most and the least about your current job?

Personal preferences:

  • How important is it to be creative in your job?
  • Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team?
  • What do you want most out of your next job?
  • Why are you motivated to leave your current job?
  • What are your long-term professional goals?


  • What type of salary are you looking for? Benefits?
  • What do you currently earn?


  • How far would you have to commute to this job?
  • What is your mode of transportation?


  • How is your job search going?
  • How long have you been looking?

The answers to these two questions will help you determine if the candidate is just "browsing" or is serious about seeking new employment.

7. Get ALL your important questions answered

Don't commit yourself to a face-to-face interview until you're satisfied that all your concerns have been addressed. Try not to be distracted by social dialogue, and keep candidates on track whenever they stray from the question posed. It's also a good idea to prepare a short, polite statement of rejection should you elect not to bring the candidate in for an interview. You might want to conclude your interview by asking if there is anything else the applicant thinks you should know about him or her that hasn't been touched upon thus far.

8. Don't let emotions make the decision for you

It's understandable to want to hire someone you like, particularly if you share an immediate rapport or similar experiences. But it's important to be objective. Conversely, don't dismiss someone you don't like on the spot. Some candidates present well, particularly over the phone, but this doesn't mean they will make the best employees. One of the great things about the phone screen is that it allows you to go into the face-to-face interview with some clear, objective performance measures in hand. And because the applicant has already spoken with you once, he or she is going to feel a lot more at ease.

9. Confirm that the applicant's skills and your expectations match

Basically, there are three possible responses to an applicant at the conclusion of the phone screening: no, maybe or yes. If the applicant is unsuitable, most likely he or she will already have realized it. If not, let the person down gently. In other cases, you may have a candidate who is a strong contender, but you may still have some uncertainties. It's best to be forthright about your reservations. If the applicant is still interested in the position, you might ask him or her to come in for some additional testing, or to write a letter detailing examples of his or her accomplishments. In instances when you feel unreservedly strong about an applicant, invite him or her in for a face-to-face interview.

10. Outline the expectations of the face-to-face interview

Work out the details of when and where the interview will take place. Let applicants know if they will be required to fill out an application or take a test, or if there are any items you would like them to bring to the interview, such as a portfolio, work samples, references, etc. Estimate how long you expect the entire interview process will take. At this point, you might also indicate what your anticipated time frame is--when you hope to complete the hiring process and when you expect to have a new hire on board.

Get excited! After a successful telephone screening, you can be confident that you will be interviewing only the most promising applicants.