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How to make a phone screen interview worthwhile

To make a phone screen interview worthwhile, prepare by determining what really matters for the role, reading the candidate's resume, clearing your mind of bias, and being ready to discuss the position and hiring process. Ask questions about availability, salary expectations, interest in the role, and knowledge of your company.

Nikoletta Bika
Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta holds an MSc in HR management and has written extensively about all things HR and recruiting.

An effective phone screen interview is your best insurance against pointless interviews. Without it, you risk wasting the time of senior team members on interviewing applicants who may look good on paper but aren’t right for the job.

The phone screening interview isn’t about making a decision about who you’re going to hire. Its purpose is to identify those candidates who you’re certain won’t make the final cut. It’ll ensure that you’ll only grant a face-to-face interview to the best candidates who have good chances to be eventually hired.

The more thought you put into phone screen interview questions, the better results you get. Not only should you plan these screening calls effectively, you can also use scorecardsrecruiting metrics or reports generated by Workable (e.g. hiring velocity report) to determine how well your screening process works.

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Our guide to phone screen interview tips:

Phone screen interview preparation

A phone screen interview is easy to get wrong without the right preparation. With no body language to read, you should be ready to give your full attention to verbal cues that can influence your decision. Preparation doesn’t have to be exhaustive at this stage but planning ahead is key:

Determine what really matters

If you’re hiring for a position that needs to be filled as soon as possible, you probably won’t pursue a candidate that requires a three-month notice period. Think about your needs. Are you exclusively looking for a full-time, experienced, immediately available business graduate who’s willing to relocate? Or are you ready to be flexible in order to secure a stellar candidate?

Read their resume

Candidates can tell if you haven’t read their resumes and they certainly won’t like it. Additionally, knowing the candidate’s background is the only way to verify their information or ask about gaps in their resume.

Clear your mind of bias

The purpose of the phone screen interview is to determine whether a candidate deserves an interview. Bias can diminish its effectiveness. If you were impressed by a candidate’s resume and you’re already determined to bring them in for an interview, the call is obsolete. Conversely, if you don’t like this candidate because of their cover letter or resume, you’re likely to deny them the opportunity anyway. Avoid the risk of making a bad decision by being objective.

Be prepared to discuss

The call isn’t only about candidates answering your phone screening questions. It’s also a great opportunity for you to clarify details about the position and the hiring process. Make sure that, by the end of the call, candidates understand fully what the role is about as well as what the next steps are. If you’re a recruiter, this means you’ll have to spend some time talking to the hiring managers so that you’ll be ready to give a clear explanation of the role.

Screening questions

There’s no reason to turn a phone screen interview into a structured interview by writing down questions in a particular order. However, you need to have a plan in your mind. Especially if you’re a hiring manager instead of a recruiter, you may easily get carried away with a discussion about the job and neglect other important questions.

TutorialStructured interview questions – Tips and examples for hiring

Open-ended, in-depth or technical interview questions should be reserved for the face-to-face interview. The candidate’s skillset can also be determined through an assignment or work sample, which are good to include in your hiring process. So, the screening call’s job will be to give you access to basic information that’s a prerequisite for the next phase. Here we provide you with categories and examples of questions that you can ask during screening calls:

1) Availability/flexibility

These type of questions should come first as any undesirable answer could mean disqualification, even for good candidates. For example, if you’re hiring for a full-time position and the candidate is only available part-time, that’s something to consider.

Example questions:

  • When can you start?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
  • Would you be comfortable with 50% travel?
  • Are you legally authorized to work in this country?

2) Salary expectations

This type of salary question is important for employers, though often dodged by candidates because it diminishes their negotiation power. You’ll need to decide how much room for negotiation you have. If you’re hiring for an important, high level position you may consider meeting the candidate’s expectations. If it’s an entry-level position and a candidate asks for an unreasonably high wage, you’ll probably have to pass.

Example questions:

  • How much money would you like to earn in this position?
  • What is your desired salary range for this role?

Related: How to attract and hire entry-level employees 

3) Candidate interest

Many job seekers send dozens of job applications every week. It’s natural for someone actively looking for a job or career. Sometimes candidates may apply for a position they aren’t truly interested in. Ask questions to evaluate their motivation.

Example questions:

  • What made you apply to this position?
  • What did you find most interesting in the job description?

4) Knowledge of your company

Once candidates get invited for a screening call, it’s fair to expect them to have done some research on the company. If they haven’t, you have a red flag. Ask basic questions but don’t delve deeper or encourage long answers. Save that for the interview.

Example questions:

  • What interests you about our company?
  • What do you know of our product/service?

5) Issues with their resume

A candidate’s resume may meet the minimum requirements but it may still have gaps or raise some concerns. Ask them to explain and listen to their answers carefully. Ideally, they should sound honest, reasonable and give concrete responses.

Example questions:

  • Tell me about this two-year gap in your resume
  • I can see that you’ve changed many jobs recently. Why did this happen?
  • How would you feel about changing industries?
  • Why do you want to leave your current position?

6) Verify basic information

You certainly won’t like candidates who lie in their resumes. Ask them questions about their background and listen to the answers. Be prepared to catch any inconsistency.

Example questions:

  • Tell me a little about yourself
  • How long did you work at your previous company?

Negative signs

During the call, you won’t be able to discern much about the candidate’s personality or cultural fit. That’s fine, as you can do that during the interview. There are, however, a few things that matter when screening a candidate that could negatively influence your decision:


Stress and nervousness should probably be excused. But if a candidate shows signs of negative behavior, think very hard whether that person should progress through your hiring pipeline. Being arrogant, for example, may mean that they won’t be able to work well in the team. Indifference is also something to beware. If a candidate often uses expressions such as “whatever”, “I don’t mind”, “It doesn’t bother me” and other similar phrases, you may be dealing with someone who simply doesn’t care enough.

Clarity of answers

It’s understandable if a candidate lacks eloquence while talking about a technical or theoretical matter (unless you’re hiring for a trainer). However, one shouldn’t stumble when talking about their personal details. Be suspicious of candidates who can’t explain what they did in their previous job or what their studies were about.

Absence of questions

Candidates are always instructed to ask questions. It isn’t a good sign if a candidate has nothing to ask you. No matter how detailed your job description or informative your website, there will always be points that require clarification. If a candidate can’t think of any or simply hasn’t bothered to, it should make you think about how suitable they are.

Lack of understanding

Regardless of specific skills, the candidates you’re looking for should be smart and good listeners. If you can see failures in either of these departments (assuming you’ve explained everything in a clear way), it’s never a good sign.

Effective screening calls followed by structured interviews make for a better hiring process. Download our structured interviews guide for free.

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