Four Tips for Using Telephone Screening Interviews Effectively

Using the phone to conduct initial screening interviews in staff selection has grown from being all but unheard of seven or eight years ago to becoming a regular part of the staff selection process for many businesses.

They appeal to employers and recruitment consultants through the huge savings they can bring in time, travel expenses and organisation of resources, particularly when screening candidates who have passed the initial CV screen in determining whether to invite them to final interviews and assessment.

However, the advantages of interviewing candidates via the phone are soon lost if those conducting the interviews don’t take account of the limitations of this selection method or stumble into common pitfalls that may loose them the best candidates.  The following four tips will help both seasoned interviewers and those new to this selection method to get the benefits without the pitfalls:

1. No Surprises

Candidates generally don’t like having phone interviews sprung on them, in the same way that few of us enjoy receiving calls requesting we spend 20 minutes on a survey for the oven we just purchased when we are half way through cooking tea on it.  How effective is the interview likely to be when your candidate is midway through changing a nappy, the weekly shop or worse still driving a car when you call?

Arrange the phone interview in the same way you would arrange a face-to-face interview by calling each candidate, congratulating them on passing the first stage of the selection process, explaining that the next stage is a phone-based interview and agreeing a time and date for that interview.  Giving each candidate an outline of the duration of the interview, what you aim to cover, along with ensuring you call them on a landline rather than a mobile will enable good candidates to prepare for the event and for the call to be conducted on a clear line.

2. Keep Your Promises

On the day of the arranged interviews, call every candidate at precisely the time you have agreed.  They are likely to be sitting near the phone experiencing the same pre-interview nerves that a candidate in a waiting room experiences and leaving them waiting only adds to the tension, as well as not presenting a positive impression of your business.

3. The Warm-Up Act

Most human behavioural experts tell us that people’s communications are about seventy-five percent visual, about twelve percent listening and speaking, with the remainder comprising of the other senses.  This is the biggest limitation of the phone-interview to both interviewer and candidate, with the interviewer unable to see the reactions, body language and demeanour of the candidate and the candidate unable to see the same of the interviewer that may give cues as to whether the answers they are giving are making a favourable impression.

A consistent and prepared introduction by the interviewer can address these limitations and keep the interview effective.

This introduction should include:

  • An explanation of the duration of the interview, especially if it is only a quick screening interview of ten minutes or so. Candidates may think they have performed poorly if an interview only lasts that amount of time unless you specify otherwise.
  • Ask whether they have been interviewed on the phone before.  Candidates who haven’t applied for a job for a number of years may not have experienced a phone-interview, giving you the opportunity to put them at ease and address any concerns.
  • Assure every candidate that you appreciate the difficulties of not being able to see each other and that you intend to take account of missing non-verbal communications by allowing the candidate to seek clarification or repeating any questions they are unclear about as often as they need to.  Reassure them that it is in both parties interest to get as much as possible from the interview.

4. What Happens Next?

At the end of the interview, be clear about the next stage of the selection process.  If the candidate has clearly met the criteria to progress them onto a final interview, tell them so and set the date/time so they can make travel arrangements.  If they have fallen significantly short of the desired benchmark, advise them that you won’t be taking their application any further and provide feedback on why.  If you need to delay getting the decision to them, give them a clear indication of when they will hear the outcome and what happens next.

These simple but often ignored four steps address most of the shortfalls in phone-interviewing and maintain your image as a professional employer.