Candidate Preliminary Phone Screening -- 6 Telling Interview Questions

By Ray Plummer

It is well known that a preliminary phone interview is a great tool to weed out and streamline the hiring process. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t pay enough attention to the candidate phone screening step and thus wind up needlessly wasting significant time and resources.

With a phone and a little time, you can quickly determine if the candidate’s qualifications, experience, work aspirations, and salary requirements match up with the position. Additionally, you can get an initial feel for if they might be a good fit for your organization’s culture.

A carefully planned phone screening process should be built into your HR department’s hiring protocol. This will help immediately eliminate unsuitable candidates so that even greater amounts of time are not lost performing unnecessary face-to-face interviews. Paying extreme attention to this specific step and refining it will make the over-all hiring process much more expedient while also saving a great deal of unnecessary expense for your organization.

While we recommend developing a comprehensive process tailored to various roles and your organization’s objectives, the following six screening questions when used properly are some of the best.

1. Do you remember applying for the role?

This is probably the first basic question, which if asked without prior notice, will give away a great deal about the candidate and how serious they were and still are about winning the position within your organization. Ask a simple leading question to gain additional clarity… When and how did you first learn about the position?

2. What was it about the job description that attracted your attention?

Often lower quality candidates give very little thought to evaluating the hiring organization or role for which they’ve applied. As such, they wind up opportunistically pursuing every position they come across. This is a sign of someone which is likely is not a good fit as they have not put in the necessary consideration to fully identify your organization as a place the definitively would like to continue their career path.

3. What are you ideally looking for in your next role?

This question will help determine whether the open position will meet the candidate’s personal aspirations. Ask the candidate for an off-the-cuff wish list of the items most important to them going forward. The list they provide is such an unprepared fashion can serve in determining if this person might be a good fit for the role. Should you decide to advance this person forward for a face-to-face interview, this wish list can then serve as a reference point as well as a cross-check during the formal interview process.

4. What are your salary expectations?

It is very crucial to ask the candidates about their salary expectations early in the process. It is a quick filter to decide if you would be able to accommodate them. If the candidate is already earning well above what the position can offer, there is no point moving forward in the process. Even if they are willing to accept a lower offer, they likely will not be happy in the long term if they feel their contribution is out of line with the compensation provided.

5. How much notice do you intend to give your current employer?

Asking the candidate about their notice period will suddenly make the hiring process very real. If the candidate informs you of immediate availability, while not a disqualifier, you will certainly want to know much more about why they are currently unemployed and how that factors in with their prior role. Similarly, if you have an urgent need to fill the requirement and the candidate won’t be available for an extended time, it makes no sense to advance them in the process.

6. What is your availability for a face-to-face interview in the next few days?

The answer provided to this question can help gauge the seriousness of the candidate in pursuing the role. If the applicant says they cannot meet within a reasonable period of time without providing an adequate explanation, you should begin to question whether they are serious about pursuing the position.



There is no exact science for doing a candidate phone screening interview. It takes practice and experience to get a good feel for interpreting the answers provided. My best advice is to talk very little during the call. Make a point to ask specific planned questions and carefully listen to the answers provided. With experience, the ability to following your instinct to gain an impression of the individual will serve you well in the long-term and help you quickly evaluate and hire great talent for your organization.


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Candidate Phone Screening: 6 Telling Questions

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