How to succeed with a candidate phone screening step by step

Andy Agouridis Talent acquisition

Candidate screening calls done right enable recruiters to assess a candidate’s qualifications, experience, skills, salary expectations and more, which make them a great tool for narrowing the field of applicants to invite for more time-consuming and costly assessments, like an in-person interview (SHRM). While telephone interviews have been around for a while, we want to ensure you know how to get the most out of them through effective planning, best practice execution and the use of related technology. Here is how to do it!

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What is a phone screen interview?

A phone screen interview is a preliminary screening process where a recruiter conducts an interview over the phone to assess a job candidate's fundamental qualifications and compatibility for a particular position, before inviting them for a face-to-face or virtual interview. During the phone screen interview, the interviewer usually poses a series of questions regarding the candidate's expertise, background, education, availability, and any other relevant information associated with the job. The primary objective of the phone screen interview is to filter out unsuitable candidates and shortlist the most suitable ones for the subsequent rounds of interviews.

We want to ensure you know how to get the most out of them through effective planning, best practice execution and the use of related technology. Here is how to do it!

Prepare for a successful candidate screening

Collect the required data

An effective phone interview is based on data and information provided by the candidate during the application stage. It is good practice to consider requesting the candidates to provide the following information:

  • Contact details
  • Working experience
  • Education & Qualifications
  • Career Aspirations
  • Interest in the job
  • Right to Work
  • Salary Expectations
  • Notice Period

You can then use this information to make an informed decision on who will be shortlisted for a telephone interview.

Structuring the telephone candidate screening

After compiling the list of candidates for telephone screening, it is time to start preparing for the screening call. The steps below aim to outline different options and provide food for thought:

  • Planned or surprise call: a telephone interview can either be scheduled with the candidate or be a surprise call. While there are pros and cons to both approaches, a planned interview is more effective in most cases, as both parties will be available and prepared to talk.
  • Structure: There are two interviewing schools of thought, the structured and the unstructured. A structured interview’s main advantage is ensuring all candidates will be treated in the same manner. On the other hand, an unstructured interview provides more flexibility and can result in a more natural conversation. There is also a hybrid telephone interview, which is somewhere in between and can include the best of both worlds.
  • Questions: The most efficient way for designing a phone interview is having a bank of existing questions to use and complementing it with additional job-specific questions if required. In any case, it is important to keep in mind that a telephone interview is meant to be a high-level conversation and should not delve too much into the detail.
  • Scoring: Quantifying the assessment process by scoring candidates facilitates an informed, objective and fair decision. Scoring is recommended as it minimizes biases and can protect the business from discrimination allegations if things go wrong.
  • Consistency: Consistency is key. Regardless of which of the above options appeal to you most, remember to be consistent in the way you conduct the screening calls. From inviting candidates to the interview to greeting them, interviewing them and evaluating them, all candidates must be treated in the same way.

Inviting candidates to the phone interview

This is an important step as in most cases it will be the first human interaction of the candidate with your business, which makes it a vital part of the candidate experience. The below steps can help you to ensure a positive introduction:

  • Be flexible: Flexibility is always appreciated. Nowadays, flexible working is a highly desired benefit. Start your working relationship with candidates by offering them flexibility in interview scheduling. They will feel valued and appreciated!
  • Detail the process: While recruiters & HR professionals are familiar with each stage of the selection process, this is not the case for all candidates. It is good practice to share information on the next steps of the process as well as the timelines you are working to.
  • Play by the candidates’ rules: Recruitment starts by understanding the requirements of a job and identifying the desired candidate persona. Top employers align the assessment process to this persona by adopting their preferred means of communication. Consider email, SMS or other innovative ways, as required.

Phone screening questions

Opening the interview

In order to get as much valuable information as possible and ensure a positive candidate experience, keep the below recommendations in mind to build rapport and foster discussion with the applicant (SHRM):

  • Prepare for the interview by reading through the candidate’s application.
  • Set aside a quiet place for the interview.
  • Schedule enough time so that the interview will not be rushed.
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Ask for permission to record the interview or take notes.
  • Begin in a manner that provides a comfortable atmosphere for the candidate.
  • Outline the interview objectives and structure.
  • Try to ask questions that will facilitate discussion.

Questions to ask candidate

Use the below questions to ensure the candidates meet all the essential criteria and to identify the best contestants to progress to the next assessment phase.

  • What is your current (or last) and expected salary?
  • Do you have the right to work in the job location?
  • What is your notice period? Is it negotiable?
  • Why are you leaving your current role / why did you leave your current role?
  • What are you looking for from your next role?
  • What is your most successful, relevant piece of work?
  • Bonus: ask a question related to the mission, vision or values of the business to assess cultural fit.

After the above, take 1-2 minutes to explain the job at a high level and ask the candidate whether they think they are a good fit.

Also, make sure to not ask questions related to the following topics, as they are not related to the job and may be illegal:

  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Marital Status
  • Disabilities
  • Citizenship
  • Age

Taking notes.

Effective candidate screening is likely to produce a lot of information that can be vital to assess applicants effectively. Make sure you track all important information in a way that will facilitate candidate evaluation by following the below recommendations:

  • Use a template: create a template while planning the interview and use it for all candidates interviewing for the role
  • Recommended structure: include questions and a placeholder for comments and scoring, as well as the candidates personal and contact details
  • Be consistent: track the same information from all interviews

Closing the telephone candidate screening.

While after asking the questions a recruiter has all the information they need, remember to close out on a positive note to boost candidate experience (SHRM). Keep the below steps in mind:

  • Offer the candidate the opportunity to ask questions
  • Explain the next steps of the process and associated timelines
  • Thank the candidate for their time and interest in the job and the company

Evaluating candidates.

Quantifying the evaluation process can be a robust way to make a fair decision while minimizing biases. There are many approaches on how to go about this, however, it is best practice to use a straightforward, efficient and tailored method, such as the below:

  • Scoring scales: You can use a 3, 5 or 7 point scale
  • Weighting: You can apply weighting to questions based on their importance

Communicating results to decision-makers.

After completing the candidate screening and getting a good grasp of the quality and quantity of candidates, as well as their expectations and availability, it is time to communicate the results of your hard work to stakeholders. We recommend scheduling a meeting with the hiring manager and other key decision makers to share key information and ensure alignment for the next steps.

A recruitment platform will make your phone screening more effective

Recruitment software is proven to reduce the time required for screening and to improve the quality of hires and it is no more a secret that it is a necessary element of any successful talent acquisition function.

The platform supports the screening call process by storing relevant info, automating part of the process, facilitating collaboration, and enabling reporting. For more information on how you can use technology, check the below steps:

  • Collecting and storing candidate applications: recruitment software provides functionality for receiving and tracking applications in its database
  • Pre-screening candidates: talent acquisition applications can automate the pre-screening process based on requested keywords that are relevant to the job
  • Searching, sorting and categorising candidates, and running reports: recruitment technology makes it easy to manage candidate-related data and to create reports in order to facilitate decision making
  • Making notes and comments during the assessment process: recruitment software has the functionality to support notes and comments in a candidate’s record in order to serve as a central repository throughout the talent acquisition process
  • Contacting applicants: recruitment applications can also have functionality for facilitating candidate communication by offering the option of direct, mass-messaging
  • Collaborating with hiring managers and other stakeholders: talent acquisition software enables all key stakeholders to work together by making information-sharing easy

Jobylon offers all the above functionality and more! Make sure you find out more on our website, where you can also schedule a free product demo.


These days, recruitment is shaped by constant change and presents new, major opportunities and challenges for organisations. One of the key challenges is the existing skills gap and talent shortage. An effective talent acquisition strategy and process utilising modern technology can enable you to overcome this challenge and hire top talent.

Efficient candidate screening and a spiced-up telephone interview can minimize costly bad hires as well as increase recruitment quality and reduce time to fill. In order to reap these benefits, remember to plan effectively, follow best practice execution and get tech on your side.

Last updated:

Andy Agouridis

Andy helps candidates and employers connect faster and better. Apart from being a Jobylon contributing writer and a Careers content creator. He has a background in HR with Fortune 100 businesses, holds an MSc in HRM, and is a Chartered member of the CIPD.

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