The Importance of Phone Screening Your Top Candidates + FREE Checklist


 I’ve been recruiting a lot lately, and it has reinforced for me the importance of conducting brief phone interviews (or what I call “phone screenings”) with the top applicants prior to scheduling an in-person interview.  I find that with a quick phone conversation, many of the top applicants either self-select out or I end up screening them out.  Both for valid reasons.

Have you ever been on an interview panel and spent time interviewing candidates who were either not interested in the job, or who within the first 15 minutes you knew were a terrible fit for the job?  Despite that, you spent the next hour discussing the candidate’s qualifications, in effect wasting their time and your time.  This has happened to me nearly every time I’ve been a part of a hiring process that left out the phone screening step.  With proper phone screenings, the in-person interview panel avoids interviewing disinterested or inadequate candidates, saving a great deal of time and effort.  

 How Many People to Phone Screen vs. Interview

I typically phone screen around 8-10 of the top applicants, in effect narrowing the pool to 3-5 of the best candidates for an in-person interview.  Say you have a panel of three interviewers:  Five, one-hour in-person interviews as opposed to 10, one-hour in-person interviews, saves the company 15 hours of unnecessary work (3 interviewers ‘X’ 5 hours vs. 3 interviewers ‘X’ 10 hours).  Not to mention the applicant’s time.

What Information to Cover in the Phone Screening

The phone screening is a perfect opportunity to ensure the candidate knows the pertinent information they need to make a decision about the job.  When I phone screen applicants, I address the “deal breakers” up front.  I define deal breakers as anything non-negotiable to the candidate or the employer.  For example, if I’m recruiting for a nonprofit organization and I know the salary is set/non-negotiable, I let the applicant know that.  In all fairness to the applicant, even though the salary was posted in the job ad, companies are typically willing to negotiate salaries so they might apply thinking they can negotiate later.  However, with some companies I recruit for, it’s not possible.  Rather than waste the applicant’s time, I let them know up front.  In addition to salary, other deal breakers I cover include:  Location, schedule, team/reporting structure, work environment, and benefits.  Covering this information also saves the interview panel from doing it, so that they have more time to focus on truly assessing the candidate.

Alternatively, the phone screening is an opportunity for me to find out if the applicant has any “deal breakers” for the company, such as poor communication skills, not truly meeting the job qualifications, or misrepresenting themselves in the application process.  I ask questions about the candidate’s background and get to know their skills and experience within the context of the job so that I only forward the most qualified candidates on for an in-person interview.

The checklist below is a sample of what I use to track the information I cover and the questions I ask in a typical phone screening.


Do you need help phone screening your applicants? 

I provide customized, on-demand recruiting services and I have a track record of filling unique and difficult-to-fill positions, including: 

  • Nonprofit executive directors

  • Public sector managers and directors

  • Sales and IT positions

I take the hassle out of recruitment for you by:

  • Creating a recruitment strategy unique to your company and the job 

  • Writing eye-catching job ads, and finding and networking with qualified candidates

  • Reviewing applications, phone screening top applicants, and scheduling in-person interviews

  • Creating unique discussion-oriented interview questions

  • Checking references and facilitating the job offer process

Contact me at:

 Skye Mercer, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

HR Consultant


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Skye Mercer