How to conduct an effective initial candidate phone screen

Hiring & Talent
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George Mazzella Headshot
George C. Mazzella
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, The Suite
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The initial phone screen is one of the most important steps of an interview process and getting it wrong will cost you a potential great hire. There are numerous “how to’s”, guides, scripts, and opinion pieces telling you how best to conduct an interview. In truth, there is so much content out there, that it can be downright overwhelming to read. That’s why we did the legwork for you and pulled together the most essential pieces to create an easy to follow guide.

I. Before the interview, you want to make sure you have reviewed the candidate’s resume and prepared questions that cover your initial concerns. Make sure each interviewer is prepped and coached to assess a specific area. Having 3 people assess their leadership style is a sure-fire way to get 3 different descriptions of the same thing. Adopting a structured interview process will help create a fuller picture of the interviewee. Additionally, taking the time to prep this ahead of time will not only ensure you look good as a company but will also ensure you get the most out of the interview experience.

II. Prepare questions beforehand and make sure you ask every candidate the same questions. These should be used to get a holistic and view of the candidate and give you as much information to benchmark them as possible. Some standard questions to ask are:

- What are the major achievements you’re most proud of throughout your career?

- How would you describe your leadership style? (If the role will manage others)

- What is an example of a professional challenge you’ve had to overcome? And how did you go about solving it?

- What are you looking for in your next role? (you will need to know how to close them)

III. What questions can you ask to really dive deep? Remember that not every question will fit every interview so be sure to amend these to fit the unique needs of the role that you’re interviewing someone for.

- How would your team describe you? (if a manager of people. If not, swap for colleagues) this question will elicit a deeper response than asking them to describe themselves. People tend to see themselves differently when imagining it through the eyes of others and most of the time, you’ll get a more humble/honest description of them.

- Describe the business from when you initially walked into your previous role and describe what improvements you’ve made? Their answer will tell you a few things so listen closely. Are they using I’s and me’s or are they crediting their team and others? Have they changed the company at all from the time they initially joined? Using this question will uncover things about the way that person works with others and their ability to bring change to an organization. Both being vital qualities for role success.

IV. What are some other things an HR manager should keep in mind? If you don’t want rehearsed answers, don’t ask generic questions. Catch people off guard to see who they really are on the inside. For tone, dare to be less formal. The boardroom will never show you the DNA of a person. If you make this a more comfortable experience you’ll be able to look deeper into their personality and increase the likelihood that they enjoy the meeting too. No matter what today’s job market looks like, people have realized that interviews are two-way conversations meaning you have to sell them while you assess them. Do that successfully, and you’ll attract and hire the best talent in the market and help your company succeed!

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George Mazzella Headshot
George C. Mazzella
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, The Suite

George is the CEO & Co-Founder of The Suite. He founded The Suite in order to fundamentally change the way executives manage their careers.  Prior to founding The Suite in 2019, George spent several years in the executive recruiting space where he was fortunate enough to advise some of the world's leading VC & PE backed businesses on talent.

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