Conduct an Amazing Phone Screen with this Framework

phone screen via mobile devices

Have you ever sat at your desk waiting on a candidate to join the phone screen, only to be greeted with extended silence and a ghosted candidate?

We’ve all been there.

What about when you’ve got the candidate’s resume and profile, ready to take notes, only to embarrass yourself by asking redundant questions that are clearly communicated the person’s resume and profile?

It happens to the best of us, but this could annoy candidates and leave them with a poor first impression of the company.

Finally, let’s say that … you are finishing an engaging first call with the candidate, and intend to move the person to the next stage, but when you’re asked about why this particular candidate gets to move forward, you don’t have any notes to share, and have forgotten most of the details of the interview!

If this sounds like what you’ve experienced, then keep reading! You can learn a method to increase the effectiveness of your recruitment process.

Anatomical Framework

To make sure these types of situations do not occur, you will need some tools, or rather, frameworks. This Anatomical Framework breaks the key focus areas of a successful phone screen interview into an easy to understand self-contained system. Think of the recruitment process itself as a body having core parts and organs. Thinking of the initial phone screening in this way, allows you to connect this one piece (and its moving parts) to the larger objective of hiring a well qualified person and setting them up for success.

  1. The Eyes – observe the total candidate pool, but focus on a select few
  2. The Brain – meld technology and mind to drive the process forward
  3. The Mouth – speak and be communicative, with prepared questions and qualitative “deep dives”
  4. The Ears – listen and be attentive (“present”), accurately capturing “apples-to-apples” data
  5. The Nose – while listening, pay close attention to red flags, or anything that would set off your “B.S. meter”

The basics of a phone interview, also called a “pre-screening,” have been covered in depth by other sources, and can best be summarized by the Society of Human Resources Management in a separate article.

The Eyes


Not every person who applies to the job gets invited to the initial phone screening call. This is by design. There should have been some skill or quality that is set in the initial candidate intake, that is an exclusionary factor, removing candidates from consideration who do not fit the skill/ certification/ trait requirements for the role or, simply “mass-apply” to jobs and do not take your job application seriously. However, you should observe your total population of candidates for stand-outs that are subpar on one evaluated component, but superb on all others. It may make sense to allow extraordinary (but currently excluded by “knock-out” questions) candidates into your pool of phone screen candidates. For this reason, it may not make sense to send auto-rejection emails, at least not before you’ve had the chance to observe for extraordinary people.

The Brain

The brain contains your mind, which processes information constantly sent to it by neurons, and interacts with all systems in the body. In similar fashion, the people and technology actively working together to recruit are processing information, categorizing it, and providing feedback. The people and tech work together as a mind, directing the execution and decision making that leads up to a successful hire.

With only a subset of candidates remaining from which to call upon for job interview, you now receive the candidate with available information, and determine what to focus on after inviting the person to the initial call. In processing the candidate and determining what to focus on, you arrive at an overall objective of the call, and break the call itself down into blocks.

The screening begins before the call even takes place. I previously mentioned candidates failing to show up. You can reduce the chances of a candidate not showing up by building a communication into the process before the call. If you have a good Applicant Tracking System (ATS), you can automate notifications to the candidate ahead of the call, so they don’t forget, and keep their schedule open. You can also communicate what the candidate is going to be evaluated on and the purpose of the call. People don’t like to be blind sighted, and showing some of your cards ahead of time builds trust and transparency into the process, scoring early points with great candidates.

the brain

The Mouth


Speak and communicate. As the scheduled date and time for the initial phone screen arrives, you prepare yourself to have productive conversation with the candidate. By this point you should already know:

Do you use a script? Or do you use a free-flowing conversational structure to conduct the phone screen? Both have a place in the initial phone screen. Specifically:

  • Introduction: Here, a free-flowing conversational structure is intended to build rapport, ease the stress, and introduce each other and the role.
  • First Q & A: Here, you have a chance to answer burning questions the candidate may have. For example, the candidate may ask about travel requirements, equipment provided by the company, and how long is a probationary period. Some responses here could cut the interview short, if there was any misunderstanding about what the role is all about.
  • Prepared questions + Deep Dives: You should have reviewed the profile and prepared deep dive questions along with a set of questions. Your prepared questions should be scripted, and asked across the board. You don’t want to have to exercise brain power coming up with questions on the spot, since that could leave you appearing disorganized and asking redundant questions. You need that energy to be present. You want to be able to apply the same core set of questions to all candidates for a particular role, so that they can be compared, “apples-to-apples.” Don’t wing it.
  • Final Q & A: Here, you give an opportunity for the candidate to display a keen interest in the company, the recruitment process, or the job role. This should be evaluated as a factor in the interview!
  • Next Steps: Establish a baseline understanding of what’s next to come, regardless of the outcome. Again, this part is all about transparency, and keeping them engaged while sitting in the candidate funnel.

The Ears

Listen! Do not be afraid to challenge any aspect of the candidate’s profile, but you must do it respectfully. About being present – you cannot mark your rubric or take notes while you are speaking, so use the time to listen clearly to responses. Try to focus. Record the most valuable take-aways from the phone screen in a coherent and structured way. You don’t want to have to do this after the interview while you are trying to remember this “data dump” of candidate information you just received.

The Nose

bullshit in phone screen interview

To put it frankly – the nose can sniff out bullshit. It’s your job as the interviewer to focus on the key points of weakness and strength in the candidate profile, identifying when to dig deeper and when to cut a certain line of questioning because you’ve arrived at a satisfactory answer.

At the conclusion of the phone screen, this information is ready, and a recommendation is transferred back to the mind for more processing. The system you use to record the results should have been updated in real time, so you now have the binary decision based on non-binary information. Here’s our “smell” test:

  • Were any red flags in the candidacy sufficiently addressed? Yes or No.
  • Did the candidate score acceptably in the prepared questions? Yes or No.
  • Were the results of the “deep dives” into the candidate profile indicative of integrity, transparency, and competency? Yes or No.
  • Was the candidate present and inquisitive? Yes or No.
  • Extra Credit: Did the candidate address any unique or extraordinary attributes that add value beyond the job requirements? Yes or No.

Just for Laughs

When thinking up the title for this post, I had come across the Hubspot blog topic generator. Regardless of whether it was useful or not, it gave me a few good laughs. Check out these goofy auto-generated blog titles:

I hope you enjoyed a good giggle as I did!

goofy titles phone screen

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Cody Bess