This Company’s Phone Screens Were Useless Until They Tried This Method

This Company’s Phone Screens Were Useless Until They Tried This Method

My firm was involved in a project last year that started with a call from a talent leader trying to figure out why the company’s hiring managers needed to see so many candidates to make one decent hire. She was under a lot of pressure to get her team to perform since many of these hiring managers were starting to revolt and use external recruiters to get their positions filled.


The metrics revealed that on average recruiters were screening a dozen or so candidates to find one decent candidate to be interviewed by the hiring manager. And hiring managers needed to see an average of 6-8 of these recommended candidates to make one hire.

This represents a classic case of a sourcing and selection process that’s out of control.

To determine the root cause of the problem we suggested we listen in on a few of her recruiters’ phone screens. Based on this we could quickly determine if the information being gathered was consistent with what was described in the scorecard shown in the graphic.

Here’s what we learned after listening in on a dozen phone screens:

  • Too many of the recruiters were box-checking skills, clumsily handling compensation and over-selling the job if the person seemed interesting.
  • There weren’t enough obviously good candidates to screen to begin with, so rather than source for stronger talent, extra time was spent screening marginal candidates.
  • The few good people who were screened weren’t too interested in the job and didn’t want to proceed. This is a recruiting problem.
  • Only one of the recruiters asked for referrals. This is a lost sourcing opportunity.
  • Each recruiter used a different method to phone screen.
  • The criteria used to make the recommendation to hiring managers was inconsistent.
  • Few recruiters understood the jobs well enough to describe them in any detail to the candidates.


Related: This Phone Screen Checklist is the Swiss Army Knife of Recruiting


There were some excellent recruiters on the team, but our project only entailed working with those who were underperforming. For these recruiters, we suggested they all master this performance-based phone screen starting by listening to this podcast. Those that did had noticeable improvements within a week. Here are the basic steps:

4 Steps for a truly useful phone screen

  1. Conduct a work history review to determine general fit. Review the person’s last few jobs and compare the information gained to the actual job requirements. Focus largely on the scope of the role, the teams and projects the person has worked on and led, their success and the person’s rate of progression.
  2. Determine specific fit and motivation. Describe a major project the person hired will handle and ask the person to describe some comparable accomplishment. Spend 10 minutes on peeling the onion to fully understand the person’s role, the problems faced and decisions made, the success of the project and the formal recognition the person received.
  3. Determine if the person fits with the culture and the hiring manager. During the work history review and accomplishment question ask about the types of managers and people the candidate had the most success working with, the pace and intensity underlying these situations and how major decisions were made and approved. Collectively these circumstances are a good proxy for cultural and managerial fit.
  4. If the job doesn’t represent a career move, get referrals. A true career move needs to provide some significant combination of a bigger job, faster growth, a more important job and a mix of more satisfying work. Use the phone screen to look for these gaps. If there are too many or not enough, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recruit and hire the person within budget. In these cases, connect on LinkedIn and proactively ask for referrals.

While a phone screen like the one described won’t solve all of your problems, it will certainly help identify the ones you currently have. Here are some big clues:

  • Hiring managers refuse to interview too many of the recommend candidates: the recruiter and hiring manager aren’t on the same page regarding real job needs.
  • Too many candidates need to be screened to find 2-3 to recommend: recruiters aren’t sourcing the right candidates and/or they need to be trained how to recruit.
  • Hiring managers don’t agree with the recruiters’ assessment: the interviewing process needs to be upgraded.
  • The best prospects opt-out too soon or reject an offer: it depends on when they opt-out, but it could be a problem with the job, the recruiter, the compensation or the hiring manager.

These phone screen inbound and outbound metrics can help diagnose the health of your entire hiring process. As you’ll discover, once you start collecting them, you won’t be able to stop.

Posted in: Passive Candidate Recruiting, Performance-based Interview

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