The basics of phone screening

It’s about the 4 Cs: consistency, customization, communication and compliance
By Amanda Salopek
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/21/2015

A thorough recruitment process is key to attracting top talent, but it can also be very time- and resource-consuming. Any opportunity for efficiency is greatly appreciated by managers and candidates alike and will help accomplish a successful hire faster. The telephone screen is an early step in the recruitment process that can quickly identify candidates who may be a great fit.

To ensure the telephone screen is adding value, it is important to consider “the four Cs” and apply them to your process before calling a short list of candidates: Be consistent, customized, communicative and compliant.


To ensure the phone call effectively and fairly assesses each candidate, the first step is to develop a template. This document ensures each candidate is asked the same questions and provides measurable results with which to compare candidates fairly. Documentation is important throughout the interview process and a template ensures consistency in your conversation. 

The template should be structured to assess:

A resumé review: Get to know the candidate’s experience and skills relevant to the role. Gain clarification on missing information and inquire about gaps.

A position summary: Explain the role and review requirements or qualifications. Ensure the candidate understands the position. 

Candidate fit: Ask the candidate what he is looking for to determine if his desires are aligned with your offering and culture. 

Employee value proposition: Provide further information on your organization, culture and why your organization is an employer of choice. 


Depending on the type of position and seniority of the role, the depth and length of the phone screen will vary. For entry level or junior positions, the screen may be shorter and used to assess communication skills, enthusiasm and to ensure the candidate is clear about the requirements. 

For more senior or specialized positions, the screen is an opportunity to connect and begin developing a relationship with the candidate. These calls are typically longer and include deeper conversation around experience, skills, the company and value proposition. 


The best telephone screens result in easy conversation that is structured but not forced or one-sided. This can be achieved by asking open-ended questions that offer the candidate the ability to provide examples of her experience, skills or behaviours. It also helps if you start the phone call by building rapport with the candidate. Take a minute to ask about something interesting on her resumé or bring up a common interest. 

Schedule the phone screen in advance at a time that’s convenient for the candidate — the goal is to make her feel comfortable so conversation can flow easily.

Here a few red flags to watch out for:

Evasion of questions: If the candidate consistently responds to questions with questions, or does not answer questions directly, it may be an indication he is trying to hide something or is not confident in his response. 

Communication challenges: If strong verbal communication skills are a role requirement, the phone screen will quickly identify a candidate’s strength or weakness in this area. 

Time and information gaps: The phone screen is a great opportunity to inquire about information missing from a candidate’s resumé. In many cases, a couple of years off can easily be explained and will not affect a candidate’s suitability for the role. However, excessive lapses between roles or positions that contain no experience description may indicate a candidate is purposefully leaving off information or padding his resumé. 


What you can and can’t ask candidates throughout the interview process is an important consideration. As a general rule, it is important to only ask questions that are relevant to a candidate’s ability to perform the duties of the position. From a human rights standpoint, this means avoiding any questions that factor in a candidate’s race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, marital status or health. 

Inappropriate questions include: 

• “Do you have children?”

• “What year did you graduate high school?”

• “Do you observe religious holidays or days of rest?”

• “Do you lead an active lifestyle?”

Appropriate questions that comply with legislation include:

• “Are you capable of committing to a 40 hour-a-week, nine-to-five workday?”

• “Are you of legal age to work in the province of employment?”

• “Are you legally entitled to work in Canada?”

• “Do you have a car and valid driver’s licence?”

Telephone screens are a time- and cost-effective step in the full-cycle recruitment process and should be viewed as a marketing tool as much as a recruitment tool. 

Incorporating the four Cs throughout every step of the recruitment process will result in an efficient process that positions your organization as an employer of choice and enables you to identify and hire the best candidates.

Amanda Salopek is a partner at Salopek & Associates in Calgary. She can be reached at (877) 681-1232, or, for more information, visit

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