The Phone Screen

You’ve plumbed the deepest depths of the internet. You’ve written, rewritten practiced and perhaps perfected your search string. You’ve assembled a list of prospects and tracked down their contact information. You’ve systematically worn, I mean tracked them down, and you finally have them on the phone.

Now what?

Suddenly, your carefully crafted email messages are blown apart. Your inner Used Car Salesperson come’s boiling to the surface, and you ask, “What do I have to do put you in a new job today?”

Just like that, the door closes on a prospect. No one wants to feel like they are being sold something. The solution is simple. Stop selling.  Approach the call with genuine curiosity. Whether the position you are working on is a CEO or a new grad; a custodian or a coder, the voice on the other end of the line is a person, not a candidate. They have hopes dreams, fears, aspirations. Just like you they love and are loved. They put their pants on, one leg at a time. They are unique. When you go to a store, do you ask the clerk if you would fit any of their jackets? No, you ask if they have any jackets that fit you.

So, the first rule of a phone screen is to stop thinking about your job and start trying to learn about the person on the other end of the phone. Certainly, you should have an agenda. You are still working to determine fit but focus on the person you are speaking with. Don’t open with a lengthy description of your job. Instead, ask open-ended questions that will garner the information you need to assess the quality of a potential match.

Next, seek a motive. If they are an applicant, ask why they are looking to make a change. If not, ask what they would change about their current role if they could. Ask them where they would like to see themselves in a few years, and how can their next job help them get there. Ask about their favorite parts of their current job, what would they miss if they left?

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Once you know what is motivating a candidate, and assuming those motivations align with your organization’s culture, you can begin to inquire about the person’s technical fit. Here again, resist the temptation to ask leading questions about your position. Instead of asking the person “how many years of Java experience do you have,” ask them “What language are you most comfortable developing in?” Do you have a platform or development environment preference? What do you see as the next step or future of your field? What are you learning now to position yourself for those future technologies? In fact, ignorance can be your best friend. People love to help people, the simple act of asking the candidate to help you understand the work they do, can build instant rapport. The list of questions and probing follow-ons is endless and requires little to no technical know-how, just a genuine sense of curiosity.

You will get more out of your phone screens if you remember that the voice on the other end of the line is a person, not a position. To paraphrase St. Francis of Assisi, do not so much seek to be understood as to understand. Take lots of notes, and share your new more colorful screens with your hiring managers, they’ll appreciate the extra insights they will gain from your phone screens.


Originating from the bullpen of a 90’s IT Staffing firm, Lucas Berg rose through the ranks of Talent Acquisition eventually leading Recruiting Operations that spanned all 7 continents, and covered every skill set from Custodian to CFO.  Today, Lucas coaches companies on how to win at talent acquisition, retain their stars, build high performance teams, and develop business strategies grounded in an ability to execute at an operational level. Lucas is a trusted consultant to CEOs, HR and Talent Acquisition Leaders who are looking to grow their teams strategically, retain top talent and cultivate a unique culture that fosters organizational growth and hits financial goals. Lucas is the Founder and CEO of Talent Acquisition Concepts, he can be reached at


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