Staff Selection – Use Telephone Screening To Put Bite In Your Shortlist


The face to face interview is a staff selection privilege. It should be offered only to short-listed applicants. And only when you’re satisfied that they meet your essential criteria for experience and qualification. Telephone screening is your best tool for short listing. This way you can avoid the frustration of interviewing candidates whose resumes didn’t tell “the whole story”.

Establish The Right Mindset

Staff selection is a retail transaction. You are the buyer. The candidate is the seller. It’s your money being invested.  You’re entitled to set the ground rules. Don’t ask for written applications. Put bluntly, a resume or written application is a sales pitch. It might have value in choosing salespeople. But not in choosing anyone else.

Telephone Screen Objectives

Telephone screening has two major objectives

  • To quickly, fairly and decisively eliminate unsuitable candidates
  • To ensure that the only people you interview really have the specific background and experience you’re seeking.

The First Step

From your job analysis, list the qualifications and experience you believe are essential to do the vacant job successfully. No “desirables”, “probables” or “helpfuls”: essentials only. If you want at least 10 years (not 9) experience selling hot dogs outside Yankee Stadium, say so.

Permit Only Telephone Applications

State your position clearly in your recruitment ad or consultant brief. Be quite specific. “To apply, telephone John Smith on 854270. Written applications will not be accepted.” This is a legitimate request on your part.

This request should also deter selection consultants from sending unsolicited resumes. If they do, send them straight back and refer them to the ad. Stick to your guns. If candidates send you resumes or written applications, return them with a polite note suggesting they phone as the ad requested.

Use a Written Question and Answer Script

You can treat every applicant professionally only by using written questions and writing down answers. A script ensures candidates tell you what you want to know. It also enables you to easily compare answers from different candidates.

Include Qualifying Questions Early In The Screening

You want to know, as soon as possible, whether the candidate is suitable or not. It saves time for both of you. Be direct and specific: “Have you sold hot dogs outside Yankee Stadium for 10 years?” or “how many articles of yours about staff selection have been published in ‘The New York Times’ since the year 1999?” Say, “When did you complete your degree and at what college?” not “Are you a graduate engineer?”

Brevity Matters

Ask around 5 questions to discover if the candidate meets you minimum standards. If they don’t, thank them politely and end the call. Minimum standards include experience, qualifications and legal requirements such as licences. Do not lower your standards: “near enough” isn’t “good enough”.

What To Avoid

  • Discussions with candidates about their suitability or their careers. If you decide the candidate’s unsuitable, say politely, “No thanks, your background isn’t what we’re looking for” and terminate the call.
  • Questions about feelings, understandings and appreciations.
  • Long winded, verbose and complex questions.
  • Any question that allows the candidate to launch a sales pitch.

Tell Candidates What Happens Next

If you decide to keep a candidate “live”, promise to phone them on or before a particular date. And keep your promise ….. even to applicants you decided to discard after completing all telephone screening. You’re representing your company. Honour any commitment you make on the phone.

Create A Shortlist

Which “live” candidates do you wish to interview? It’s a simple job to decide. You’re comparing like with like. And you’ve rejected those who lack the precise experience and qualifications you’re seeking.


Telephone screening in staff selection saves lots of time for both you and the candidates.

  • You don’t need to read piles of resumes.
  • You’re not exposed to sales pitches.
  • You avoid involvement with unsuitable candidates.
  • You’re able to compare the same basic information about every candidate early in the process.
  • Candidates quickly learn where they stand.
  • You can proceed to interviewing, testing and choosing quickly and confidently.
  • You’ve created a viable shortlist.
  • And you’ve probably saved a few trees’ worth of paper.

What To Do Now

Firstly, I welcome your responses in the “comments”. Instruct whoever it is in your business that from now on written applications for vacancies won’t be accepted. Practice your phone scriptwriting skills by writing a script for the next important call you need to make about anything. It’ll be excellent practice for your first selection phone screening.

2 Responses to Staff Selection – Use Telephone Screening To Put Bite In Your Shortlist
  1. Marcus Sheridan, The Sales LIon
    January 27, 2011 | 2:10 pm

    You always bring up great, original points Leon. I really have struggled in the past with interviews, and even worse I’ve never done a telephone interview. Thanks for the great advice and tips.


  2. Leon
    January 28, 2011 | 12:11 pm

    G’Day Marcus,
    I suspect that you’re a better interviewer than you think you are. Be that as it may, the important thing to realize is that you don’t have to be a “top class interviewer” to be effective in staff selection.

    I’d even go so far as to say that I’ve met many managers over the years who claim to be great interviewers. Almost without exception they’re not much good at staff selection.

    But don’t tell the recruitment agents and consultants……..!

    Y’know mate, years ago I realized that conventional staff selection was really a highly structured and elaborate self fulfilling prophesy. Maybe I should write a blog post about it. Then I could be regarded as that Crazy Curmudgeon From Down Under.

    Go the Packers!



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