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Phone Screens: Time Savers for Busy Managers

Kennedy's Column

The phone screen takes only 15 to 20 minutes of your time, and can save you, and unqualified candidates, hours of wasted effort later on.

The point of the screening is simple: to decide quickly which candidates are qualified for a particular position and which should be eliminated from further consideration. And, since this kind of interview is in real time, it's easy to wrap things up in a hurry, or to prolong conversations with promising candidates. Here are a few tips for conducting productive phone screens:

First, learn as much as you can about a candidate's relevant experience. You can discover whether applicants have the necessary technical skills by asking how they have used those skills in the past. The examples they choose should give you a good idea of just how proficient they really are, and will help you weed out candidates who may have overstated their qualifications on their resumes.

Next, focus on why candidates have applied for the job. What attracted them to this particular position? Find out if their expectations - including financial ones - match what the job has to offer, and confirm that your company's size and location are in line with their goals.

Also try asking applicants about their most rewarding job. What were their responsibilities in that job, and why was it so satisfying? This will help you determine whether the position you're offering has similar characteristics. But avoid giving candidates a detailed job profile until after the in-depth interview. Armed with too much information, candidates can easily adjust their background and interests to match your needs.

Finally, if a candidate seems qualified, you can select several of the key competencies needed in the position and ask how the applicant applied each of these competencies in the past. A good way to begin this kind of question is, "Tell me about a time when you . . ."

When handled well, phone screens benefit both candidates and interviewers. Applicants are spared the rigors of interviewing for positions they are not qualified to fill, and managers save time, energy, money, and best of all, face-to-face contact with unqualified candidates.