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Screening a Candidate: A Review of the Most Important Questions to Ask

Posted on August 9, 2013
Brett CarlsonWritten by Brett Carlson | Email author

Screening a Candidate: A Review of the Most Important Questions to AskFinding a candidate who is the “right fit” isn’t always easy, especially when you are doing it alone. As a recruiter, I have had the privilege to successfully place hundreds of qualified candidates at organizations around the DC area. What’s my secret? Asking the right questions.

During the recruiting life cycle process, it is imperative that you obtain as much information as possible from the candidate under consideration early in the process. A thorough, detailed phone screen that uncovers a candidate’s true skill set, goals, desires, likes, dislikes, work history, etc. can make the interview process run smoothly if done correctly.

Top 10 Questions to Ask When Phone Screening a Candidate

Successfully obtaining answers to the following questions when first connecting with a candidate is a great start to the process:

  1. Why are you looking? It is important to understand why a candidate is looking for a new opportunity. Whether it is for career advancement, more money, layoffs, etc., an employer must understand the rationale behind the candidate’s search.
  2. What are you looking for in your next position? By uncovering what a candidate is looking for in terms of the scope of the work the position entails, the company culture, work environment, it will help determine whether or not a candidate is the right fit for your position and organization as a whole.
  3. Tell me about your skill set and areas of expertise. Run through the position description and have the candidate give examples of what they have done in their current and past roles, as it relates to the open requisition. This will determine whether or not a candidate is a fit from a technical perspective.
  4. Why did you leave each of your previous positions? Asking questions about a candidate’s work history is another important question to cover. An employer must understand the logic of why a candidate left each of their previous positions, especially if they were only there for a short amount of time. This can uncover “red flags” and reasons to not hire.
  5. What motivates you and gets you excited? An employer must understand what motivates the candidate. In general, if an employee is happy with their organization and content with their role within their organization (given they possess the necessary skills), they will likely produce quality work.
  6. Tell me about your ideal work environment. When looking at prospective employers, job seekers must see the work location/facilities in person, meet employees, and observe how everyone is interacting with each other (i.e. open or closed door environment). This will help them decide whether or not they can envision themselves working at your firm.
  7. Tell me about your current compensation and your desired compensation. Compensation is often one of the leading reasons candidates look for new positions. It is important to understand what the candidate is currently making in terms of base salary and bonuses (if any), what they were making in previous positions, and what their desired compensation is if they were to leave their current employer. The recruiter must then compare their desired compensation against the requisition, negotiate if necessary, and then ultimately determine if the candidate is affordable based on the salary parameters of the position.
  8. Where are you willing to commute? While some candidates do not mind traveling far distances to and from work, many do. It is important to figure out the candidates preferred work locations and also inform them of telecommuting options, if applicable, and public transportation (i.e. Metro stops) that are close by. A candidate’s commute can impact their quality of life and cannot be overlooked.
  9. Where are you in the process with interviews with other organizations? An employer that is screening/interviewing a candidate must have an idea of where the candidate is interviewing and how far they are along in the process. This will give your organization a better idea of what they would have to offer to be competitive with other firms and also will give them an idea of how much time they have to complete the interview/offer process.
  10. When are you able to start a new position? While the average is 2-3 weeks, it is important to know if a candidate has anything planned that may prevent them from starting a new position within a reasonable time frame.

With these tools you are now well-equipped to have a successful phone screen to determine if a candidate is likely to be a good fit from both a culture and skills perspective.  Just remember, avoid asking any questions that will result in yes or no answers and stay away from the questions NOT to ask.  Best of luck in your search!

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