Screening: Pre-screening Questionnaires and Phone Calls

Climbing Mount Everest with Steve Jobs while raising funds for my third successful startup could rank as the best resume booster to date. Or it could be a lie that would set someone’s pants on fire. It could go either way.

No amount of software or digital interference will ever replace the stomach-turning interview. That list of applicants may feel like a mountain though, and few companies can afford numerous costly interviews. One may think no solution bridges the gap between digital interface and, well, real human face.

Behold the phone interview.

Don’t shrug it off. This isn’t a friendly call to see if Billy down the street kissed Sally after the town hall dance. Break down the essentials, stick to a plan, and blast through the second round of screening.

Before Screening Begins

The applicants already showed you their stats in their resume. Their skills and abilities at least fit your mold on paper. Stick to your job profile and and dig a little deeper. Take this time to weed out obvious bad fits and verify the stuff you like before bringing them in for the real deal.

Decide on a timeline for the whole process and schedule yourself accordingly. Coordinate who calls particular applicants (if there’s more than just you) and settle on a due date for the whole train to pull into the station.

Then, prepare your question list that will…

  • Confirm the applicant’s interest. It wouldn’t make much sense moving ahead with someone who just signed on with your competitor.
  • Verify the resume. Ask about dates and places. If attention grabbers stand out on their resumes, ask for some quick descriptions to make sure the exaggeration fairy didn’t sprinkle her dust all over it.
  • Tease out their salary expectations. If they’re seeking something way above your scale, then don’t waste each others time.
  • Breeze over any anything that would quickly eliminate the candidate, like legal physical barriers or relocation issues.


Be nice. Yea, you have a lot of people to call. Well, they’d probably rather talk to a lot of other people than you. Make sure their first human interaction with the company feels friendly.

  • Go through your planned questions. Start soft to make them comfortable and let them talk.
  • Be clear about the your time frame.  Give them a window for when to expect a response.
  • If you know the person isn’t right, don’t string them along like they just blew you away. You don’t have to drop the hammer right then and there, but tell them your process will interview multiple people and no decisions can be made until then.


Get together with your hiring coworkers or make it a collaboration of one (if it’s just you of course). Decide how many interviews your company can realistically hold, and choose who to invite back. You hopefully have the problem of too many great candidates, but even so, stick to your schedule. Don’t allow time to stretch between the call and your response. Momentum brings these relationships together.

Oh, and call them back either way. Yea we live in an email age, but if you take the time to call them for an interview, take the time to tell them no. That means something now days. Who knows? That slightly-less-experienced applicant may be a specialized rock star down the road. Why burn bridges with impersonal emails?

Remember that nobody ever climbed Mt. Everest alone.

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