How to Pre-Screen and Interview Candidates

Welcome to this months discussion about the “Lifecycle of an Employee”. Last month we discussed recruitment and sourcing of prospective employees. This month we will dig into pre-screening and interviewing.

Now that you have succeeded in attracting potential candidates and have started receiving resumes, it is critical that you take the time to review the applicants. I suggest setting aside time every couple of days to review each candidates resume. Keep only those resumes that look like they will be a fit for your position. Your objective should be to narrow down your candidate pool so that you are left with only the top candidates. Taking the time to narrow down the candidate pool will help you be more efficient with your time and cut down on the amount of candidates you will have to contact. When reviewing a resume read the objective line or the summary of qualifications on the resume first. Their objective should fit into the roll you are looking to fill. If you are looking to fill a bartender position and their objective is to find a server job there will most likely not be a fit. If their objective grabs your interest continue down the resume. Look at the years of experience and past jobs. Are they inline with the experience you are looking for? Are there any long breaks in working or short stints at jobs? If the candidate has taken long breaks or has hopped around from company to company it is not necessarily a red flag. Sometimes candidates were laid off due to market constraints or were contracting at many different companies. If their experience fits into what you are looking for you should still screen this person and dig into why they had breaks or many jobs in a short period of time. Look at the educational background as well as the tenure of each company. On average you should only be spending a couple of minutes reviewing each resume. If they don't grab you in the first 20 seconds they are usually not a fit.

When you feel that you have an adequate number of solid resumes to choose from you should begin contacting candidates using the contact information on their resume to set up phone screens. Telephone screens are typically short (20-30 min) phone conversations that dig into a candidates qualifications at a high level. Your objective is to determine whether this candidate has the skills and qualifications you are looking for and if it is worthwhile to grant them an interview. You should spend some time going over the candidates resume before your phone screen with them. You have a short amount of time to determine whether or not this person is interview-worthy so be prepared ahead of time. When you are phone screening potential employees it is important that you have outlined 3-5 questions that provide you with critical information about the candidate's skills. Call each qualified candidate; you will need to have screened a few in order to compare skill sets. Take notes on a separate sheet of paper so that you can go back and review them later if need be. Grade the candidate on the quality of their responses and their interest in the position. Use a numerical rating of 1-5, or a letter grade A-D. Explain the next steps in the process to the candidate prior to hanging up.

Once your phone screens are completed you are ready to interview your top candidates. Call each candidate to schedule a time for them to come into your office and have a face to face interview. It would be best to set aside a block of time to interview candidates so that you can easily compare them. If you will be having multiple people interview candidates, choose current employees and/or managers who are strong performers and are clear on the criteria you are looking for. Create an interview template with questions for each interviewer to ask and have and debrief with each interviewer after their interview is complete to get their feedback on the candidate. The first interviewer should start by providing a brief history of the company. All interviewers should ask open ended questions that can be clarified and should ask probing questions to clarify any concerns. Sometimes it is helpful to use situational questions in order to find out how the candidate would handle themselves in certain work circumstances. A few good questions to ask are:

  • What interests you about this job?
  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated your trustworthiness or integrity in school or at work?
  • Tell me about a time when you were working hard to complete a task and you were asked to leave that task before completing it and start a different job?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had set a goal for yourself and tell me how you went about accomplishing it?
  • Give me a specific occasion on which you followed a policy with which you did not agree?
  • Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully communicate with another person even when that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa)?
  • Tell me about a time when you improved a task or job you were working on?
  • In what kind of a work environment do you do your best work?

It is important that all questions are applicable to the job and to the company. Be aware that any questions regarding the candidates; age, race, ethnicity, color, gender, sex, country of national origin or birth place, religion, disability, marital or family status or pregnancy are illegal and violate the candidates rights. Go through their resume and clarify any breaks in working or short tenures. Remain focused and avoid getting off track. Most interviews are an hour and by the end of the interview you will need to decide whether or not this candidate is hirable. Provide enough time at the end of the interview for the candidate to ask questions. If you are satisfied with the interview and feel that you are ready to take the next step with the candidate ask for references. Typically, 2-3 references are sufficient. Prior to the interview being over, inform the candidate of the next steps in the process and the timeline for making a decision.

Once you have completed your interviews and decided which candidate or candidates would be good employees at your company, it is time to make them a job offer! It may be helpful to touch base with the candidate by phone first to let them know that you will be making a job offer and getting a feel for what their desired salary range is. Set a time to talk to the candidate and discuss the details of the offer. Once you are clear on their needs/desires, put the offer together. The offer can be delivered by phone or in person. Start by telling the candidate why you think they would be an asset to your company. Discuss the benefits of working for the company. Don't forget to mention perks beyond the medical benefits. There may be things that your company offers that you don't think about daily but candidates coming from the outside would really be excited about. This could be something like an athletic gym membership, company sponsored sports teams or even free soda. Leave the salary discussion for last. Let them know the salary package you are offering and then ask for their feedback. It is always helpful to leave some room for negotiation; this room can be in the salary or in a small signing bonus. Once you have completed the offer and gotten feedback from the candidate provide them with a timeline to make a decision. Be careful not to put pressure on the candidate to decide on the spot. Make sure to follow up with the candidate on the decision date if they haven't already followed up with you. Hopefully you will have their acceptance within a few days of rolling out the offer. If the candidate declines the position ask questions to clarify why they have decided to turn the job down and clear up any misunderstandings. If the candidate still decides to turn down your offer pick up the phone and call your next best candidate or conduct more interviews.

Next month we will be discussing what to do with your new hire. How to get them assimilated in your company and on the right track.

Published Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bryon Peterson is the President of Human Resources Group International. HRGI is a group of human resources consultants with over 25 years of experience in the field. HRGI provides comprehensive human resources products and services to businesses throughout the United States, and Canada. Its mission is to provide an integrated and highly effective working environment for companies and their employees.

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