3 Hacks That Will Improve Your Phone Screens

March 1, 2018

You’ve worked your sourcing magic and have a list of candidates you want to talk to. Now, it’s time for the phone screen.

And, let’s face it—this isn’t as simple as some people might think. You only have a short time to determine if the person on the other end of the phone will be a good fit for the role and company. And, it’s not just about them as an individual—you also need to be able to fairly rank them against other candidates you are talking to in order to determine who should move forward in the interview process.

The good news is that you can make this process a lot easier for yourself and more effective by using these three simple hacks:

1. Use a standardized form to evaluate all candidates

Using a standardized set of criteria to judge each candidate will help you make faster and fairer decisions. That’s why we put together the form below, which you can use to score candidates on some of the most important attributes, including background and experience, interest in your company, collaboration skills, and culture fit (to save it, right click on the image and click “save as”):

Of course, every company is different and you can always put your own spin on this form if you care more about other qualities. The important thing is that you are consistent in order to give each candidate a fair shot and make sure you are making an informed decision.

2. Ask interview questions that reveal the information you need to effectively score candidates

Once you have an evaluation form, you need a set of questions that will help score candidates on these qualities. Below is a sample of questions you can ask to determine whether or not a candidate should move forward in the recruiting process.

Background and experience

Describe a time when you went above and beyond.

What are your current responsibilities?

Tell me about a time when you’ve been the most satisfied, energized, and productive at work. What were you doing?

Company knowledge

Why do you think you’d be a good fit for this role?

Why do you want to work for this company over others?


Tell me about a favorite experience working with a team and your contribution to it.

Have you ever experienced a time when you were communicating with someone who didn’t understand you. What did you do?

Culture fit

Can you share a story about anything that speaks to your values as a person?

What are the 3 most important things to you in a job?

To see more questions, check out our new ebook: The Ultimate Recruiting Toolbox 2018.

3. Listen for specific speech patterns to determine if a candidate is a high or low performer

While you’re talking to candidates, don’t only pay attention to what they say--listen to how they say it and their specific word choices.

Why? It turns out that high performers actually speak differently from low performers, according to Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ. His team analyzed the language of hundreds of thousands of candidates responding to interview questions and assessed the differences in speech patterns between high and low performers. Here are some of their key findings for differences in these candidates use of pronouns, tense, and voice.

Pronouns: High performers use “I” and “me” more

Low performer’s use about 400% more second person pronouns (ex: you, your) and about 90% more third person pronouns (ex: he, she, they) than high performers.

Listen for high performer signals like “I” and “me” during the phone screen—high performers talk about themselves because they have lots of great experiences to draw from, while low performers do not and thus are more likely to give abstract or hypothetical answers that merely describe what “you” “he” “she” should do.

Tense: High performers use past tense more

Murphy’s research shows that low performers use the present tense 120% more and the future tense 70% more.

Listen for stories about workplace experience told in the past tense. Accord to Murphy, when you ask high performers to tell you about a past experience, they will actually tell you about that past experience (and logically they will use the past tense to do it). On the other hand, low performers will answer your request to describe a past experience with lots of tales about what they are (present tense) doing, or what they will (future tense) do.

Voice: High performers use the active voice, not passive

Low performers tend to use the passive voice 40-50% more than high performers.

Listen for candidates who use the active voice, like “I’m excited to take on a challenging role.” This signals a more confident, capable candidate, versus someone who speaks in the passive voice, i.e. “a challenging role is exciting to me.”

For more recruiting forms, checklists, and tips, download our free ebook: The Ultimate Hiring Toolbox 2018.

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