The 5 Levels of the Recruiter Phone Screen for Search Consultants

Recruiters and search consultants spend a TON of time on the phone. That makes sense, since that is one of the many aspects of their job. They talk with both candidates and decision makers on the phone, but one of their most important phone conversations involves the phone screen for candidates.

What is a recruiter phone screen?

Once again, when we talk about recruiters, we’re talking about internal recruiters, corporate recruiters, Human Resources personnel, or third-party agency recruiters. All of these individuals can conduct a recruiter phone screen with a candidate. But what is a recruiter phone screen?

A recruiter phone screen is a conversation between a recruiter and a job candidate, during which the recruiter will determine whether or not the candidate is qualified enough to be brought onsite for a face-to-face interview and continue in the hiring process. If there is a hiring manager involved in the process, the recruiter is more likely to conduct a phone screen. This is typically the case regardless of whether the situation involves an internal recruiter or an external one.

Most of the articles on the Internet written about the recruiter phone screen are from the candidate’s point of view. So, to help balance out the equation, we’re going to tell this story from the point of view of the recruiter. (So take that, Internet!)

And to help us accomplish our goal, we’re going to we’re going to draw upon the wisdom Terry Petra, one of the recruiting industry’s leading trainers and business consultants. Petra has extensive experience as a producer, manager, and trainer in all areas of professional search, including retainer, contingency, and contract, as well as clerical/office support and temporary.

Recruiter phone screen vs. face-to-face interview

According to Petra, if a face-to-face employment interview can be classified as an “unnatural act,” then the typical telephone-screening interview is tantamount to a blind gamble. This statement is based on feedback from hundreds of staffing industry professionals who have witnessed the product of their good work vanish in the “gamble” of the telephone interview.

When you consider the fact that most employers, including many HR Professionals, have never been properly trained in how to effectively conduct a performance-based selection interview, why would anyone believe these same employers could conduct an effective phone interview?

Studies continue to support the contention that the typical selection interview, as conducted by the average employer, is a poor predictor of future job performance. In the absence of proper interview training for the employer, little relevance exists between the candidate’s performance during the interview and their ultimate performance on the job. For these employers, the problem is compounded during a telephone interview.

The levels of the recruiter phone screen

Telephone interviews may be a necessary and, when properly conducted, essential element of a comprehensive selection process. However, their effectiveness can be measured on a quality continuum ranging from destructive and worthless to effective and productive. Where they end up on this quality continuum depends largely on the skill of the staffing professional and the level of control they have over the selection process.

In looking at the phone interview quality continuum, we can note the following benchmark levels:

Level 1: Total, out of control, blind gamble (worthless and destructive)

This level is almost too scary to address. Nevertheless, it is representative of a small percentage of the telephone interviews that are actually conducted. At this level, the recruiter is basically not in the loop. Odds are they only presented a resume on their candidate. In turn, their client calls the candidate directly without even notifying them. There has been no discussion of the steps involved in the selection process, much less what would be covered during a recruiter phone screen.

In these instances, both the recruiter and the candidate are caught totally by surprise. This phone interview can best be described as a totally blind gamble, ending up being a worthless waste of time. It can also be potentially destructive to what little relationship actually exists between the recruiter, the client, and the candidate.

Level 2: Out of control, blind gamble (potentially worthless and destructive)

The recruiter has submitted a resume on their candidate and is aware there could be a phone interview. However, the recruiter does not know the time, date, and structure of the interview. Therefore, the recruiter is not in control of the process and cannot properly prepare either the candidate or client. This is definitely a blind gamble, but with a misguided expectation that something positive may result. In fact, the results could be potentially worthless and destructive.

Level 3: Limited control, yet still a gamble (potentially worthless)

This is typical for the majority of telephone interviews. The recruiter and client agree on a phone interview for one or more of the candidates. The purpose for the interview is to “get a feel for the candidate” or to determine whether or not the candidate is “qualified enough” to bring in for a face-to-face interview. Beyond these rather cloudy objectives, the recruiter (and probably the client) is unaware of the structure for the interview.

Typically, a specific time is not set for the interview. Instead, the client or, in some cases the candidate, states they will make the call “this evening” or “sometime over the weekend.” Without a commitment to a specific time and without a carefully constructed format for the interview, this event, if it even takes place at all, is a gamble at best. However, if it does take place, without a carefully structured approach for the interview, the results could be worthless.

Level 4: Good control with agreed upon structure (potentially effective and productive)

The recruiter and client have agreed upon the objective of the telephone interview, as well as its structure and format. If the recruiter is properly positioned, the objective of the interview should not be screening for qualifications. In fact, the recruiter should have already completed that step of the selection process. However, in rare instances, the recruiter may have some doubt about the candidate’s qualifications and instead of arbitrarily passing on them, arranges a telephone interview in order to provide their client with the “right of first refusal.” Otherwise, the primary purpose for the telephone interview is to build the candidate’s interest in pursuing the client’s opportunity, particularly if relocation is required.

In addition, the recruiter who is truly interested in controlling the process will call both parties immediately before the telephone interview to ensure everything is in place and everyone is properly focused on task. They understand that the telephone interview should not be a spontaneous event. Rather, it has specific objectives and a set format to follow in achieving them. When the phone interview is handled in this fashion, the results should be both effective and productive.

Level 5: Full control resulting in a sure thing (definitely effective and productive)

Everything from level 4 is included in level 5, with the addition of two major elements of control. First, the recruiter initiates the telephone interview by calling each party and conferencing the discussion. Second, the recruiter audits the call. After making the necessary introductions and reviewing the format for the discussion, the recruiter literally sits in on the call. They remain silent during the discussion unless either of the parties strays off track, in which case the recruiter brings them back to the subject line. Also, if any information is misstated or distorted, the recruiter is in a position to clarify what was said and create a better understanding for both parties.

Once the objectives have been reached, the recruiter brings a proper closure to the call, after which a follow-up critique and debriefing call is made to both the client and the candidate. This is the ultimate approach to controlling the process of a recruiter phone screen. It demonstrates both the competence of the recruiter, as well as the level of trust a client places in their involvement during this critical and sensitive step of the selection process. Under these circumstances the results will be both effective and productive, even if the client and/or candidate decide not to proceed further with the process. As close to a “sure thing” as you can find in this business.

For most recruiters, their reality is somewhere around a level 3: some control but still very much a gamble. In order to reach level 4 or 5, the recruiter must be highly skilled in “client-centered processes” and “performance assessment.” Otherwise, they will not be given the control necessary to be effective at these levels, whether working directly through the top decision maker or through a Human Resource department.

Functioning at a level 4 or 5 is a strong indication that you have arrived as a true professional in this industry and that you have developed your techniques, skills, and abilities to impact the performance capacity of your client’s organization in a positive fashion.

Remember: Almost every recruiter is involved with telephone interviews at some time or another during the course of conducting their business. However, the difference between the levels clearly demonstrates that true qualitative differentiation is not created by “what” we do but rather by “how” we do it.

Top Echelon’s Training Library

Top Echelon offers a free monthly webinar as part of its Recruiter Coaching Series. After the webinars are over, we post the recorded version of the webinars in our Recruiter Training Library. These webinars touch upon a variety of recruiter-related topics. These topics deal with both candidates and clients. As always, our goal with these webinars (and corresponding videos) is to help recruiters make more placements.

In addition to training and webinars, Top Echelon offers other recruitment solutions. These solutions include the following:

For more information about Top Echelon and the products and services that it offers, visit the Top Echelon website by clicking here.