Use efficient telephone screens
The general rule in processing candidates is to keep cycle time to an absolute minimum. This keeps costs down and contributes to a higher success rate. Good candidates are hard to find, and even harder to keep. Assessing skills and screening a candidate quickly puts them in front of your client or hiring manager before the competition, and before the candidate gets another offer. Make yourself available for a candidate screen at their first convenience.
If you are surfing the web and find an excellent candidate, especially if you have reason to believe they have only recently put their resume online, call them immediately if the hour is appropriate! If you get voicemail, leave them a message stating that you're sending them an e-mail about a great opportunity. When they receive your follow-up call the next day, they may have read the job description, and if possible, you should be prepared to phone screen them at that time.
Many firms use a scheduler to book large quantities of phone screens. However, if a candidate expresses a willingness to conduct the phone screen on the spot, the scheduler should transfer the call to a recruiter who can conduct the screen immediately. This is particularly important for hard-to- find, highly technical candidates as it can reduce a candidate's resume cycle time by a day or more.
Maintain control of the phone interview. Even excellent candidates can sometimes be challenging to get detailed information from (e.g., scientists and other highly technical people.) These candidates can be reluctant to "talk technical" with a recruiter. Learning a few key technical terms relevant to the project, and asking open-ended questions will usually reverse the problem. "Tell me about an experience writing Perl or Bourne shell scripts..." will get a better response than a vague query about their programming experience.
Other types of candidates can to be too wordy (for example sales, marketing, and project management candidates.) These candidates should ideally be very forthcoming with information, but articulate and able to "sell themselves" to the interviewer. In all situations, maintain control over the interview. If necessary, politely interrupt a long-winded response, indicating you need a little time to get all of the information down clearly. The implication that something of quality might be missed will accomplish this task. Keep the conversation moving, and digress into light conversation only long enough to establish rapport and trust.
Phone screens are not just a verbal re-hashing of the candidate's resume. The phone screen, like the face to face interview, allows you to assess qualities in a candidate that are not fully apparent on paper. Even before the screen occurs, this process is in play. Did the candidate miss a scheduled appointment? If so, did they reschedule promptly and courteously? A phone screen gives you an excellent opportunity to assess a candidate's communication skills.
This is especially important for public relations, sales people, project managers and those expected to have contact with clients or the public. These candidates should be able to present themselves especially well in a phone screen. If done well, the phone screen can help you quickly identify the key reasons why a candidate is considering a job change. Make note of these and periodically match the benefits, opportunities, and culture that your company offers that might specifically address those motivations.
Think of your job as a professional recruiter in terms of being a private investigator. You are constantly listening closely, gathering new information, asking inquisitive and open-ended questions, and assessing information to draw your conclusions.
When you've developed a sense of the attributes you are seeking in a candidate, create a screening template that lists the key skills, years of experience, certifications, etc. that are required for the position. Create fields for important information like full contact information, salary requirements, availability, relocation requirements and motivation for job change. Also be prepared to assess skills that are not obvious from the resume that may be useful in matching the candidate with more than one opening. For example, sales experience plus a technical background could add up to a good candidate for a presales engineering position.
When screening candidates, having a template of your most important questions provides a standardized form to evaluate candidates and make notes. Whether you take notes directly into the template on your computer or by hand on a print out of the template, all the information you need will be presented in an organized fashion. While taking notes directly into the computer may be more efficient, unless you are prone to saving your work regularly (every 5 minutes) a single computer crash or freeze up could wipe out all your data.
The best finished document will summarize only what is necessary to convey the quality and distinction of your candidate. Bullet point summaries are a good way to do this. Focus on a few major skills, supplying some detail below each. Highlight relevant recent experience, positions and projects in a concise manner. If you discover a secondary skill set in the candidate not relevant to the current position, include that in your personal notes. Your ultimate goal for the screen is that it be well organized, thorough yet concise, and easy to follow, so that the hiring manager feels he or she can make a next step decision without having to thoroughly comb the resume.
-Carl Kutsmode, President