Initial Screens are a Sanity Check

I’ve long been a fan of phone screens, to make sure I only invite candidates for an in-person interview who are a reasonable fit for the job. Now that online services and some recruiters make candidates list every technical tool they’ve ever seen on their resume, it’s hard to tell who’s actually qualified for the job based on the resume. And, since you probably receive 50 resumes (or more) for every open position, phone screens may take too long.

Chris Sepulveda has a solution for this time dilemma: He performs email phone screens. He takes his list of 5 or 6 questions, and emails them to the candidates. He can easily reduce the 50 or 60 resumes to a much smaller group (10-20) to consider phone-screening.

Remember, the initial screen is to eliminate people who are not at all appropriate, so limit your email screen to a handful of questions, focusing on elimination factors and relevant experience. Don’t ask about salary or any kind of benefits in your first contact with a candidate. Once you’ve established contact and decided to phone-screen, then you can ask more questions.

I still recommend phone screens, even if you perform an email screen, because I want to get a feel for the person by phone, not just in writing. (When the economy is good, and it’s a candidate’s market, don’t email-screen first. Just phone screen.)

Chris has been using email screens as an initial screening technique for 4 years and has hired 20 people with this technique. He doesn’t have to consider the people who don’t respond. And the people who do respond provide enough information for him to choose what to do next. So far, only one person has given him feedback that the initial screen wasn’t appropriate:

“[…] by the time I finish answering all these questions I will find a job. You have not mentioned anything about the position and you already ask me so much. When you have a more fair process for recruiting, let me know.”

Hmm. I learned that this candidate was very quick to judge something that he didn’t understand the value of. It’s ok that he didn’t reply positively; I wouldn’t want to manage him. Even in this case, the initial screen worked quite successfully.Use email or phone or some combination of techniques as an initial screen on candidates. Don’t fall into the trap of screening so much that you never get to the interview. But use these screens as a sanity check on the resume.

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