5 Important Prescreening Questions

The prescreening interview—generally a 20- to 30-minute phone conversation—is like sending messages through a dating app. You've swiped right on a candidate's resume, adding him or her to the "maybe" pile; now it's time to figure out whether to meet in person by asking the most useful pre-screening questions.

prescreening questions

Candidate screening gives you the opportunity to see how applicants present themselves on the phone, as well as set expectations for the position. Mr. or Ms. Right on Paper might not be available to join the team on your timetable—or at a reasonable salary.

Prescreening benefits job candidates, too. A position that, again, looks "good on paper" might not be the right fit in terms of location, salary, or timing from the candidate's perspective, either. Better for both parties to find out it's not a match before investing too much time in the hiring dance.

For maximum impact, here are five important questions to ask every candidate you prescreen:

1. Where Are You In Your Job Search?

The answer to this question is revealing. If the candidate tells you he or she is in final interviews with another company, you need to move fast if you’re interested—and you might have heavy competition. If a candidate indicates he or she hasn't been looking for a job and this opportunity just popped up, you might have competition in the form of an existing position. Either way, you'll get a sense of how candidates feel about their current employers—and why they're looking around.

2. What Salary Range Are You Seeking?

Talking about salary can be awkward, but it's far less painful to find out a candidate is a compensation mismatch at the beginning of the interview process than after you've made an offer. Again, this conversation benefits both parties. A candidate seeking a $60,000 salary isn't going to be happy with $45,000—and is more likely to leave after just a few months if he or she takes the position, putting you right back where you started.

3. When Are You Available To Begin Working?

This is another good question to ask when setting expectations. If you need someone ASAP in order to complete a big project, but the candidate says he or she is taking a three-week European vacation, you may need to move on. (You might wait for a candidate with a highly specialized skill set, but for an entry-level position, you'll probably want to call the next option.)

Two other related questions: Are you available to work during these specific hours and at this specific location? For instance, if you’re hiring a meeting planner for charity galas, you need to confirm the candidate is available to work nights and possibly out of town. Better to establish that upfront.

A caveat: In asking these questions, you might uncover personal information about a candidate, such as whether the candidate has children. Consult your company's human resources department about the safest way to ask these questions.

4. What Attracted You To This Position?

This might seem like a softball question, but this answer can also be telling. You're likely to find out how much the candidate knows about your company, how adeptly he or she has read the job posting, and the nature of the candidate's professional goals. (It's also a good test for your job posting—is the advertisement attracting the right types of candidates?)

5. Tell Me About Your Experience With XYZ Skill

Say your position requires intermediate knowledge of a specific programming language. Determine how you define "intermediate," and ask questions that help you eliminate candidates who don't meet the proper threshold. Say your threshold is two years of experience—a candidate who just learned the language six months ago wouldn't advance.

Unfortunately, there's no foolproof way to find the right candidate for any position—but prescreening candidates will go a long way toward helping you find a good match.

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