How to Hire Someone With the Right Talents - Part IV (Conducting Screening Calls)

This blog post series about hiring based on talents and core values just never stops! If you’re just now joining us, you can start here with Part I to get caught up. I won’t go into all the details of why a talent-based approach is my favorite because I covered that all in Part I, but to summarize, it’s a way to define the innate human qualities and values you want your ideal employee to possess and then work backwards from that. If that sounds pretty good, then read on.


Last time we talked, you had received a ton of fab applicants (due to the purposeful job post you’d created) and you’d carefully scored each of them, according to the talents and core values that are most important for the role and for the company. Many of you might be thinking it’s time to move onto the interview phase. But that’s not how I roll.

Instead, I like to move candidates onto the phone screening phase. Goodness knows you don’t have hours and hours to waste interviewing the wrong people, so we want to save those precious interview hours for only the best-aligned candidates. And we discover who those people are by conducting very short screening calls. This post is all about how to do just that.

What is a Screening Call?

I’m so glad you asked. A screening call is a very short, targeted mini-interview meant to further assess a candidate’s alignment to the pre-identified talents and core values for the position. Typically, the call only lasts 10-15 minutes, and candidates are scored according to the same exact metrics as were used to evaluate their application. In fact, you even enter the scores directly on the same scorecard you already made! Talk about a timesaver! After all screening calls are complete, only those who meet a minimum threshold for their score get to move onto the interview round. (Which we’ll cover in our next installment!)

Steps for Conducting Screening Calls

Now that you know what this phase of the hiring process is all about, I’ll lay out the step-by-step directions for how to go about it. The screening calls are my favorite step in the process because they’re super-short, fun conversations and you can typically score them easily. (Scoring applications and interviews always feels more tedious…but TOTALLY WORTH the effort.)

Here’s how to screen…

Step 1 - Set up a Self-Scheduling Link

Once you’ve identified the people you want to invite to your screening calls, you need to have a clear plan for how you’ll get them all scheduled for their calls. The first step is to set up a self-scheduling software account and sync it with your calendar. I personally love and use Calendly, but there are a ton of other options out there. Using this application, you will be able to generate a link that can be embedded into your email invitation text and candidates will be able to self-schedule their screening calls, based on your availability.

Make each appointment 15 minutes in length and be sure to include a field where they enter their phone number so you can call them at the appointed time. Be sure to allow at least a 10-minute buffer between sessions so you’ll have time to score each candidate after the call. Most scheduling software, like Calendly, will allow you to do this. It’s also a good idea to enable automatic email reminders so candidates are sure to be available for their calls.

Step 2 - Draft an Invitation Email

Now that you have your scheduling link ready to go, you can insert it into the body of your invitation email. I usually say something like…

Hi [candidate’s name]!

Thanks so much for your interest in the [position name] position at [name of company]! Based on your application, we’d love to schedule a short screening call to get to know you a bit better. Please use the scheduling link below to find a time that works best for you. Someone from our team will call you at the number provided at that time.

[insert scheduling link]

We’re looking forward to it!


[your name]

Soon, your calendar will magically be filled with screening calls!

Step 3 - Write Your Questions

Remember in Part II of this series when we wrote some pretty unconventional application questions to encourage our applicants to reveal their talents and core values? Well, we’re going to do some of that again.

But this time, our goal is to get them to blab on and on so we have lots of juicy data to evaluate. And so we’re looking to write questions that encourage such behavior.

While you definitely don’t want to craft questions that have a “right answer” that aligns to your identified talents and core values (Why do we insist on writing these???) it is a good idea to think about how you might get someone with your identified talents and core values to reveal that truth.

And those two things may sound like the same thing but they are subtly different.

For example, if you say “Tell me about a time when you had to stay organized when things were chaotic,” a savvy candidate will know that you’re looking for someone who’s hyper-organized under any conditions. SO THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO TELL YOU.

On the other hand, if I say, “Tell me about a time when everything went wrong with an important project.” Someone who has a talent for staying organized in the face of chaos is going to reveal that in the way they answer without you coming right out and asking for that talent. Perhaps they’ll tell you about the checklists they made or the way they rallied the team for a quick status update every hour. The point is that if that talent is part of their DNA, it’ll come spilling out.

Screening questions should…

  • Ask candidates to tell a specific story, rather than to give generalizations about “how they are,” when possible.

  • Not include any of the words from your identified talents or core values for this position or be obvious as to the “right” answer.

  • Be broad enough that a candidate could take it any number of ways. (The direction they take their answer can reveal a lot about the person’s talents and core values, in-and-of-itself.)

Here are a few of my favorite screening questions for identifying talents and core values. (I recommend choosing no more than 6):

  • What are your career goals for the next year? 3 years? 10 years?

  • Tell me about a time working with someone who drove you crazy. Give an example of something they did. How did you deal with that?

  • Tell me about a “work bestie” you’ve had. What made that relationship work so well? Give an example.

  • Describe a “perfect” day at work. Walk me through it.

  • Tell me about a time when you got some feedback from someone at work.

  • Whats the work accomplishment you’re most proud of?

  • Tell me about a time when you totally messed up something.

  • How do you decide what to work on each day?

Do you see how you could use the same set of interview questions for a high-powered sales rep and a ultra-organized executive assistant and still be able to uncover some key truths about what makes them tick? That’s the whole idea.

Step 4 - Conduct the Screening Call

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: Time for your first screening call. Take a deep breath and remember that your goal here is to be as friendly and conversational as possible so the candidate relaxes and opens up about who they are.

If at all possible, have someone else sit in to take notes on the call or record the call so you can have a record. (Be sure to ask for permission!) But if it’s just you, don’t stress…you can just jot down notes as you go along. I like to have my candidate scorecard in front of me the whole time so I can be thinking about how the candidate’s responses are aligning to the talents and values I’ve identified.

The golden rule of the screening call that everyone has the hardest time with is this: You are not allowed to ask follow-up questions. And it’s super-awkward and uncomfortable. But here’s the thing: We humans are biased creatures and helpful ones too. So when someone we like isn’t quite answering a question the “right” way, we’ll often give them a little hint by asking clarifying follow-ups. You’re giving away the answers when you do this, people.

Instead, make a rule that you will ask NO follow-up questions to anyone. This makes the playing field even and allows you to be as objective and fair as possible during this phase of the process. Remember, if someone strongly possesses a given talent or core value, they will let that shine through, no matter what questions you ask.

Here’s the exact agenda I use for my quick 15-minute screening calls:

  • Hello & Introduction, including my position

  • A disclaimer that I’ll be pretty quiet throughout…not really asking follow up questions, but not to be weirded out by that. They should feel free to say as much as they like about a particular question. Rambling is fine.

  • Are you ready?

  • Question 1

  • Question 2

  • Question 3

  • Question 4

  • Question 5

  • Question 6

  • Thank you for your time and interest! Here are the next steps in the process.

  • Do you have any questions?

I go through the above steps, listen carefully, type like a madwoman to capture everything they say, and do my best to keep my mouth shut in-between questions. As I said before, most of the time, this call only takes 10-15 minutes, if you behave yourself.

Step 5 - Score the Screening Call

Immediately after you hang up the phone, get to scoring.

It’s time to be a robot, once again. Just as in Part III, if something they said showed evidence of a particular talent or core value, give them a score of “1” for that talent/core value. (If they already had a “1” in that area, you can just leave it as a “1”…don’t add additional points.) It doesn’t matter if you want to be their best friend after getting off the phone. They ONLY get points if they show evidence of a particular talent or core value.

By the end of scoring, the person may have revealed an even greater alignment to your identified talents and core values. Or they may not. Either way, you’ve learned more about whether this person is a good fit for this position and your organization which takes you one step closer to meeting your ideal new-hire.

Keep repeating steps 4 and 5 until you get through all of your candidates. Once you do that, you’ll be able to sort them from highest to lowest overall score so you can see who the best fits are. Based on the results, decide the minimum score they have to have in order to move onto the interview phase and eliminate the rest. That might mean you have ten interviews, or it might mean you only have three.

Now you have a nice, short list of candidates to interview! AND you know exactly which talents and core values you still need to validate in order to decide whether they’re a good fit for your team.

Isn’t it a relief to have a clear plan for finding just the right person to join your team?

The next post in this series will be all about the interview, so be sure to check back next week! (OR you can subscribe to my posts so you never miss one!)

Until then…happy screening!

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