Successful Phone Screenings with Candidates

The goal of the phone screen is to determine if the candidate meets the minimum requirements for the position and is interested in continuing with the interview process if you believe them to be a good potential fit.

The phone screen is often the first step in the process of evaluating a candidate, which means it is also likely the first time that a candidate is coming into contact with Emerson. It is important that we make the most of this time with our candidates to ensure they are a good fit for the position and are excited about the opportunity to join the Emerson community.


Phone screens are not meant to be very lengthy, we recommend keeping them between 20 and 30 minutes. The screen should provide a short glimpse into the candidate’s experience and provide the opportunity to determine if they have the potential to be a good fit for your opening. Anything longer than 30 minutes is likely not necessary for the initial screening.

Preparation is Key

Before starting the screen, create a system to take notes. Consider making a file in your Google Drive and creating one Google Doc per candidate with all the questions you plan to ask. This allows you to keep track of your notes in a single, accessible place.

In order to adequately prepare for the phone screen, consider some of the following:

  • Find a space where you will not be interrupted 
  • Put your cell phone on Do Not Disturb, pause Slack notifications, etc.
  • Make sure you are connected to the VPN if you are off-campus and using the VoIP phone service, Avaya
  • Understand which questions you legally cannot ask


How you start the phone call will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Consider the following:

  • Introduce yourself and share your pronouns. It is important that the candidate knows how to address you, how to pronounce your name, as well as your role at the College.
  • Start by asking, “Is this still a good time to talk?” Life happens. A family emergency might have occurred, or their child might be sick, or maybe the fire alarm is going off or there is construction outside. Most likely, they will tell you yes, but on the off chance that they need to reschedule, you will be able to get them at their full attention, leading to a better screening.
  • Ask “Can you hear me okay?” Technology is great until it isn’t. Double checking with the candidate to ensure they can hear you clearly.
  • Let the candidate know what to expect. Tell the candidate your agenda so they know what’s coming. This also serves as a reminder to them that your time is limited, which means they should try to be succinct.

Structuring Your Screening

Have a plan in mind before you begin your screening call. We recommend that your screens contain the following components:

  • Time for introductions and an overview of the agenda.
  • A brief review of the role, the priorities that you are looking for, and a brief check-in about general Emerson knowledge.
  • 3 - 5 questions.
  • Overview of information one would need to make a decision about taking the position, including work location, compensation range, and other pertinent information such as union designation, shifts and hours, etc.
  • Time for candidates to ask questions.
  • An explanation of the next steps.

Create Opportunities for Candidates to Succeed

  • Schedule your call ahead of time. A cold call is not going to yield positive results – your candidates will not be expecting their first contact with you to be a phone call with no prior notice. Reach out to the candidate via email and schedule a time using Google Appointments or another scheduling method. We recommend scheduling at least one day out so they have time to prepare. In your email, ask how to pronounce a candidate’s name and ask if they need any accommodations for your call.
  • Acknowledge that phone screens can be awkward or intimidating! Put yourself in the candidate's shoes. A simple “I want to let you know that I understand interviews are really stressful, so please let me know if you need me to clarify any questions or explain anything to you in more detail, and don’t be afraid to take your time to think about how you want to answer the questions” will go a long way in allowing your candidate to be more comfortable and, in turn, have a more candid and stronger conversation.
  • Avoid jargon. A candidate is likely not going to know all of the ins and outs of your department or the College as a whole. Using acronyms and Emerson-specific jargon can lead to miscommunications, so share what you mean when you are talking about the role or campus.
  • Don’t ask more than two questions at once. It is common practice to ask multiple-part questions as a way to test a candidate’s comprehension or gather the most information from the conversation as possible. Asking too many questions at once, however, creates opportunities for candidates to miss a part of the question or miss out on sharing valuable experiences with you.
  • Consider sharing your screening questions in advance. This practice might seem outlandish at first, but the article It’s Time to Start Sharing Interview Questions Before the Interview on LinkedIn makes a compelling argument to consider it. This allows your candidates to come most prepared for the conversation, considers a neurodiverse candidate experience, and may allow you to have a more robust discussion. Use discretion when determining if this is the right approach to your requisition.

Potential Phone Screen Questions

Consistency in your questions ensures you treat each candidate equitably and do not create additional opportunities for one individual and not the others. Developing strong questions can be challenging. Here are some sample questions you could ask a candidate during your call:

  • Walk me through your professional journey and tell me a little about what you do in your current role.
  • What is it about this position that excites you?
  • Tell me about your experience with [specific skill, technology, or competency required in this position].
  • Are there any other skills or experiences you would like to share with me that are relevant to this role?

If you believe the candidate appears overqualified for the position, we recommend addressing that directly in the screening. Consider asking: “Your experience is exceptional – why are you interested in this position?” or “How do you see this role fitting into your long-term goals?”

Next Steps

After you complete your screening, move the candidate forward in Workday to either the next step in the process (Interview) or decline them using an appropriate reason.

If none of your candidates are a good match, reach out to a member of the Talent Acquisition team to help strategize ways to enhance the candidate pool.

Some candidates may elect to send you a thank you note following the conversation, but do not always expect one. If a candidate does not send you a note, that does not mean they are not interested in the role – candidates receive different messaging about how to job search.

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