What to look for in a Screening Interview

In a previous entry relating to the Screening Interview I described what I feel are the only two objectives for this meeting:

  • Determine whether or not a candidate has the basic capacity to do the job;
  • Determine if the “chemistry” you and the team would have with the candidate

The right capacity and chemistry means a likely possible “fit” with you, the clients, the team and the company. Screened for “fit” the candidate advances in the selection process. That’s it. No pressure to make the final decision here. This simple realization significantly reduced my stress in the selection process and has led to many fewer selection errors.

So what should you look for in the screening interview (over the telephone or face-to-face?) What questions to ask? I have listed a few of my favourite questions at the end of this article but the bigger question is… “Which, of all of the possible questions you can ask, are the most important?”

Before answering, let’s take a step back. You can expect to reveal three types of information in a screening interview: ideas, opinions and facts. The decision that you make to advance a candidate will be based on your impression of the relevance and voracity of the answers provided to you by the candidate. Opinions and ideas can knock candidates out for sure. But most candidates in my experience don’t apply for a job for which they feel out of intellectual or moral alignment.

screening-2Generally you can expect people that you are screening to be sensitive to what you are looking for and present their best foot forward. If you are hiring for a sales position expect to be sold during the screening process. So which type of information can you best rely upon? The answer to this question is “facts.”

The inherent issue in early screening is that you will rarely have the time to collect all of the “facts” and some information about candidate ideas and opinions will be important. It is harder to trust ideas and opinions; after all could they be generated to please.


Now with the inherent constraints exposed, the answer to the earlier question: Which of questions are most important in the initial screening interview? Consider the following:

1. Can they do the job? Determining to what extent your candidate has the basic capacity to get the job done (your first objective) means exploring their competence. What have they done that is similar will shed light on what the candidate knows. Explore the depth of their competence!

2. Are they confident enough? Realistic confidence comes from an accurate assessment of one’s competence. Is the candidate confidence anchored in past achievements? Is it sufficient to give them the drive and ambition necessary to succeed at the job that you are offering?

3. What are they like as a person? Do you like and trust them enough to want to give them a chance.

Choose your questions in advance using what you know about your needs (the Job Specifications) and your observations from the resume and telephone screening. Listen to the answers and using paraphrasing to slow yourself and the candidate down. Take time to take notes. Stop the interview for a minute if you have to inorder to capture your thoughts. Just explain what you are doing so the candidate understands. They can handle a short pause in the action.

Remember, take the pressure off yourself. You are just screening. Make this a comfortable experience for yourself and the candidate. You are not at the edge of the altar yet!

Some of my favourite questions are:

  • What do you like most about selling and why? (I’m looking for perceived strengths)
  • If there were one aspect of selling you could get off your plate, what would it be? (Most people procrastinate when dealing with aspects of their work that they dislike. I am looking for insights into poaaible areas of avoidance like prospecting or CRM or administrative duties)
  • Who was your best sales manager and why? (Sometimes interviewees reveal preference or biases with this question.)
  • When you worked as a part of a team selling an account, what did you learn from your team-mates? (Is the interviewee self-aware and open to learning?)
  • Describe a typical workday from rise and shine to bed, times and all. (The focus here is to identify work ethic and planning while revealing any constraints.)
  • What of all the things that you have been asked to do in you past sales jobs was a waste of time? (This helps me reveal biases.)
  • When in the day or week do you tackle your administration? (I’m looking for routines.)

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