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How to Make the Most of Your Phone Screen

For Recruiters

The phone screen, introduction, quick call, [5-minute-call-that's-really-20-minutes]....whatever you call it, both the recruiter/stakeholder and candidates can use this short time to set-up for a win. It's the alley-oop for a slam dunk.

Sports analogies!

When I first started recruiting, we were taught to (almost) talk a candidate out of a job. This might sound weird, but ultimately, the goal is to flush out any and all unforeseen obstacles for the candidate. In other words, we were trying to avoid having the candidate quit on the third day because s/he realizes they won't be home in time for their kid's basketball games. See how I tied it back to sports there? I'll stop with the sports crap.

I don't know if recruiters are still taught to do this, but we would do it at the final stage, during the offer. The thing is, no matter how bad it is to lose a great candidate, it's even worse if they start and quit after two days. However, the mistake was doing this at the end, while it should be done in the first 15 minutes.

  1. It should be easy as ever for any candidate to find you and book a phone screen. You can view our other articles or home page for more (shameless plug, but it's our blog after all) information.

  2. Agenda. Once you're on the call with a candidate, lay out the agenda. We'll go through some logistical questions, your background+goals+questions, details about the position(s), and next steps.

3. The logistical questions. This where we can start flushing out roadblocks right away. Keep it light, and don't let anything be a deal-breaker at this point. The goal here is to collect information and avoid surprises. Many of these questions will be asked conversationally throughout the call but you can start with the really obvious ones.


If it's a relocation, ask about their timeline. Does it depend on when they get a job? Does it depend on when someone else gets a job?

It does.

What does that person do? Are they in healthcare too?

They're a zoologist.

Well, there are not any zoos within 100 miles of us. Have they found anything?

No, they've been looking for a month but can't find anything. Also, they will only move if it's a promotion, they will not do a commute more than 5 miles, and frankly, they do not want to move at all.


I'm being a little ridiculous here, but I've had calls very close to this. Years ago, during similar questions, a woman in Wisconsin told me that her spouse would also need a job lined up before they moved. He worked for a shipping company that moved goods on boats across the great lakes. He worked on the boat. He liked it and wanted to be a captain one day. The hospital I was recruiting for was in Kansas. So right away, we've got an issue.

Pay: Again, you'll want to ask some of these logistical questions throughout the call, but if possible, you should identify the candidate's expectations, and provide the most accurate anticipated pay rate. Be clear that it's not set in stone, but if an RN with 5 years experience says they expect $70/hr, and our pay tables have a 5 year rate at $35/hr, we're probably too far apart. But maybe not. You have to remember that candidates can say things, especially about pay, and especially during the first call, that might change. That's why it's important to keep it light and don't let anything be a deal breaker. Some recruiters will disagree with me, but I would have lost out on many hires if I'd stopped the call here.

Ask one more question. What if you could get hired to your desired unit? What if it was day shift? I've hired many nurses who wanted to work on a certain unit and couldn't get a chance, and they became much more flexible on the pay once we opened that door.

4. Ask the candidate to tell their story. This is recruitment 101 or lower, but you can elevate this part by digging into more details and learning their ideal career move.

5. Be honest about the job openings you have. The good news, bad news, and in between. If you tell a nurse that the units are fully staffed, they probably won't believe you. You will do much better during this part if you spend more time with your hiring managers. Sit in on interviews, take notes. Also, call some of your recent hires and ask them what they like about it, dislikes, and most importantly - surprises. Surprises are a big deal, and surprises make people feel tricked. It won't always be possible to avoid them, and you can't control if someone decides they were tricked, regardless of it truly being an innocent omission (you don't know what you don't know).

6. Schedule the interview, schedule the next call, set an expectation, or part as friends. Best case is that you can just schedule the interview directly with the hiring manager. This assumes that a) you have discussed with said hiring manager & they expect this, and b) the phone screen has given you good odds an interview will lead to an offer with said hiring manager. If you can't set an interview, for whatever reason, then be detailed about the next steps. Tell the candidate when they should expect to hear back from you and for the love of god, actually follow through. Maybe the phone screen doesn't lead to an interview or next action. Make sure you send all your contact info and let the candidate know to contact you any time. Or maybe it was a bust. It happens, but you should still leave it on good terms.



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