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Best Practices for Passive Candidate Phone Screens

Passive Candidate Phone Screens

If your talent acquisition team prioritizes sourcing to inbound applications, you’ve naturally got different processes in place than do teams who work primarily with active applicants. When a job req comes in, you’ve got to search the database in your talent CRM, open up LinkedIn and other social platforms, and diligently apply your Boolean skills and hashtag savvy to identify a talent pool of exceptional, qualified prospects for your open role. Teams awaiting active applicants don’t take these steps (though the data suggests that failing to take them reduces quality of hire). But the very top of the funnel isn’t the only point of difference between TA teams that target passive talent and those that wait on active talent to apply. Prospective candidates will need to go through another filter before you bring them in for onsite interviews. And when it comes to those phone screens, you can’t exactly use the same criteria to screen passive candidates as you would to screen active applicants.

In fact, in passive candidate phone screens, the candidate is evaluating you and your company just as much as you’re evaluating them. So as much as you’re looking for good fit (if their career aspirations line up with what you have to offer; if the org and the team offer an environment they would thrive in; if they’d be a values-fit and/or culture-add, and so on), you’re also playing salesperson. You’re selling an opportunity.

That’s a lot for a 20-30 minute conversation—and it’s not all. Passive candidate phone screens are also great places to get strong referrals, discover top-of-funnel recruiting problems, and more. So while it’s a relatively short and simple stage in the process, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Here are our top 6 best practices for passive candidate phone screens:

Do Your Homework on the Candidate

Aside from what you see on LinkedIn, you don’t have access to passive talent’s resumes. Nor should you ask for one (yet). Doing so in initial outreach makes it look like you haven’t done your research: why would you have contacted them about your open role if you didn’t already know about their work history and experience? Without that resume, it’s up to you to gather as much information about your prospect as you can. Study their LinkedIn profile. Look for them on other social platforms. What are they posting (or reposting) there? What are they interested in? Research both their current company and their industry. Go for it. Google them. 

This research will enable you to ask relevant and informed questions on the call. It will uncover your prospect’s hidden motivators so you know what to forefront in your talking points. It allows you to anticipate the questions they’ll ask so you can be prepared with answers. And if you do this research early enough in the game, it may be this very intelligence you use in your messaging to get them to take the call in the first place. 

Create a Set of Consistent Phone Screen Questions and a Scorecard

By “consistent,” we mean asking the same set of questions in the same order for every candidate. Why? Because giving your phone screens this structure allows you to eliminate variability, compare answers, and evaluate each candidate objectively. (Remember: passive candidate phone screens shouldn’t be grilling sessions. So when we say “evaluate,” we mean determining the fit between the candidate and your company. Does what they’re looking for in their next role align with what you can offer? Do they have not only the skills and experience to get the job done (that part you already know); but also alignment with your company vision and values and an interest in your goals? And so on.) 

Asking consistent questions makes bias a little less likely to creep into your phone screen conversations—which is great if your team has diversity initiatives in place. If you have to keep circling back to the same set of questions, you’re less likely to run into digressions with candidates you “have a good gut feeling for,” which tends to point to affinity bias. Keeping to a standardized set of questions also makes it more difficult for you to focus on interpersonal skills, or whether the person can easily carry on a conversation—things that aren’t necessarily prerequisites for success in your open role. Finally, keep your answers on a scorecard, which ensures you focus on the tangibles rather than the intangibles. Scorecards won’t demand that you jog your memory, where the most “likable” candidates probably take up the most mental space.

Find Out About Salary Requirements 

For active candidates, a fixation on salary can sometimes be interpreted as a lack of interest in the job itself, and therefore as a red flag. But with passive talent, asking candidates what their salary expectations are for their next role helps you determine from the beginning whether you’ll be able to meet their requirements. If the number you can offer and the number they would switch roles for are dramatically different figures, knowing that now saves you wasted time down the road. Asking for salary expectations also tells you how senior the candidate is, and therefore, how you and your hiring manager should expect to interview them. And it can reveal important data about your offer: if every candidate asks for more than what you’d planned to offer, you may need to sit down with your hiring manager and tinker with your req.

Take Good Notes on the Candidate

Chances are that you’re talking to a lot of people for a number of open roles. Taking detailed notes—ideally in your talent CRM or your ATS so the entire talent team has visibility into each interaction—will help jog your memory when it’s time to present your impressions of candidates to hiring managers or when it’s time to make those big decisions. So take a few minutes after each phone screen to do a solo debrief on each interaction. 

Notes will help you create and keep rapport with candidates because you can reference things they said in future conversations. Definitely take notes on the reasons talent may inadvertently reveal about why they’d leave their company for yours. You might need them for negotiation time. But even if you and the candidate decide that the role isn’t a good fit, write down why, along with the details of the conversation. These are folks you may want to keep in your talent pool and send nurture emails to. Keeping those notes in a centralized “source of truth” gives every other recruiter on your team visibility into when to reach out to them again, and under what conditions.

Leave Time for Candidate Questions

Remember, there was something compelling enough in your email outreach to get talent to respond to you; this open-ended space is where you should expect to hear more about what that motivation was. They might want to know what the career path will look like for whomever takes on this role; or about the team’s structure; or what on-the-job training looks like; or what your diversity numbers look like. The best passive talent is wildly curious; and if you’ve piqued their interest, they’ll want to be able to envision what their day-to-day would look like if they were part of your organization.

That said, whereas an absence of questions can be a red flag for active talent, it isn’t necessarily one for passive talent. Active talent has had plenty of time to research your company and prepare for the phone screen. Passive talent, on the other hand, may have known nothing about your company prior to this call. You’ve given them a lot of information all at once, and they may be surprised by the fact that they’re suddenly open to a life change. That’s a lot to take in. It might also simply be that they’re not sure if they’re interested yet, so they’re wary about digging in to find out more. If it sounds like this is what’s happening, ask if they’d be interested in talking to the hiring manager, who can stoke their excitement with a second perspective.

Be Clear About Next Steps

It may become clear early on in a conversation that the candidate you’re speaking with isn’t right for the position. Maybe you can’t offer the salary they’d require; maybe they’re not willing to relocate; maybe the role clearly wouldn’t represent a true career move for them. If this happens, finish the call—but shift what you’re looking for. This person is no longer a candidate for your open position; but they are a networking contact who might help you discover your next hire… or who might be perfect for your next open position. So don’t get off the phone without asking for qualified referrals. 

For those you’d like to send on to the hiring manager for a second phone screen or bring in for an interview, give them next steps. What’s next; when will it happen; how soon can they expect to hear from you or the hiring manager? How can they get ahold of you in the meantime if they have additional questions? Giving them this information is a common courtesy… and it eliminates follow-up communications from talent wanting to know when they’ll hear from you. 

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