Speed Interviewing: The Best Screening Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

It’s Summer in Vermont. Yes, I know we’re known more for being a quintessential Winter Wonderland. And, yes, winter does pretty much last for six months. But have you seen Vermont in Summer? That is when Vermont really shines. The days are long and hot. Nature becomes our playground – from kayaking and swimming in the lake, to hiking and biking in the mountains, to exploring farmer’s markets and vineyards during the day, to tasting craft brews and listening to live music in sprawling fields at night. Vermont is where people come to live, work, and play. We’ve got the live and play thing on lock (and the media tends to focus on that). But we’ve got the whole work thing down too. Vermont is full of nationally renowned employers, global enterprises, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. The innovation is real. So is the war for talent.

The Federal Reserve estimates that the unemployment rate is going to be 3.5% by 2019, and we’re already at 3.8%. What does that mean for growing companies? It means that the pool of people actively searching for jobs is smaller. Top talent is already out in the workforce kicking ass. It means that employers need to be even more aggressive and diligent about sharing their mission and vision and attracting talent to them (which sometimes means selling them on the maple syrup and mountains too). In fact, now more than ever, you’ve got to be a corporate talent scout. Professional sports teams spend billions of dollars and many, many years on scouting for and building a bench of talent (sometimes as early as middle school!). Are you that committed to talent acquisition for your organization? At our company, we have one of our best people (my Chief of Staff, Hallie Warner), constantly screening, recruiting, networking, connecting, building relationships, and building a bench of talent for current positions, as well as for positions we’ll need to fill 3-5 years from now. We are deeply committed to building a pipeline of talented people and keeping our foot on the gas in order to grow the business through others. This also means that while we’re out hunting and fishing for talent, we have to be cognizant of where the top people are hanging out. It’s not enough to just go fishing for talent, you’ve got to fish from the highest level talent pool you can think of.

We have found that while we get hundreds of resumes a month, we may do screening interviews with only 20% of those, and then less than half of those candidates will make it to round two. Because of our incredibly high standards and uniquely fast-paced, results-oriented organization we need to get in front of a lot of people in order to bring only the best of the best into our world.  Sounds like a tall order for our hiring managers, right?

Well, it is! However, we’ve gotten pretty good at spotting talent and one way we create massive efficiency is by having mastered the screening interview. Like I mentioned before, we may screen 10-20 candidates a week. And 2-3 of those candidates will move forward to an in-person, in-depth interview. So, how do we get through that many candidates quickly, while still learning a great deal about whether or not they will survive and thrive in our organization? It’s all about the art of the 15 minute screening interview (which we do over the phone to save even more time for everyone).

Why the screening interview? It’s a great way to save time and identify the top talent to take through the rest of the hiring process. It’s a efficient way to review their resume and their track record of success. It’s a place to evaluate their communication skills and their email etiquette (usually while scheduling the phone interview).

During the screening interview we’re not so much looking for specific answers, as we are about what is and isn’t being said. We’re on the hunt for information that we can use to determine if they are the right fit for our company, for this position, or for another opportunity in our company. How quickly do they respond to answers? Are they internal or external processors? Do they give concrete examples or skim over the question? Do they have goals? Do they have daily success habits? How self-aware are they? Can they admit to their failures and mistakes? Do they call you on time, three minutes late, or five minutes early? Have they done any research on your company – if so, how much? What kind of questions do they ask? Do they even have any questions?

You’ve only got 15 minutes, so ask great questions and listen carefully. Below are some of our favorite screening interview questions:

  1. What do you know about Adam Hergenrother Companies?
  2. What interested you most about this position?
  3. Is there anything that worries you about this position?
  4. How does your experience relate to this position?
  5. Why are you looking to make a change now?
  6. What’s your daily routine?
  7. What energizes you outside of the office?
  8. What’s the biggest misperception people have of you?
  9. What’s most important to you in your work?
  10. Tell me about a big mistake you made at work in the past 6-12 months. What did you learn from it?
  11. What are your personal and professional goals for the next 2-3 years?
  12. Why wouldn’t we hire you?
  13. What’s your timeline for making a move?
  14. This position pays between $X and $X. Is that consistent with your expectations?
  15. What questions do you have for me?

After, the initial screening interview, if we determine that the candidate might be a good fit for either that position, or another position in our company, then we will invite them to take our behavior assessment and come to the office for a second interview. Getting in front of as many potential candidates is critical and the screening interview helps us do that efficiently.

A few things to note:

  • Make sure you tailor your screening interview questions to the specific position as needed
  • If you are doing a general talent meeting, prep questions that will identify specific behavioral traits you are looking for or overall alignment with your company and culture.
  • State and federal employment laws are constantly changing. If you are ever in doubt about what you should and shouldn’t ask, consult with your Human Resources team or your attorney.

We’re a fast growing company and the only way we are going to keep growing is to bring talented individuals into our organization. If you want to learn more about career opportunities at Adam Hergenrother Companies, click here.

Interested in learning more about our hiring process and how to recruit and hire top talent? Join me in Portsmouth, NH on September 13 & 14 for Career Visioning.

For a complete break-down of our screening interview process, check out our Director of Marketing, Erin McCormick’s webinar, The Art of the 15 Minute Screening Interview.

What screening interview questions would you add to this list?

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