Screening for the Best

During the gold rush days prospectors would screen for gold; basically tossing out everything that wasn’t gold. In essence that’s exactly what we do when we screen applicants; we are looking for the best or the gold. Often times prospectors would be fooled by what appeared to be gold, only to find out upon further inspection that it wasn’t gold; hence the term “fool’s gold”. In recruiting the ‘further inspection’ part of the process is the face-to-face interview. We were ‘fooled’ by the screen’ thinking we had a golden candidate, only to learn during the interview that the applicant wasn’t golden.

So the applicant or employee screening process is a time saver for both the interviewer and the applicant. A carefully created yet simple screen can and will separate the true candidate from others. Screening for potential employees begins immediately in the process from review of the cover letter and resume to the initial conversation. Screening needs to be quick for two reasons; 1) you may have many applicants to review, and 2) that potential new employee will encounter many first impressions with either your customers, clients or other team members, and first impressions are vital.

The cover letter is a first impression and typically the first informational contact between the applicant and the screener. Hence it needs to be concise and an ‘attention grabber’. Is it appealing to the eye in format?  Does it provide the basic information necessary for the screener to want to continue? Is it compelling?

The resume is a wealth of information or at times misinformation. Again does the format provide an organized presentation with framework for a story?  Does it answer basic questions and compel you to want to learn more. Does it show a level of education, a skill set, and a work history that appears to match the need of the position for which you are recruiting?

Being satisfied that the cover letter and resume create a positive framework for the applicant the next step in employee screening process is the telephone portion of the screen. This can either be a pre-arranged time and day, or it can be a true cold call screen.

If you have an assistant, then you will most likely want to schedule a telephone screen. If you are the one making the initial call it would be appropriate to ask the applicant “would this be a convenient time for you and I to chat for a few minutes, or would you prefer to schedule a different time?” I prefer the ‘let’s do it now’ approach since again it saves time and requires the applicant make an immediate decision. It also tells me if the applicant is a ‘lets-do-it’ type of personality.

Keep the phone screen short. A good phone screen should take no less than five minutes, or no more than ten minutes. Anything less than five minutes is almost worthless, and anything more than 10 minutes turns it into an interview. Have your screening questions prepared in advance and the same for all applicants. The ideal number of questions is five. Questions need to be open-ended (requiring more than yes and no answers) rather than closed-ended questions which require only yes or no answers. At the conclusion of the telephone screen you will have a non-candidate, fool’s gold, or gold.