Q. We are a small electronic device company and have received an overwhelming response to our job posting for a technical sales manager position. Please provide some tips on how to effectively screen for the best candidates.

A. Last month I recommended that each and every applicant who applies for a position complete a pre-qualification questionnaire. I’m assuming that you have taken my advice, screened the applicants and made a selection of candidates for the next step in the process, which is the telephone interview. I’m also assuming that you have developed a “best-fit” profile for the position and the company. What is a “best-fit” profile?

Recipe of qualifications including hard and soft skills of the ideal person you are looking to hire.

Ideal personality type, oral and written communication skills and professional style.

List of short- and long-term goals for bringing this person on board and what problems you want solved.

Market competitive compensation package that will attract and retain the talent.

The purpose of the telephone interview is to further screen the qualified candidates from the unqualified. Telephone interviews are an exchange of information to assess a candidate’s suitability for the position and the company. Clarify any questions you may have about their qualifications, technical skills, non-technical skills, education, experience, accomplishments, challenges, reasons for seeking a new position, compensation and relocation requirements.

Most importantly, this is an opportunity to assess their verbal communication skills and get a feel for their personality. Telephone interviews help to narrow the pool by screening a selection of candidates without having to spend a lot of valuable time and money bringing unqualified candidates on site.

Who should conduct the phone interview? Depending upon your resources, it could be your internal or external recruiter, human resources professional or the actual hiring manager. Please do not pass this important task on to someone who is not knowledgeable about your company, the position and the opportunity.

It is best to schedule appointments in advance; this will give you and the candidate time to prepare for the conversation. Situate yourself in a private office where there will be no distractions and you will be able to focus on the task at hand without interruptions. Keep in mind that it is sometimes difficult to connect with people over the phone – there’s no eye contact or physical cues such as nodding heads, smiling faces or frowns – so put your antennae up, focus on their attitude and tune into their enthusiasm (or lack thereof) and tone of voice.

What information do you need to conduct the interview? A copy of the candidate’s resume, completed pre-qualification questionnaire, your list of questions, notepad, pen, water and a timer. These conversations can range from 30 to 60 minutes, and I recommend taking a 15-minute break between appointments.

How do you end the phone interview? Complete the conversation by informing the candidate that you appreciate their time and will get back to them by a certain date. If they are clearly not a fit for the position, communicate this fact and ask them for a referral to someone in their network who may have the skills and experience you are seeking.

This process is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Less than 10 percent of candidates who apply for your position will be a suitable match. Limit your on-site interviews to candidates who are at least an 80 percent match for the position and the company based on your “best-fit” profile. Consider outsourcing this function to a recruiting company and save yourself, the team and the company valuable time and money.


Jennifer Laxton is a senior partner with Executive Search Associates in Santa Rosa, www.esa.com. ESA is an executive search and consulting company. You can reach her at 707-525-1010 ext. 12 or jklaxton@esa.com.

If you have questions with regards to your situation, send an e-mail to askjen@esa.com.