Losing Out on Talent Part 1: The Phone Screen

Matt Meisenbacher
April 26, 2016

(Preface) Over the course of my tenure with LaunchSource, I have worked in different facets with around 40 companies that have utilized our program to help scale their growth and make great entry-level additions to their existing sales teams. With each company comes a unique and specific interviewing process by which they further scrutinze and screen our candidates until they find the individual that suits them best.

Ideally, that candidate sees that company as where they want to work, the paperwork is signed, and the start date comes and goes without any bumps. However, there are occasions where companies lose out on their ideal candidate(s) for reasons that are avoidable or unnecessary. Think “unforced errors.” Let’s take a look at some of the most common errors I’ve come across and ways to avoid them.

Part 1: Phone Screens

The infamous phone screen. The gatekeeper to moving forward to the coveted on-site interview. A necessary part to most interviews, yes, but overdone in some cases.

Before I continue, let’s be clear: we’re talking about entry-level sales roles here. These aren’t VPs, Directors, Heads. These are people applying for the literal entry-point to a sales career. You’re going to (or should be) focusing more on the individual's ability to mesh with your existing team and get the job done as opposed to what they’ve done in the past or how they fit the “cookie cutter” sales mold.

Let’s be realistic, there isn’t much meat on the bones in terms of past experience when talking about applicants for an entry-level role. For an entry-level sales role in particular, 1-3 years of any type of job experience should be sufficient. If you’re looking for more than that...well that’s your prerogative, but you’re going to miss out on the people with huge potential and drive to succeed.

The issue with schools

One of the most infuriating things to hear is, “We’re looking for people who attended schools like…” Let me stop you right there. Are you telling me that you’re going to disqualify the kid who attended a 4 year college and graduated with a 3.3, while playing a sport and working 2 jobs to pay the bills on their own, versus the kid who hadn’t worked, attended school on their parents dime and played XBox for all 4 years? And this is because one kid has School X on their resume and the other has School Y? How is that logical? Who would you expect to be better suited to grind and hustle in the role?

The bottom line is this: phone screens should be used to better qualify a candidate in the hopes that they’ve done the proper research, can articulate their personal story and message, and talk about why they want this job. It honestly should not take more than 15-20 minutes. Let’s not make it more than it needs to be. Most talent acquisition people or sales managers will tell you they know within the first 5 minutes if this candidate will be likely moving forward or not.

Keep it short

Keep the phone screens to a standard set of questions and see if the answers are intriguing enough to move them forward. Get to know the individual on a real sense, not on a grading scale. You’re not going to gather all the answers right now - that’s what the interview is for. See if what you saw on their resume (and video if they’re a LaunchSource candidate) fits what you originally thought of the candidate, and make a decision.

Here are some examples of avoidable phone screen behaviors that I have heard or witnessed:

  • Multiple phone screens with multiple people at different times during the day or week
  • Detailed and repetitive questions aimed at disqualifying a candidate without really getting to know them.
  • Hearing an average or poor answer to a single question and ending the call
  • Missing a scheduled phone screen without any type of communication
  • Disqualifying a candidate post-phone screen and never following up

A better method

Keep the call formal yet personable. Ask questions aimed at gauging research on the company and ability to be in the role. Try and eliminate any preconceived notions about the individual and listen to each answer exclusive of the prior answer. Root for them to move them forward, but make them earn the right to do so.

In my expertise, this type of phone screening works best. The companies that we work with, that are serious about hiring the right types of people for sales, follow this style and it works seamlessly. If you’re conducting phone screens, try limiting the unforced errors. There is no need to make it next-to-impossible for candidates to pass. You’re only making your job more difficult than it needs to be.

If you liked this blog, or hated it, you'll love/hate Part 2: The Interview, which you can read here!