Everything You Need to Know About Phone Screening Sales Candidates

Published on Aug 24, 2020

Historically, most interviews for sales rep positions have been done in person. However, in recent years, there’s been a shift to holding initial conversations over the phone to make a baseline assessment of a candidate’s qualifications. 

And with COVID-19 greatly restricting in person interactions, phone screening is something that many companies are doing by necessity. 

Here’s everything you need to know about phone screening so that you can streamline the process and find the best of the best sales reps. 

The Purpose of Phone Screening

In an eBook called Best Practice to Recruiting the Hardest Role in the Company, sales development firm SG Partners explains why phone screening for this position is such a smart idea. 

“Because your salespeople need to engage over the phone — doesn’t it make sense to check that they can and will be able to engage effectively with your existing and potential clients? They need to convince you that they are worth progressing to the face to face interview stage.”

This is a simple way to assess how well sales candidates perform and which ones you should advance. It also provides you with instant insights into their personality, traits, sales style, and so on. As a result, you not only learn about a candidate’s hard skills but also their soft skills and how well they fit in with your company from a cultural standpoint.

Now that we better understand the context, here’s how to seamlessly implement phone screening. 

Keep it Brief 

Given that this is a preliminary stage in the hiring process, it’s not usually the time to ask in-depth, hard hitting questions that require a long winded response, says global HR consulting firm Robert Half International. Rather, the goal is to narrow down your list of candidates and pinpoint the ones you want to give serious consideration. 

Therefore, you should keep the phone screening brief — ideally somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes — and focus only on the essentials. Then, once you’ve finished this round, you can follow up with candidates who’ve advanced and dive into deeper questions during the official interview.

Create a Script

In order to accurately and objectively gauge sales candidates, you need to have a standardized phone screening process where every interaction is nearly identical. You need to have a script. 

Why? There are two main reasons. 

First, this creates a sense of homogeneity where every candidate can be viewed through the same lens, making your assessment less likely to be skewed by variables. It’s like creating the same conditions during a science experiment to ensure the results are valid.

Second, it helps you move through phone screenings faster and more efficiently. By sticking to a script and asking the same questions (something we’ll discuss in more detail in just a bit), you can navigate through the process more fluidly and not waste time. 

And this is important considering that on average, conducting phone interviews can increase the length of the recruitment process by 6.8 to 8.2 days

So, what exactly should a script look like?

Here’s a basic formula you can use:

  • Offer a quick introduction of who you are, what your company is about, and what you’re looking for in a sales rep
  • Ask a series of straightforward questions
  • Take notes
  • Ask follow up questions
  • Ask the candidate if they have any questions for you
  • Close letting them know when and how you’ll reach out to them next

Ask The Right Questions

The exact questions used during phone screenings will obviously vary from company to company. That said, applicant tracking system, Betterteam, has pinpointed seven key questions that work great for making an initial assessment of a sales candidate. 

Here they are.

Besides that, you may want to ask questions to see how much they know about your company and what makes them a good fit. Some examples include:

  • What products or services do we specialize in?
  • What was it that attracted you to our company?
  • Why makes you a better fit over other candidates?

Again, the goal here isn’t to know a candidate inside and out. It’s to get a basic feel for who they are, what their skill level is like, and how good of a fit they would be for a sales position. These questions should serve as a good starting point, and you can tweak them as needed. 

When it’s all said and done, shoot for somewhere between five to 10 phone screening questions, as that tends to be the sweet spot. 

Treat Each Candidate Equally

It’s also vital that you eliminate any bias and give each candidate the exact same opportunity. “Approach every conversation with a blank slate, and treat each candidate fairly and equally,” writes Robert Half. “Remain fully engaged during every call.”

This should prevent your judgment from being clouded, enabling you to make an accurate assessment of multiple candidates, which brings us to our final point. 

Use Objective Scoring

The final piece of the puzzle is to objectively quantify your results so that you use concrete data when deciding which candidates to advance. Typically, the easiest way to do this is to use a numerical rating system to rate how satisfied you are with a candidate’s response to each question. 

For example:

  • 5 is excellent
  • 4 is good
  • 3 is average
  • 2 is below average
  • 1 is poor 

Then, add these numbers up to score each candidate, and use this to decide who moves onto the next round of hiring. You should also incorporate a sales-specific assessment that uses data and science to objectively evaluate the candidate’s selling skills and capabilities to accurately predict the likelihood of success. 

Improving Overall Hiring With Phone Screening

Phone screening sales candidates is a proven way to filter through a large applicant pool and find the true rockstars. It’s just a matter of developing an efficient system that allows you to move through the process swiftly and seamlessly. 

Need help hiring sales talent. HireDNA sales recruiting platform makes hiring sales reps easy by delivering pre-screened and qualified sales professionals. Request a demo

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