Red Flags and Greenlights: How to Better Screen Your Next Hire


Save time and make better hires with screening tips from a professional recruiter.

You may already be aware that we’re in a tough hiring market, with low unemployment and more job openings than ever. If hiring is one of the many important things you're tasked with, you can speed up your hiring process and get to the best candidates quickly by setting up proper candidate screening. Not only will these three tips save you time, but improving your hiring process will help you lock down the best candidates before your competition can even get to them.

1. The art of super fast the resume scan

People are usually shocked, and even a little offended, when they find out that recruiters typically spend only 6 seconds looking at the average resume. Seems crazy, right? What can someone learn in such a quick look?

A lot, actually. 

Before you look at any resumes, you should have a clear idea of what the basic requirements are for the job. What skills and experience are absolutely necessary? With this in mind, you can look over a resume, take a quick look at positions they held, responsibilities they had, and any skills they have listed separately (such as languages spoken) and determine if a candidate meets these basic requirements.

If they do, look a bit closer. How did they treat the resume? Is it customized for the job you’re offering? Are there typos or misspellings? If they meet the requirements and didn’t show signs of carelessness, they’re ready for the next phase.

2. The easy follow-up email that saves a ton of time

Once the resume has passed muster, it’s time to delve deeper into each candidate. I like to send each of them a follow-up email that asks a few very specific questions focused around the most important tasks you need them to tackle. Here’s an example from an email I recently sent out to people who applied for a sales position:

Before we organize the final interview, I would like you to tackle the following test. 

Below are four sales scenarios I want you to think about and then answer. These are fairly typical situations you will be in as an outbound sales representative with us.

  • You have been given a cold lead to call Peter Townsend at PT Mowing. When you call the number provided you get a receptionist. Detail the typical questions a receptionist will ask you and how you would answer each of them to get past the receptionist and speak to Peter.
  • Now assume you got past the receptionist but Peter does not answer his phone and it goes to voicemail. What voicemail would you leave and why?
  • A customer has signed up for a trial and you have sent two emails and left two voicemails but they have not responded to any of them. What tactics would you attempt as a final step to try and engage with the client over email or phone?
  • Come up with a one paragraph email pitch you would use to sell our service to a Dental Practice that is trying to hire an Endodontist. Assume this is the first email the company is receiving from us and they have no idea who we are or what we do.

Basically, you want the candidate to walk you through the process of how they’d handle an important task — preferably the most important task — associated with the job. If they can pass that, they’ll be ready for the next phase of your screening process. 

3. How to do an awesome phone screening

This is the final part of my screening process. I want to get a feel for personality and ask a few more key questions that will tell me if the candidate will work out.

I always start by asking for current and expected salary. If you haven’t done a lot of hiring, this may seem like a bold question to come out of the gate with. But it’s what I always start with, partly because it surprises people (they won’t try to get strategic with their answer), but mostly because it gives you a lot of information very quickly.

Their current salary gives me a sense of caliber and seniority. I’ll expect a different level of skills and responsibilities for someone who makes an entry level salary for the position as opposed to someone making top pay for the same. If their current or expected salary is well above what we can possibly offer, this candidate is likely out of the running. Even if people are willing to take a pay cut for a job, they don’t often last long after doing it.

I also like to ask why they left their last role. There are two things I’m looking for here. One is a candidate who bad mouths their previous employer. That’s a big red flag for me. The other is reasons that would make the job we’re offering a bad fit. For example, if they’re quitting because they want all federal holidays off, and I’m hiring for a job where they’re required to work on federal holidays, I know it’s not going to work.

Finally, I like to ask them what common mistakes are that people make in the role they’re applying for. If they really know the job, they’ll know these. It also shows you what their concept is of getting the job wrong. 

If you’re overwhelmed by this and all your other tasks, just try starting with number one, and seeing if you can get through resumes better and faster. That alone might give you the time you need to get going on step two. Good luck!