Creating an Interview Process That Wins Top Talent pt. 2

We’ve taken our years of experience and created a comprehensive guide to help you build an interview process that will earn you the candidates your company needs. Today, we break down the keys to a successful phone screen and initial in-person interview. This is your first interaction with the candidate, and how you present yourself and your company can have a dramatic impact on the candidate’s interest level.

Creating an effective interview process

The goals of the interview  process are two-fold: Correctly identify the right candidate for the job; and brand the position and company so the right candidate accepts.

The Phone Screen

Any candidate who appears to meet the basic requirements should be granted a phone screen. This interview is the ideal time to consider the candidate and identify if he or she could be a good culture fit.

Achieve this by setting up the candidate with light, open-ended questions about their background, future goals, and relevant knowledge. This isn’t the time to grill them or go over every nuance of the job.

Here are some examples:

  • Tell me about yourself personally – What do you like to do?
  • Tell me about your background – how’d you end up applying for this role?
  • Why are you interested in interviewing with ______?
  • What makes you interested in the role of _____?

When you give a candidate an open forum you can learn a lot about how they interact with people and who they are as a person. Are they speaking positively about their former employers and colleagues? Do they take responsibility for successes and shortcomings? Are they passionate about what they do? Are they concise with their thoughts?

You want to keep a similar format for all your candidates so you can accurately compare them. 20 to 30 minutes is typically the right length for a phone screen.

West Coast Careers recommends bringing in the top 40% of phone-screened candidates, but don’t feel you need to stretch.  

The 1st In-Person Interview

We recommend 60-90 minutes here to discuss the role and the candidate’s specific skillset.

The old method of putting the candidate in a pressure cooker and grilling them for an hour is dead. You aren’t going to win over anyone with that approach. You want to put the candidate in a comfortable space so you can see how they act naturally. A great way to do this is by starting the interview with their questions.

“Let’s start this interview by you asking your questions first. No question is taboo.  What can I answer for you right away?”

Let the candidate control the interview for the first 15-20 minutes. This will let you gauge their research, their level of preparation, and their ability to effectively control a professional meeting. Also, despite the “no question is taboo” remark you can gauge how tactful they remain.

From here, move on to asking them open-ended questions about your company and the candidate themselves. Giving them space to talk allows them to build confidence as a candidate. A confident candidate is much easier to accurately judge, because they will answer questions with more sincerity.

Once your candidates feel confident and comfortable, ask them all the questions you want about their resume, job experience, education, etc. You’ll get all the information you want without having to interrogate them. Be sure to continue complimenting them when they answer questions well.

Closing the 1st Interview

How you close the interview can have a big impact on the candidate’s impression of you and your company.  It’s common to say something such as “Thank you for your time. We still have some more candidates to interview, and we will be in touch with you.”  Unfortunately, this may leave a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth. It doesn’t provide feedback, and it’s so commonly used it may come across as a “blow-off.”

A much more effective way to end the interview is to empower the candidate by giving them the choice to move the interview process forward.

“I like you, and I think you have potential, but the ball is in your court. I’d like you to take some time and think about this position, and let me know if you’d like to move forward.”

If you hear from them in the next 24 hours, you’ll know they’re interested.


Agree or disagree? What tactics have you found effective in your interview process?


Hungry for more knowledge? We’ve broken down creating an interview process to hire top talentthe entire interview process, from the phone interview to in-person interviews, and all the way through the offer stage.

We will be releasing this in segments over the next several weeks. If you want to jump-start your hiring now, you can download our white paper and Learn How to Win Top Talent today.