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Here are the pre-screening questions to ask before the interview

July 16, 2021
iCIMS Staff
5 min read

Behind door #1 are five strong, qualified candidates who are excited to work for your company. Behind door #2 are 30 candidates we found wandering around the lobby. They may or may not be qualified or even interested in the job. They wandered in of their own accord; quite frankly, we don’t know much about them. 

Which door do you choose? 

If you said door #1, chances are you already understand the value of pre-screening candidates.  

Pre-screening saves you time by weeding out bad fits before they make it to the interview stage. It’s designed to narrow the field, eliminating candidates who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t qualified or likely won’t make the cut anyway. By pre-screening, you can be reasonably sure the candidates you decide to interview understand the job and its requirements and are worth investing more of your time. 

That’s the simplified version. But how does pre-screening work exactly? What do we ask? Read on as we explore different kinds of pre-screening interview questions to ask, along with a few different ways to ask them.  

Dealbreaker questions 

Dealbreaker questions – sometimes called housekeeping questions – aren’t really about getting to know a candidate. They’re about eliminating bad fits.  

That may sound tough, but it’s necessary. Dealbreaker questions ensure everyone is on the same page and comfortable with the terms. Asking them isn’t about discarding candidates you don’t like; it’s about respecting your time and theirs.  

You’d hate to interview a rockstar candidate only to find out she isn’t happy with the salary or that he isn’t willing to travel when that’s a core component of the job. You can avoid this by asking the right pre-screening interview questions. 

Dealbreaker questions ensure they know and understand the role they applied for. Typically, there is only one correct answer, at least in terms of moving forward. 

Here are a few examples of dealbreaker questions to ask when pre-screening candidates: 

  • Do you live within commuting distance? If not, are you willing to relocate? 
  • Are you willing to travel twice per year for up to two weeks at a time? 
  • Are you aware this role is for the night shift only?
  • Are you happy with the salary/hourly rate?
  • Are you able to stand for several hours at a time and occasionally lift up to 45lbs?  

Note: make sure the dealbreaker questions are actually dealbreakers. Otherwise, you may inadvertently exclude qualified candidates for arbitrary reasons. For example, many jobs that once required being in office are now able to be done remotely or as a hybrid between remote and in-person.  

Competency questions 

Just because a candidate understands the role doesn’t mean they’re a good fit. Competency questions address a candidate’s skills, qualifications, and experience.  

Keep these role-specific and straightforward. You’ll have a chance to go into more detail if your candidate makes it to an interview. For now, the goal is to gauge baseline skills and how well your candidate communicates. 

Notice that competency questions are more open-ended than dealbreaker questions. Here are a few examples of competency questions to ask when pre-screening candidates: 

  • What got you interested in this role?  
  • Why do you think you’d be successful in this role?
  • What is your impression of our company culture? How do you think you’d mesh and add to it? 

How to pre-screen candidates 

As we discussed above, pre-screening is mainly about saving time. This means disqualifying bad fits and investing time into those with the baseline skills and experience needed. 

There are a few ways to get there: 

  1. Include written questions on the application. Keep dealbreakers to simple yes/no questions and limit your open-ended competency questions to one or two. Consider including a maximum character count for online applications so candidates understand to keep their responses brief.
  2. Have candidates take a talent skills assessment from a reliable vendor. These can be fully automated, returning a net score that then qualifies or disqualifies a candidate. They’re also available in a variety of languages and are customizable for specific roles, with options to turn them on or off as needed.
  3. Ask candidates to record a short video with video interviewing software. Like skills assessments, these scale well and provide an opportunity for candidates to sell themselves without the commitment (or pressure) of a full-blown in-person interview with multiple people. Have your recruiters record themselves asking questions, then select the ones you want to include for each role. Candidates can then record their responses whenever works best for them.

Ready for more? 

Check out How to improve your recruitment team’s performance for ways to avoid common hiring bottlenecks and improve productivity.  

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