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🎉 We launched our free ATS! Watch the demo. Check us out on Product Hunt.

🎉 We launched our free ATS! Watch the demo. Check us out on Product Hunt.



6 tips to impress candidates on a first-round phone screen

Max Kolysh

When it comes to startup hiring, nailing the first conversation with a new candidate is critical to meeting your hiring goals. Without the proper prep work, you’ll lose your chance to attract and inspire top talent to join your team.

Additionally, they can help you:

  • Check for potential dealbreakers early on (e.g. availability, relocation, proficiency in your tech stack, etc.)

  • Ask for clarification on information in candidates’ resumes or LinkedIn profiles

  • Evaluate candidates’ verbal communication skills (in some cases, test candidates for their ability to speak foreign languages)

  • Get to know candidates

  • For passive candidates, learn about their goals and desire to switch companies

In 2021, Dover conducted over 6,300 interviews for top startups, based on this experience we have distilled 6 difference makers to help you decide who you should pass to the next round, and who you should hard pass on.  

1. Do your homework.

If you sourced a candidate on your own, you may already know why you selected them and which qualifications stick out to you. However, if they’re an inbound applicant, meaning they applied to your job posting directly, look at their LinkedIn profile and resume, making any notes of specific questions you have at this stage.

2. Create a scorecard.

A scorecard helps you to remain consistent and honest when evaluating candidates. Doing this before beginning your search can help you discover what you’re actually looking for in the role — and what qualities could instead be “nice-to-have”.

Some areas to consider are:

  1. General demeanor: This can include politeness, timeliness, friendliness, and the ability to articulate ideas clearly. Did you leave the interview with more energy than you came in with?

  2. Past experience or career trajectory: Where do they see themselves in the next year — could this role meet those needs and goals? If it’s a technical role, were they able to explain highly technical projects in a clear and simple way?

  3. Professional requirements you care about: This can range from experience in specific programs you will need the role to use frequently, tech stack knowledge, or other specifics that pertain to the role.

  4. Any areas of concern: Poor communication skills, potential issues in start date/qualifications, etc. This can also be company-specific. For example, one of our top customers HeyJane provides affordable and accessible abortion care. They asked us to assess how comfortable candidates were with using the word “abortion”  — those who seemed hesitant would obviously not be the right fit.

We created a series of scoring rubric templates across the most popular personas startups hire for — check it out here.

3. Eliminate bias with an ordered list of questions.

Studies show that asking questions in the same order for all candidates results in higher predictive validity on job performance and lower individual interviewer bias. In other words, you’re less likely to assess candidates on a “gut feeling” versus their actual response to each question. This tends to point to affinity bias or the idea that we gravitate toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be friendly or polite, but if you were more chummy with one candidate over another, it could cloud your perception of who is actually qualified for the role and who you simply enjoyed talking to.

4. Perfect your pitch.

Think of your pitch as a problem/solution statement. What are you doing and why? Why now? You want to anticipate what questions candidates might have so you’re not caught off guard. Include any unique attributes: are you disrupting an outdated industry? Is your software the first-of-its-kind? Do you offer all new hires a free puppy? Mention this in your pitch.

Remember: you’re not only evaluating a candidate — they’re also evaluating you. For a startup hiring their first employees, a recruiting pitch is your one chance to capture their attention — especially if you don’t yet have a robust employer brand. It also helps candidates to speak to specific role or company pain points during the interview.

Pro tip: Don’t pitch all candidates the same way. Consider the type of role you’re hiring for: is it an entry-level position with straightforward responsibilities? You might want to spend more time on a creative pitch, as candidates will likely be more interested on what separates your company from others in the context of this role. On the other hand, if it’s a founding engineer role, you’ll want to perfect your pitch and outline a few projects they might work on in the first few months to a year.

5. Treat it like a first date.

Don’t launch into your company’s mission statement the minute a candidate says “hello.” Just as you’re evaluating their interpersonal skills, they’re also trying to figure out if they’d like to work with your team. Show up early, be polite, and make them feel welcome by asking about their day or weekend before coming in with your elevator pitch.

Additionally, during the interview, be an active listener by acknowledging their responses, paraphrasing their answers to show you understand or asking for further clarification.

6. Outline next steps at the end of the call.

One of the top reasons candidates drop off is if they feel like they have to hound you to set up another time or let them know they’re not moving on to the next stage. If you definitely know you’d like to move forward, schedule the next interview at the end of the phone screen. If it’s clear that you’ll have to reject a candidate, try to do so within the next 1 to 2 days. If you need help constructing a thoughtful rejection email, check out our guide.

After the call, write any final notes in the rubric while they’re still fresh in your mind.

How Dover can save you 60-80 hours per hire

Over the last year, our interviewers conducted thousands of first-round phone screens for top startups. We learned some pretty cool things:

  • The probability of getting a qualified candidate doesn’t diminish with Dover interviewers: we partner closely with your team to finalize a scorecard and rubric to ensure we’re asking the right questions, in the right way.

  • We can save hiring managers 60 to 80 hours per hire. If you work for a small startup, you likely don’t have time to screen all qualified candidates who apply. We make sure to interview every candidate you approve and only pass those along who would be a perfect fit.

If you want to learn more about how Dover is helping startups hire more effectively end-to-end, talk to us.

Max Kolysh