The Carlton Connection

8 Red Flags to Look For During a Candidate Initial Pre-Screen Call

By Annette Monks, CTS

President, Carlton Staffing

Pre-screening an interested candidate by phone is typically the first step in the hiring process for hiring managers. This is an important step because it helps to establish rapport with the candidate which is a vital part of recruitment, especially in today’s competitive labor market. During this call, you want to determine if the candidate will be a fit for both the position and your organization overall. If they are a fit most hiring managers decide to conduct an in-person interview(s) and pre-employment assessments. This is an investment of company time and resources so you’ll want to get this right!


Here are 8 red flags to look for during your phone pre-screen with the candidate:

  1. They lack enthusiasm. If this candidate is not involved in your conversation during the call, it is possible they are not as interested in you as you are in them. This could also indicate their possible future demeanor toward customers and co-workers. They don’t have to sound like a cheerleader, but they should be engaged. If the call is pre-scheduled, they should be free from distractions and prepared with questions about the position and your company. This will demonstrate their interest and commitment to your position.
  2. They are unable to handle “curve balls” appropriately. If you catch the candidate off guard with an unexpected phone call, how do they manage the call? They might be with their kids, on the road, in line at Starbucks, or otherwise indisposed. This happens at work too, doesn’t it? How would you want them to handle a customer when thrown a “curveball?” If they clearly are unable to manage their situation and have a meaningful and professional conversation with you, it might be an indicator that they lack self-awareness or do not understand appropriate social cues. If mid-sentence they interrupt you to give their Starbucks order to the drive-through attendant, or if they yell over you at their child to be quiet, it might be a red flag. If they politely request to call you back when it is more appropriate to talk and/or when they can give the proper attention to the conversation, then you might have yourself a good candidate.
  3. They don’t recall the job you are referring to when you call them about their application. Perhaps this candidate does not manage multiple applications well or they were not that interested in your position in the first place. Either way, how they juggle multiple applications could be an indicator as to how they multi-task. If multi-tasking is a necessary skill for your position, you might pay attention to this.
  4. Their questions are only about pay, benefits, or logistics. This red flag does NOT apply to entry-level workers such as cashiers, warehouse workers, call center operators, etc. If your open position is more professional or carries more significant responsibility to the company, you would hope that they care about more than just the hours they will work, how far their commute is, and what their compensation will be. These are all important questions and should be addressed. But if that is all they ask about, I’d pass. I want them to lead with questions about the company goals, vision, what we are looking for, what makes us different, training and ramp-up expectations, long-term opportunities, etc.
  5. If they are interviewing for lots of different types of jobs. If during the call you learn that this candidate who is interviewing for your staff accountant position is also interviewing for other positions like a hairstylist, veterinarian assistant, research assistant, and museum development officer, I’d think hard about moving forward with them. While the diversity of interests is exciting to hear about, I would want my staff accountant to be committed to the occupation of an accountant to minimize the risk of this candidate leaving for something new. I want them focused on this work and committed to this job. I would not want my company to be a safe harbor for this candidate to rest until they “find themselves” or “find their real passion.”
  6. If they ask questions like “Do you do background checks or drug screens?” I do appreciate when people ask this question and it doesn’t necessarily eliminate a person from consideration at all. Many candidates ask upfront because they do not want to waste their time applying if there is a policy in place with your company that would preclude them from being qualified for the position. That’s understandable. Please note that we do NOT recommend asking upfront if this person has a criminal background or past/current drug use. However, if they ask the question, you certainly can inquire as to why they are asking. I suggest you speak with your HR department or your labor attorney to determine what the best response should be to the candidate if this happens. Don’t overlook this if they bring it up!
  7. If they tell you they left their last job due to injury. While we cannot ask a candidate about prior injuries, if they tell us this on their own, we should ask for more information about that incident. They may have left their previous job due to an unsafe environment, lack of safety training, or a variety of issues.  And for any position going forward, we would need to know if the candidate can perform the duties of the position to which they have applied, and this is best resolved while reviewing the job description which should always include the physical requirements.
  8. No sense of urgency or personal drive. If you request a resume that takes days for them to send to you, or you invite them in for an interview and they suggest “Sure, how about next week sometime?” these could be indicators of low urgency. Would you want them to respond that way to a customer or co-worker in need? Or what if they tell you they are “Waiting on unemployment to run out?” We understand that supplemental unemployment benefits can be tempting to collect in lieu of working. These will expire in Texas in June 2021, so moving forward, if people still choose to sit back and collect vs. actively and aggressively search for employment, it could be an indicator of a lack of personal drive.


To be fair, we should not automatically assume any of the above eight items on a surface level without asking more clarifying questions. However, if you apply these observations during your pre-screen call, you might avoid unnecessary hiring costs and increased turnover. It is amazing how many subtle things can be indicators of how one will perform their job. See if you can identify them moving forward!


Happy hiring!




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