The screening interview is a short phone call designed to weed out candidates quickly. Since interviews are incredibly expensive in terms of opportunity cost, we want to ensure that time is only spent on A players.
As with all our interviews, we run screen checks in a structured manner to ensure consistency and rigor.
Four essential questions
We recommend scheduling the screening call for 30 minutes.
Open the call by setting the context: “I’m really looking forward to our time together. Here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to spend the first twenty minutes of our call getting to know you. You may hear me making some notes. After that, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have so you can get to know us. Sound good?”
Most candidates who are interested in the job will happily agree. Then, progress with the following four questions, writing notes along the way.
What are your career goals? Here we are trying to determine whether there is intention to a candidate's career, or if it's an aimless wandering. The best candidates know what they want to do and speak with passion and energy; filter all others out.
What are you really good at professionally? Please give me some examples. Here we are trying to determine 5–10 areas that the candidate considers themselves really good at. Don't accept one-word answers; press for examples. If these strengths don't align with the scorecard, filter the candidate out.
What is your greatest accomplishment professionally? What are you most proud of?
This should be a shining example of what the candidate is capable of, one that is backed by real numbers. You may find that you don't need to use this question if it's already clear what the candidate's strengths are.
What are you not good at or not interested in? Please give me some examples.
This is better than asking “what are your weaknesses,” as it often yields more insightful responses. If you're getting cookie-cutter responses, say, “That sounds like a strength to me. What are you really not good at or not interested in doing?”
This question is often hard for folks. One tactic is to wait until they've given some answers and then say, "Well, what if we asked your current boss? What would they say you're not good at or not interested in?"
Once you have an answer to that, ask about their peers' feedback: "Well, what if we asked your team? What would they say you're not good at or not interested in?"
I sometimes ask this question by qualifying it with, "We all have parts of the job that we don't love, that don't give us energy, and we find ourselves procrastinating to complete. For me, I don't love X, so I wait for the end of the day to do it. What would you say is that part of the job that you don't love, but you know you have to do?" This approach might be a little too soft, but I always get honest answers.
– Brianna Byun, Recruiting at Clearbit
Who were your last three managers, and how will they each rate your performance on a scale of 1–10 when we talk with them? Why?
Notice we say when rather than if; we are trying to provoke some honesty. Get full names of the managers, not titles. Ask the candidate to spell their full names clearly for you. This sends the message you're recording this information to use it later. When a candidate is uncomfortable with a manager or situation, they will call it out specifically, which is helpful.
Lots of 8/9/10 is good. 7 is neutral. 1–6 is bad. If there are too many 6s, screen out. But listen carefully—the best candidates may be diamonds in the rough.
Getting curious to know more
Rather than trying to come up with clever questions, there is a much easier way of teasing the information you need out of candidates. Simply prompt them to continue down their train of thought. You can accomplish this by saying, "oh? tell me more," or by repeating the last few words they've said.
If by twenty minutes in you think they are an A player, move into sell mode. Interviews are a big commitment for candidates, and the best candidates will be getting hounded by other companies, so they need to know it's worth their time.
First, ask if it's possible to extend the call by 15 minutes. Then start pitching.
Selling works best when you let them ask questions. Rather than telling them how great we are, let them ask you questions, which gives you more info on what they care about and then allows you to tailor your selling answers to the questions they are asking.
We recommend you start by saying something like "okay, so you've been under the microscope a bit and now it’s my turn. I'm happy to talk about whatever is helpful. What can I tell you about Clearbit, the team, myself, or the role?"
Different candidates require different pitches. Ideally, the first part of the interview should give you an indication of where to focus your efforts.
Ask them what they're interested in next. Are they interested in smaller companies? Focus on our values of autonomy and iteration speed. Are they interested in a big win on their CV? Focus on our progress to date and ambitions. Are they going to be remote? Focus on how flexible our remote culture is.
If they're going to be reporting to you, speak to yourself and the rest of the team you've built. Talk about how much we value management at Clearbit, and the attributes of great management that are important to you.
Ask the candidate questions to learn about their lives and what they want to optimize for next. Is it great management, an inspiring mission, or financial compensation? It's important to note these down in Lever, because this information will be useful during the Closing process.
Make sure to leave time for them to ask you questions. They are interviewing us as well.
At the end of the phone interview, let the candidate know that you would like to immediately schedule the next interview (which is usually a remote top-grading interview). We suggest giving a brief overview of our interview process so they know what to expect (our recruiting team will reiterate this too).