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The 10 Best Pre-Screening Interview Questions Recruiters Need to Ask to Discover Top Candidates

This is a drawing of a recruiter asking a candidate some pre-screening interview questions.

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If you’re just starting your hiring process, you’ll want to put your applicants through a pre-screening process to determine if they meet the basic requirements for your open position. This way, you’ll ensure that you won’t waste time inviting unqualified candidates through an extensive in-person interview.

Pre-Screening Interview Questions

The pre-screening interview consists of a series of questions that allow you to gain valuable insight into a candidate’s basic qualifications. These are surface-level questions regarding career goals & aspirations, skills & abilities, and job preferences. You could also set up your pre-screening interview in the form of a basic skill test that can eliminate unqualified applicants before investing time and money into interviewing them.

If you’re looking to increase comfort levels during the upcoming interview process, pre-screening is a great tool for recruiters, interviewers, and candidates to become familiar with each other before actually meeting in person.

The main point of pre-screening interviews is to validate the resume quickly and efficiently to make sure that the wants and needs of the candidate are aligned with the wants and needs of the company. This process also allows you to spot the more alarming red flags.

When you’re choosing what pre-screening interview questions to ask, make sure to pick the ones that are not superfluous such as ‘How do you spend your free time?’ You’ll want to keep questions short and not go too in-depth at this stage in the interview process.

As a recruiter, you’re trying to find out 4 things:

  • What does the candidate need from this job?
  • Can the company offer it to them?
  • Can they do the job either professionally or technically?
  • Are they good team members? Is it a pleasure to work with them?

Try to avoid questions that do not yield this information.

We’ve got a great article on strategic interview questions to ask candidates in a job interview. You might want to check it out after you’re done with the pre-screening stage of the hiring process.

Without further ado, let’s move on to the questions.

1. Tell us about your current and past work experience. What makes you a great fit for our role?

This is information you’ll already have from a candidate’s resume and cover letter. However, allowing them to answer this question can give you extra details that can hint at whether the candidate is good for your open position or not. It’s a great way to scope out their communication skills and their feedback on previous jobs.

Red Flag: The candidate’s answer is just a run-down of their resume with no added examples of how they’ve dealt with a tough situation in the past and what the outcome was after their input.

2. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your current or previous role? How did you overcome this challenge? What was the outcome?

This is one of the common behavioral pre-screening interview questions. It’s used to determine if the candidate reacts well under pressure. It’s a surefire way to find out if they have what it takes to overcome future challenges. The story they tell doesn’t necessarily require a positive outcome. What you’ll want to hear is what they’ve learned from the experience, how they’ve grown, and how they’ll avoid the pitfalls that come with the job they’re interviewing for.

Red Flag: Short answers that don’t offer you an in-depth look into how the candidate overcame challenges are typically red flags. Either they did not face that challenge themselves and they’re using someone else’s story, or they didn’t see it as a challenge, and thus, they haven’t learned anything from the experience.

Of course, in certain situations short answers are fine, but there’s also the candidate’s passion that you should factor into your hiring decision. If they tell the story with enthusiasm and include relevant details, they might be a good fit.

3. What are your career goals? How will getting this job help you advance toward them?

Hiring a candidate who sees the bigger picture when it comes to their career is a good idea because you’ll want someone who grows with your company. Asking this question gives you a chance to find out if the candidate is thinking long-term or short-term. Long-term is the way to go. If they already know what their career goals are, it’s a good sign that they’ll be looking to advance their skills in the future which will also benefit you, especially if you’re planning on nurturing your new hire’s professional development.

Red Flag: This is a pretty obvious one. If the candidate does not have any plans for the future, you can tell they’re not interested in pursuing a career with your company. Yes, candidates get jobs for financial benefits. One can’t live without them. However, you’ll want a go-getter who’s got at least a rudimentary plan for their own growth. Even if you’re hiring for an entry-level position and this would be the candidate’s first job, a career strategy is an essential thing for them to have.

4. What type of work environment do you thrive in?

Unless they’ve done some stellar research into your work environment, the candidate will have to give an honest answer which is why this question is great to ask in a pre-screening interview. Depending on their response, you’ll be able to figure out if their preferred work environment resembles yours or at least checks some boxes on your perfect future employee list.

Red Flag: If the candidate stumbles when asked this question, it might be a sign that their work experience doesn’t match their resume. If they’ve worked somewhere before, they should have some idea of what they liked or didn’t like at their previous job. Another thing you should look out for are candidates who only express their dislikes about certain work environments. When it comes to company culture and places of work in general, employees should stay positive and adapt to the other people in their team.

5. How do you typically manage projects and prioritize tasks?

A good answer to this question might include a priority system that the candidate has in place when managing projects. For example, if you’re asking a potential copywriter this question, a great answer would be to reference Gary Halbert’s priority system which states that first completing the important but not urgent tasks will make it simpler to finish the important AND urgent tasks down the road.

Red Flag: The worst answer that you could possibly get is ‘I don’t think this question is relevant since I’m not applying for a manager position.’ An answer like that is a clear sign that the candidate does not understand the subtleties of the question because what you’re actually asking is “Do you have what it takes to one day assume a leading position in this company?” No matter the position, leadership is a great skill to have.

6. Have you ever had to manage multiple deadlines set for the same day or week? How did you do it?

This is another question that determines if the candidate works well under pressure. A good answer will include a story about the candidate successfully managing to meet multiple deadlines in a short amount of time. The story should include details on how they’ve prioritized tasks and delegated responsibilities. A candidate with no experience might provide a good answer related to their time in college.

Red Flag: If the candidate simply answers ‘No. I always meet my deadlines,’ they’re either not being completely honest, or they’ve never had to deal with the situation before and you reach a moot point in the pre-screening interview. You could relent and move on to the next question or ask a follow-up question involving deadlines.

7. What was the most frustrating part of your current role? Have you ever taken steps to try and make this part of your role less frustrating?

This is an interesting question because it allows you to determine what tasks make a candidate uncomfortable and how they affect their work. Someone who’s an introvert might say that they hate meetings or employee assessments.

How they answer the first part of the question should be in direct correlation to how they answer the second part. For example, someone who detests using Excel might tell you that they’ve taken courses to get better at it, which shows growth and the overcoming of obstacles.

Red Flag: A completely positive answer – ‘Oh, I loved every part of my job.’ Even though it might be true, it raises the question of why they want to quit their current job and come work for you. If it’s for financial reasons only, that would be understandable, but what if once they get the job they lose interest and underperform? You’d end up wasting tons of time and resources on this person and eventually, you’d need to start the hiring process all over again.

8. What does your typical work week look like in terms of responsibilities? How have these responsibilities changed over time?

The first part of the question is a great way to find out how involved the candidate is when doing their job. The second part is used to discover if they’ve grown during their time at their previous workplace. For example, an entry-level copywriter’s responsibilities might only include writing short snippets, blurbs, and articles without having to do SEO research for themselves. After some time has passed, the copywriter might be given more responsibilities, such as creating content strategies or doing SEO research for the entire team.

Red Flag: Either too few answers (not enough to actually constitute a full-time job’s requirements) or too many answers (responsibilities that are too small to mention such as clocking in and out.)

9. What can your current/previous employer do to keep you from leaving the role?

The answer to this question will tell you two things: what determined the candidate to leave their current or previous job, and what they would have improved if they were in the shoes of their managers. Based on the candidate’s reply, you’ll check some things off your list or add others regarding company culture and protocol. For example, maybe if the candidate would’ve been invited to an exit interview (which is sadly not conducted by many companies) and their complaints would’ve been heard, they might not have left their position. An improvement in work/life balance could also be an answer.

Red Flag: Any answer involving impossible demands such as doubling paid time off, or salary. Again, it’s fine if someone leaves their job because of unfair pay (it happens more often than not, unfortunately), but asking for unrealistic compensation or too much time off from a company is usually a red flag, especially if the company is small and just starting out.

10. What makes a job fun and motivating for you?

If you’re looking for a candidate who’s passionate about their career, enjoys working in a team, and meets challenges with enthusiasm instead of dread, you should definitely include this question in your pre-screening interview. You’ll get plenty of interesting answers. Maybe to one candidate, success is what makes a job fun and motivating while to another, it’s the sense of accomplishing something as a unit.

Red Flag: Answers that include non-work-related activities such as team buildings, free coffee, etc. Of course, those are great to have for boosting your employees’ mental health and productivity, but during an interview, a candidate should always answer questions professionally and keep their replies within the confines of the actual work they’ll be doing if they’re hired.

Final Thoughts on Pre-screening Interview Questions

We can’t stress enough how important the pre-screening interview is to the recruiting process. You’ll save a lot of resources by rooting out unqualified candidates early on. You’ll also be able to craft a list of top applicants before the hiring manager even starts interviewing them in person.

After the pre-screening interview process ends, you can consult the hiring managers and work with them on further understanding the skills that candidates have previously showcased.

If you want to learn about conducting interviews, I’d recommend the hiring manager’s guide to interview formats. There’s a lot of helpful information in there.

You might also want to check out our one-way video interview guide since pre-recorded videos are quickly becoming more popular with recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates alike.

We hope the questions in this article will help you discover the top talent you’re looking for. I wish you the best of luck!