In today’s job market, the average vacancy receives hundreds of applications and it’s the task of the recruiter to narrow this list down to a select few. They have a position to fill in their company, potentially with management breathing down their back to get it sorted as quickly as possible. They don’t have time to do much more than skim through the plethora of applications and pick out a few that happen to catch their eye.

With a clogged-up inbox and little time, the average recruiter spends less than a minute on each application and will be looking for features including relevant past companies, job titles and maybe a few keywords that show that you’ve made it this far in life doing a bit more than the bare minimum. If they like what they see in that precious minute, they will put your CV to the side and move your application to the next stage.

One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to bring a candidate in for an interview without first having a conversation over the phone. Sure their CV might look fantastic, but a bit of ink on paper can only go so far to sum up a person’s qualities. Furthermore, by the time a recruiter has finished screening applications, they are most likely still left with a handful of promising candidates who they would not have time to interview. Some would go with their gut instinct and simply pick out a few from the list and go from there, but what harm is there in a 5-10 minute conversation which assures the recruiter whether or not the candidate is suitable for the role.

A smart recruiter will be able to direct the conversation to take a flow where they will be able to pick up cues and determine whether or not it is worth both of your time to meet face to face because to be fair, as frustrating as it can be for a recruiter to bring in the wrong person I can assure you that as a former recent job-seeker who bent over backwards to make interview appointments work, only to find that we both had different expectations for a role – which could have easily been identified by a phone call. A few open-ended questions, and you’ll have a much clearer picture of who your most promising candidates are:

Tell me what you know about the company: As long as the recruiter has scheduled a call and not just phoned up unannounced, this is a great lead question to find out how much a candidate has researched an organisation before talking to the recruiter. Don’t expect a perfect answer as a candidate would put a greater emphasis on this before coming in for a face-to-face interview and would have likely have applied for multiple jobs at once, but demonstrating a little bit of effort into understanding what the business does can go a long way. A recruiter likes to see that you are prepared, and have invested some of their time to go above and beyond.

What are you looking for in your next role? With a job description prepared to summarise key points about a job, it offers little to no understanding of the underlying culture of a workplace and how different groups interact with each other. Poorly structured recruitment processes could have you walking through the door on your first day, only to find out that you’re not the proper fit for the organisation. A recruiter should listen to how you define your expectation of a work environment or what kind of responsibility you will be given to see how well it aligns and whether or not your expectations can be met.

What is your availability like? This is an opportunity for you to express how determined they are to meet the recruiter. Someone who says that they can’t schedule you in until next week at the earliest probably doesn’t have the ideal desire to work for that company. Personally, I’ve never believed that a candidate should be required to reschedule their entire week around an interview as some would expect, but instead a bit of compromise and talking through a list of times that could work is the better way to go and the recruiter will see that you are interested and willing to try and make something work. One of the last places I interviewed at informed me that they had contacted someone they considered to be a better fit for the role, but because they couldn’t make the appointment time that they set, they dropped the candidate from the pipeline altogether.

Tell me about your past jobs: The recruiter will be able to see where you have worked and for how long, but they would also be interested in knowing how you felt about those work environments. Someone who speaks negatively about most of their past jobs may give the impression to the recruiter that they are difficult to work with or have some other underlying problem that could run the risk of leaving you out of the running. What most will really want to hear is how you used each position as a learning curve to better yourself and make the most out of the opportunities that arose.