So you’ve matched with a promising guy or gal, and you’ve shared some witty banter on the in-app chat. What’s next? I recommend that my clients schedule a screening phone call. Yes, a phone call.1 This may sound old-school (and tends to particularly weird out millennials), but hear me out. There are a few advantages to doing this before setting up an in-person date:

  • It’s a synchronous communication format with very low overhead. You don’t have the lag of texting, and you also don’t have the scheduling and primping overhead of meeting IRL. The level of investment is somewhere between messaging and getting together, so it’s a nice intermediate step. A corollary is that the downside risk is low — if the chemistry or alignment isn’t there, you can get out in a few minutes. How many dates have you had where it was obvious within the first few words that it wasn’t a good match, but you felt obligated to sit through it for a while anyway? Not so with a phone call!
  • You can assess non-visual cues that can indicate whether or not you have a good connection — e.g. do they have a pleasing vocal tone, are they able to hold a good conversational cadence without talking over you, do they have a compatible sense of humor?
  • It provides enough distance where you feel safe opening up, yet close enough that you get a sense of building rapport and connection. This means that you can figure out if someone’s willing to “show up” to the conversation. Can they have a meaningful dialogue? Are they comfortable getting vulnerable?

Before jumping on a call, there is some homework to do first. Part of creating a successful phone screen is coming up with an idea of what the guiding questions for the conversation are. A good phone screen question has two key characteristics:

  1. It has a high likelihood being honestly answered. For an example, you probably want to avoid asking someone if they do hard drugs — it’s unlikely anyone who does will answer this honestly given you’re basically a complete stranger. On the other hand, asking someone if they drink or smoke is perfectly fine since either answer is socially (and legally!) acceptable.
  2. It gives a clear signal. This means that there are some clearly wrong answers. For an instance, if you ask someone what they’re looking for from the dating apps that they’re on, and they say that it’s something casual, then that should be a clear signal for a relationship-minded person to exit the conversation.

A good phone screen transcript is a mix of closed-ended “dealbreaker”-type questions and open-ended deeper questions that will set the stage for creating an atmosphere between the two of you that feels safe and comfortable. It’s often an iterative process, which involves tweaking your guiding questions as you go long. It is also a bilateral process, with you sharing as much or even more than what you’re asking your match to share.

As an example, my phone screen questions include the following:

  • What are you looking for on this dating app? - I find this to be a great opener, setting the intention for the conversation early. Anything along the lines “casual” or otherwise intentionless would not be a good fit for me.
  • Are you into the Burning Man scene? - This may seem like a weirdly specific question, but it’s a common personality archetype in San Francisco and can lead into a conversation about drinking or drugs – which is a deal-breaker for me – and what kind of social activities we might share
  • What’s something you believe that most people would disagree with? - This is the classic Peter Thiel contrarian question, and I find it leads to some very insightful conversations.
  • What’s something that you’re looking for in a partner that would make many reasonable people not a good match for you? - Have they thought non-trivially about what they’re looking for in a partner? I find this to be a good indication of whether someone is actually looking a long-term relationship.
  • What’s great about dating you? - Sharing the answer to this is always fun! And it’s a great lead in to the next question…
  • What’s difficult about dating you? - Another fun one that can give you an idea of how introspective they are and if they’re comfortable being vulnerable
  • What did you take away from your last serious relationship? - Do they generally see their past relationship as a positive or at least a learning experience? Do they blame or vilify their former partner, or do they take some responsibility for how things ended?

There’s obviously no one-size fits all set of questions here. The specific questions depends on your values and interests. Also, serendipity and chemistry play an important role. The best phone screens tend to start on-script and then take a life of their own, wandering off into places that they didn’t anticipate, and serve as a stepping stone for a more connective in-person first date.





  1. Why a phone call over a video call? I favor the phone for several reasons:

    • Being on video requires more focus than a phone chat – video mean we need to work harder to process visual cues like facial expressions and body language. This is even true of video calls vs. in-person meetings – we get thinner cues in the former than in the latter, and trying to process these is fatiguing.
    • The heightened emphasis on facial cues and the ability to see oneself can also act as a stressor. On a video call, we’re aware of being watched, which can lead to a more performative and less reflective mindset.
    • The natural rhythm of conversation is harder to establish and can have an outsized negative impact on people’s perceptions of one another – a 2014 German study showed that a mere 1.2 second delay in responding was enough to make the listener perceive the talker as less friendly or focused.