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Phone Screen Top Tips and Advice

When you are in the market for a new career opportunity and you start applying for positions, you might get a request for an initial phone screen. A phone screen is a positive first step to landing an in-person interview.

What is the purpose of an initial phone screen?

A phone screen gives your future employer some preliminary insight on how you present yourself over the phone. Have you ever called someone, maybe for a technical support issue, or to discuss a utility bill, and maybe the person talked too fast, or mumbled and was short with their responses? Regrettably, these traits are the OPPOSITE of what a Hiring Manager would be looking for during a phone screen.

The core purpose of an initial phone screen is to assess some of your most basic SOFT SKILLS, like communicating, listening, attitude and engagement.

Are you able to clearly communicate your ideas? Meaning, can you convey your top skills to a future employer and have it make sense?

Are you able to listen? Or do you talk with no breaks in between your ideas where the other person can’t get a word in? If you are a person that loves to talk, that’s great, but know when you need to pause and let the other person speak.

Do you seem expressive and excited? A hiring manager wants to know you’re passionate about this new opportunity.

A more elaborate phone screen might touch on more HARD SKILLS like your technical computer skills such as computer programming knowledge. If this is the case, you should be able to talk intelligently and clearly communicate your abilities in those areas.

What kinds of questions can I expect from a phone screen?

The kinds of question you might be asked on a phone screen will vary depending on the company or the person you are talking to.

Inquiries could be basic, like going over your education, work experience and how your qualifications align with the job description. You might be asked to describe in your own words, your job functions in a previous role. An example might be: How long did you work as a .Net Developer and what were your main functions in the role? The Hiring Manager wants verification of the skills you’ve listed on your resume.

Who is a phone screen usually with?

It could be with an HR Representative, a Talent Acquisition Specialist or the actual Hiring Manager.

How long is a phone screen?

A phone screen can last anywhere from 10 to possibly 30 or 40 minutes. Does a short phone screen mean things didn’t go well? Not necessarily. The length of the phone screen might depend on who you speak with. If your speaking with a Human Resources Representative, it might not last that long – they are just dealing with the basics, but if your phone screen is with the hiring manager, they may have more detailed questions to ask.

Even if your recruiter tells you to plan for 20 minutes for a phone screen, keep your schedule “open” for longer than that. You don’t want to be on the phone, and feeling like you wish things were wrapping up because you have somewhere else you need to be. The person on the other end of the line may sense this. And the sense might be you’re not engaged or not really interested.

Prepare and plan ahead for the call.

Prepare for a phone screen about the same as what you’d do for an in-person interview. This includes, reviewing the company’s website so you have solid background knowledge on what the company does and why you want to work there.

What to have with you for your phone screen.

Have a copy of your resume in front of you. Make sure it’s the same version that you submitted when you applied, so you are “on the same page”. Also, have a pen and notepad with you to take some notes from the call. You might even want to have the company’s website open on your laptop or smartphone for easy reference.

Find a quiet area free of distractions.

The best place to take a phone screen would be a quiet place. If you have children, pets, roommates or family members that might cause distractions, let them know ahead of time that you need some quiet and distraction-free time for an important call.

In addition, a landline would be the ideal method for taking a phone interview. While taking your phone screen on a landline is ideal the truth is, the once trusty landline is disappearing from U.S. households. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2016, of 20,000 American households, most U.S. households rely on cellphones (50.8 percent). Just 6.5 percent of U.S. households had a landline without any cellphones available.

Therefore, if you must use your mobile phone, be in a place with the best reception. A bad location would be in your car while driving, driving through a tunnel, or while ordering fast food at a drive-thru window (it’s happened).

You might think you’re a superior multi-tasker – you can eat, drive, put on makeup, change the radio station, order fast food through a drive-thru – but don’t try and do all these things AND take an important interview phone call at the same time!

Answering the call. Keep it formal and professional.

Answer your scheduled call by saying, “This is John,” or This is “Mary Johnson”. This sets a professional tone to the conversation. Moreover, the hiring manager knows they are speaking to the correct person. Maybe you have a difficult to pronounce first or last name. Announcing yourself with clarity helps the person on the receiving end know how to say your name correctly.

Also, be ready to answer the call! Be ready 5 or 10 minutes ahead of time just in case. You might be “sending the wrong message” if the hiring manager must leave you a voicemail for your phone screen cause you’re not ready and waiting for the call.

How to end the call.

When asked if you have any questions, make sure to ask what the next steps are. Be certain to express your interest in moving forward in the screening process.

And, as goes for an in-person interview, save your questions about health benefits and vacation for later. While perks are beneficial, they shouldn’t be the sole reason for taking a new job. Also, don’t go into any personal issues that might hinder your chances of an in-person interview.

In summary, a successful phone screen will most likely lead to an in-person interview. Sometimes phone screens lead right to an offer over the phone! If you are not called back for an in-person interview, make sure to ask your recruiter why. There is always room for improvement and you can find out the ways you can do better during future phone screens and interviews.

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