Woman completing a phone screen.

Has a recruiter ever asked if you’d be willing to have a ‘brief phone conversation’ after you applied for a job? If so, that recruiter is most likely going to phone screen you. Phone screens are short 10 – 30 minute calls that help recruiters get a better idea of if you are worth interviewing or not. It’s not formal or comprehensive enough to be considered a job interview. However, your performance during a phone screen will greatly impact whether or not you are considered further. So it’s in your best interests to perform well during that phone screen. We’ll explore the purpose of the phone screen, what you can expect, and how to prepare for one.

Understand the Purpose

Although we briefly touched upon the purpose of the phone screen, it’s important to understand it fully. Realizing the purpose of it will help you know what type of questions to expect, and how you can best frame your answers to make them resonate. A phone screen is typically done after sorting through resumes. Once a recruiter or hiring manager has narrowed down resumes, they begin making calls to schedule phone screens. These brief conversations are designed to filter out unqualified candidates, without actually having to go through the motions of an in person interview.

There are a number of factors that are touched upon during these phone screens, and usually they involve the ‘must haves’ imposed by the hiring manager for that position. Most managers have a few requirements on their short list that will make a candidate ‘hireable’. Those ‘must haves’, and a few other topics will typically be inquired about. So you can expect to discuss:

  • ‘Must haves’.
  • Why you want the job.
  • The reason for leaving your current job (if employed).
  • Why you are the right person for this role.
  • The type of compensation you are looking for.
  • How strong your communication skills are.

Know What Will Be Discussed

When it comes to ‘must haves’ they may ask specifically about something on the job description. For instance, if they want someone with HTML experience, they may ask you to describe how extensive your background working with it is. Do your best to go in depth if they ask about something specific, since it’s usually a make or break ‘need’. They also are looking for you to be excited. They want someone who sees a good mutual fit between their own needs as a professional, and the needs of the company. Be prepared to talk about what excites you, what you know about the company, and why you would fit in there. Asking about your reason for leaving is a way for them to uncover your motivations. It’s also a way for them to subtly ask about if you were let go or terminated.

Almost every phone screen will ask for your desired salary range. Whether or not you share what you made previously, or if you have a target salary in mind, most recruiters will want a number. So it’s important that you go into the conversation having a figure in mind, or at least be prepared to discuss it. Not having a figure in mind when asked makes you look unprepared. It also makes it seem as if you don’t believe in your own value as an employee. Make sure you are confident, and represent yourself appropriately. Finally, the phone screen is also used as a quick test of your communication skills. Keep this in mind, and practice the conversation if you need to.

Keep These Items on Hand

So now that you fully understand the thought process behind it, it’s time to learn how to get ready. The first thing you can do is prepare talking points to the topics mentioned above. Whether you write them out, or have a practice conversation, you may want to type out some thoughts. Having them in front of you will keep you from losing your train of thought during the phone screen. There are a few other things you should also have in front of you at the time of the call:

  • Your resume.
  • The job description.
  • Your talking points.
  • Any other information on the company.
  • A notepad and pen.
  • Questions to ask.

That may seem like a lot, but you’ll be happy to have it when you take the call. During the screen, the recruiter may reference items in your resume or the job description. It’s much easier to follow along when you have it in front of you. The talking points will keep you from completely forgetting how you would answer a question. Also, having extra information on the company should help you answer why you are interested in working for them. Having a notepad will allow you to take notes on anything discussed during the phone screen. This is a far superior option than slowly forgetting what was discussed when you try to remember it. Finally, make sure you bring some questions to ask.

Have Questions Ready

Much like an in person interview, having questions prepared will help you find out more, and showcase your interest. Whether or not you actually have time to ask them, you should have some questions prepared. One question you should definitely ask at the end is what to expect from the rest of the process. Find out when, or if, you can expect to hear back from the recruiter. It will give you a timeline to find out if you are being considered further or not.

Find a Quiet Place

The last step in preparing is making sure you are ready to take the call. Ideally it will be a scheduled conversation. This will allow you to make sure you are in an ideal spot to take the phone call. It’s very important to find a place with no distractions or background noise. Also, make sure you have good cell reception so you can actually take the call. If you wind up taking the call in a place that isn’t as ideal, ask if you can push the call back, and schedule it for a better time.

If you are able to follow the steps mentioned above, you should be well prepared for your next phone screen. Like most of the hiring process, it can be easy to be intimidated or nervous. However, it’s important to remember, if they are contacting you, they have good reason to. Go confidently into the brief phone conversation, prepared with everything you need. We wish you the best of luck, and hope your next phone screen leads to a job interview!