Many job seekers fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of a phone screen interview, leading them to do these calls without the right preparation. And as you would expect, they don’t get the results they’re hoping for.
This guide will cover the most important phone screen interview tips to keep in mind. Remember, every step of the hiring process should be taken seriously!
What is a Phone Screen?
Phone screen interviews are often the first step in the hiring process. You land them on your qualifications alone, and recruiters often schedule them after being intrigued by your resume and applications.
It’s called a phone “screen” interview because it’s different from a traditional phone interview. It typically happens over the phone, as the name implies. Some managers may schedule video chats or ask you to come into the office for a few minutes, but those are usually exceptions to the rule.
These conversations are very brief, lasting less than 30 minutes. Some phone screen interviews are only 10 minutes long, making the call shorter than many expect.
But why is it so brief? What can an interviewer hope to gain from such a quick chat?
A phone screen isn’t meant to determine if you’re getting a job offer. Instead, this conversation is to see if you have the right qualifications to move on to the next round of interviews. It’s to, quite literally, screen candidates.
Because it serves a specific purpose, these quick calls are often much more structured. They don’t dive into behavioral interview questions or involve open-ended discussions about complex work topics. Expect to talk about your qualifications, skills, and the details on your resume.
Anything beyond that will likely occur in later interviews.
There were likely many candidates that applied and YOUR resume was one that initially interested them. This is a great opportunity!
Phone Screen Interview Tips
Now that you know what a phone screen is, it’s time to go over some effective strategies to keep in mind while you’re preparing. No matter how trivial this step might seem, it’s just as important as any other part of the process!
1. Research the Company and Position
You should start by researching the company and understanding the role you’re interviewing for. It’s not necessary to know everything. In many cases, you might not have much time to do in-depth research.
That will come later if you move on to the next round and schedule an in-person or video call interview.
For now, the main priority is having enough knowledge about the company to feel confident speaking about why you want to work there and how you might fit (even if it’s brief). Again, you don’t have to be an expert on this organization yet. However, you should be able to talk about what they do and have a general idea of what you’re in for.
If you don’t perform adequate research before the phone screen, you can come off as ill-prepared or not excited about the opportunity. One of the things that interviewers are looking for is serious motivation. They want to know that you’re interested in the job for reasons other than it being the only thing available.
Look at the job description and study its details closely. As you do, note where you meet or exceed the requirements. For example, the listing might ask for X number of years in the industry, but you have even more.
Those are important details to remember during your call.
While you’re at it, check out the company’s social media profiles and websites. Familiarize yourself with its current goals and get a good idea of what its core drivers of revenue are.
2. Practice Explaining What You Bring to the Table
Here’s an important phone screen interview tip that could make or break your experience. One of the most challenging aspects of going through the hiring process is constantly having to “sell yourself.” It’s the idea of making yourself sound like the perfect candidate.
Think of it as your sales pitch.
Many people find talking about themselves to be complicated or awkward. It’s not hard to see why. Selling yourself in an interview can easily cross the line into bragging if you’re not careful. But on the other hand, being overly humble can make you seem disinterested.
Remember: You want to express that you genuinely wish to land this job. The inevitable “why are you interested in this position” question will come up. Having nothing to say will make it a forgettable conversation for them at best.
Practice making your pitch before your phone screen. Get comfortable talking about yourself and sharing what you bring to the table. Figure out what makes you unique, why you’re an excellent fit for the job, and why the hiring manager should move you forward in the hiring process.
You don’t have to create an entire rehearsed statement. You’ll have many opportunities to show your stuff, and you need to take advantage of each one. Try making a list of points you want to make and practice talking about them confidently.
When you understand the key selling points, you can bring them up effortlessly during your phone screen interview (even with limited time). Doing this will cement your interest and how much you deserve the job.
3. Listen Closely
A phone screen interview revolves around you, but you’re not the only party that matters here. Your interviewer will have a lot to say. They’re going to provide you with tons of valuable information, and they might ask something that you aren’t expecting.
Do your best to practice active listening. The goal is to genuinely listen to every work while letting the interviewer know you’re engaged.
Before the call even starts, go into a quiet room without any distractions. Turn off phone notifications, shut off any nearby devices, and devote your full attention to this call.
If the interviewer says something you’re unsure of, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Phones often cut in and out, and static could make you miss a word here and there. It’s better to ask for clarification than to assume what the interviewer said.
Listen intently. If necessary, consider using other methods to get better audio. For example, you can pop in headphones to make the audio louder. Whatever you do, make sure that you hear every word.
4. Get Ready for Common Questions
Like any other part of the interview process, it pays to know what types of questions you’ll hear. Rehearse as many common questions as you can, because they might come up during your phone screening! Develop good answers for each one, and get comfortable reciting answers that leave a lasting impression.
Simple “yes” or “no” answers will not cut it. Your responses should be nuanced and full of color. Tell stories where appropriate and give solutions that will stick out in the interviewer’s mind. That’s the best way to earn a ticket to the following interview round!
So, what types of questions will you get?
The good news is that the questions you’ll get are usually not too complicated. At this stage of the hiring process, it’s pretty straightforward. The goal is to see who’s qualified, who’s not, and who’s worthy of moving forward.
Practice questions that focus on your background and qualifications. Those are what the interviewer will want to hear most about during the conversation. Also be prepared to address your salary requirements and be ready to explain why you left each job on your resume. Keep in mind that simple doesn’t have to be boring. While your answers might be straightforward, your responses can be anything but that.
5. Take Notes
It’s always a good idea to take notes. A phone screen interview can go by faster than you think. In that short 10 to 30 minutes, you’ll hear a ton of information worth remembering.
Our tip is to have a pen and notebook to take notes before, during, and after your call.
When you start the call, jot down the interviewer’s name, job title, and any other identifying information you might need later. Who knows? You might have to refer back to them at some point.
As you speak to the interviewer, write down anything you feel you need to remember. But be careful when you do! Listening is the most important thing of all, so don’t let yourself get distracted while writing.
The most critical things to take note of are the commitments you make during the interview. For example, you might agree to send over additional documentation. Or perhaps you couldn’t provide an answer to a question and promised to follow up later.
Don’t forget to do those things. Writing them down ensures that you don’t.
Of course, you’re free to take notes of anything that feels important. Whether that’s tidbits of information about the role, something new you didn’t know about the company, or the timeline of the interview process, all of those details matter.
6. Try Smiling
This sounds like a strange tip for a phone screen interview, but hear us out!
It’s easy to sound bored when you’re speaking over the phone. The interviewer can’t see your face, so non-verbal cues are irrelevant in this scenario. The only way to express excitement and reassure the interviewer that you’re listening is to have a little pep in your voice.
That’s not always easy to achieve when you’re alone in a room talking on the phone. So why not crack a smile?
Smiling helps you be a little more animated and jovial when you speak. It’s a subtle difference, but a meaningful one that interviewers will pick up on. Create positive expressions, and they will translate to your voice.
7. Keep Any Necessary Paperwork or Documentation Close
Don’t forget to have a copy of essential documents nearby. They can be on your computer or tablet. Even better is if you print them out!
Why do you need them? There’s a good chance you don’t have those documents memorized word by word. What if the interviewer asks you to extrapolate on a specific detail on your resume? Would you have the memory to know what they’re talking about?
That’s why you need copies in front of you during the phone screening. You might not need them. But if you do, you’ll be glad you took this extra step. Having copies prevents you from having to dig around while on the phone.
It also avoids that awkward pause while you try to think of what they’re referring to. Plus, it makes you look prepared and genuinely excited to be on the call.
Have a copy of your resume and application. Also, print out a copy of the job description. If you have a portfolio or past performance report, it’s a good idea to have those with you, too.
8. Speak Clearly and Professionally
Here’s a phone screen interview tip that many people struggle with. In addition to listening carefully, take your time when speaking!
Avoid rambling and incoherent sentences. A phone screen interview can feel somewhat rushed, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a breather after every question!
Instead of jumping straight to a barrage of words, pause to collect yourself and form a response. Don’t let the pause go on too long, but give yourself enough time to ensure that you speak clearly.
Stumbling over your words, failing to talk clearly, and using unprofessional language are all things you should avoid. Those mistakes can cost you a chance at the job.
9. Do the Little Things
Avoid the mistake of failing to address the small stuff! You can focus all your attention on getting everything prepared and ready to go that you forget to do the bare essentials.
We’re talking about things like keeping your phone charged, checking that you have reliable service where you plan to take the call, and moving into a distraction-free area. Make yourself comfortable, too.
A phone screen interview will be relatively quick, but you should have a glass of water near your throat, a comfortable chair to sit on, and any other miscellaneous accommodations that will make you feel ready. Prepare all these beforehand so you’re not scrambling to take care of them mid-call.
10. Send a Thank You
So you’ve made it through the phone screening in one piece, and the call is coming to an end. Congratulations!
Before you hang up, end the conversation on a good note. Ask questions if you have any, and inquire about the possible next steps. The interviewer should be able to tell you when you should expect a follow-up. There’s a good chance they have many other people to call, so don’t anticipate it’ll be any time soon.
Get a general time to expect something from them, and you’ll better understand what the process will be like moving forward.
Don’t forget to reiterate your interest in the job and show enthusiasm before saying goodbye.
After you hang up, you still have one more thing to take care of: The thank you email!
Many job-seekers make the mistake of thinking that a follow-up thank you email isn’t necessary. It’s just a phone screen interview, so why go through the trouble?
That’s a mistake! There’s always an opportunity to leave one last positive impression.
Send an email within 24 hours. Write a solid subject line, remind them of what you spoke of, and express gratitude for the interview. You can also ask about the following steps if you didn’t get them earlier.
A thank you email goes a long way; it could be the final touch that moves you onto the next round.
These phone screen interview tips will help you prepare for these calls effectively. Just because a phone screening is a small piece of the overall hiring process, you won’t make it very far if you don’t take this seriously!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.