How to Ace a Phone Screen Interview
This is part of an ongoing of series of posts on interviewing.
It is increasingly common for job applicants as the first step in a hiring process after submitting a resume to be asked to participate in a phone interview. Most recruiters or hiring managers are busy and receive a large number of responses to most posted job advertisements. To help them narrow the field in a time-efficient manner, they often conduct a preliminary phone screen, usually lasting around 30 minutes, though some may be shorter and others could run much longer.
Purpose of a phone screen interview
As I just mentioned, the purpose of a phone interview is to quickly assess the fit and qualifications of an applicant to reduce the number of candidates to a more manageable number before conducting in-person or video interviews that are more in-depth.
By fit, I mean how well a person aligns with a hiring company’s values and culture. This includes overall an assessment of the overall demeanor or personality of a person (e.g. are they friendly, arrogant, shy, warm, inquisitive, helpful, etc.) as well as characteristics such as whether they are honest, hardworking, humble, or whatever else the company has identified as being important to their organization and team.
Qualifications are often more objectively measured than fit. Can the applicant type and write well? Do they have experience with common computer software programs? Is there evidence of prior experience in a similar role to the position being sought? Much of this will show up on a person’s resume, but this is an opportunity for the interviewer to dig deeper, either to confirm or to better understand specific areas.
Preparing for the call
You should treat a phone screen as seriously as any other part of the interviewing process. That includes, if it helps you to get your ‘game face’ on, dressing professionally.
In addition, keep these points in mind:
- Review and print out your resume. Having a copy of your resume in front of you during the call will help you to reference specific jobs, dates, and other particulars. Even if you feel like you know this cold, sometimes people get nervous and having a copy of your resume handy is an easy crutch in case your nerves get the best of you.
- Prepare for likely questions. Because most phone screens are so short, you likely won’t get many questions and anticipating some common ones and preparing answers is a good idea. Can you walk someone through your resume talking about each job and telling a story about each one that reflects a message you want to convey to the interviewer? Can you crisply and succinctly cover your strengths and weaknesses? Can you answer basic questions about the hiring company and have solid reasons for why you are fit for and want the position? Have one or two questions for the interviewer in case there’s time at the end for you to learn more about the company, the hiring manager, or anything else that is on your mind. This may be an area where it helps to brainstorm and role play with a friend or, if you’re working with a recruiting firm, talk to them about what they know about the hiring company’s interviewing practices.
- Set up your area. Make sure that you are in a quiet place, free from other distractions. If you are using a cell phone, make sure it is charged and that you have a strong signal. Have a notepad and a pen or pencil handy to take notes during the call.
- Relax and focus. Before the call begins, take a few moments to collect your thoughts, review any notes you’ve taken prior, and then relax. A few deep breaths can work wonders. Then, settle in with a positive mindset and confidence in your own abilities.
During the call
Smile. I know that may sound strange, but smiling helps to improve our mood and stay relaxed. It also comes through to someone on the other end of the phone. Also, breathe. When people are nervous, their rate of breathing tends to increase and breaths become shallower. If you notice this happening, take a second to mentally reset by taking a few deep breaths. Finally, go easy on yourself. If you feel like you didn’t answer something well, let it go. Chances are, a lot of other applicants have also stumbled over an answer or two and the interviewer is going to be looking at much more than the response to a single question. You’ve spent time preparing and rehearsing, so trust yourself!
Before ending the call, make sure you understand what the next step will be and when you can expect to hear back from the company.
After the call
Once the call is finished, while the conversation is still fresh in your mind, replay the call. Can you identify parts that went well? What about areas where you think you could have done better? How would you change your response if you had a second chance? This is a good habit to develop that will really help you if and when the next phone interview comes around. Then, if you feel it is appropriate and you have their contact information, write a short thank you note to the interviewer. I prefer regular mail, but if an email is more convenient, then choose whatever makes the most sense to you. The note doesn’t have to be long, but try to include at least one specific element from the call (e.g., “I really enjoyed hearing about the fun Fridays that you have at your office and organized similar events for my last employer.”).
This post isn’t meant to be exhaustive and there are a lot of other great resources online that can help you to prepare and ace your phone screen. If you find a great one, please leave a link in the comments!