Phone Screens: Five Tips to Favorably Impress

When beginning the candidate selection process for new positions, many employers conduct a phone screen prior to a face-to-face interview.  Such conversations serve as a way for HR to confirm a candidates’ experience and qualifications, and to eliminate anyone who seems to be an overtly poor fit for the position.  To ensure that you will advance to the next stage of the hiring process, you need to be equipped with not only excellent in-person interviewing skills, but superior phone etiquette as well.  Be aware that phone screens, unlike scheduled phone interviews, often take place without prior notice.  Therefore, your familiarity with how to perform effectively is especially crucial in passing this sometimes unanticipated initial assessment.  Here are five recommendations for conducting a successful phone screen.

1) Prepare in advance.
If you’re looking to change jobs, chances are you’ve applied to multiple positions, and may not remember every specific detail about each one. In order to prevent being caught entirely off guard, compile an accessible list of job postings to which you have responded, complete with a few short, easily explainable notes about how your past experience, qualifications  and accomplishments directly relate to the responsibilities of each position. To simplify things further, you should include some key words about the organization, its objectives and any relative news.  Don’t prepare too many notes, though; otherwise, you run the risk of getting distracted in what is typically a very short conversation. 

2) Call back later if necessary.
As previously stated, phone screens are sometimes conducted without prior notice.  There is a chance that you will not be in a private and quiet location when you receive the call.  For example, if you’re at work, within earshot of colleagues or supervisors whom you would prefer not knowing about your job search, it would be best to defer the phone screen until a later time.  The same rule applies to noisy city streets, social settings or areas with spotty cell phone service. The interviewer will appreciate your concern for making sure that you are in a quiet area in which you can speak freely about the position.

3) Sound confident and competent.
One of the easiest ways to disqualify your candidacy in a phone screen is to sound unsure of yourself. Since the HR representative cannot see positive body language or a neat, professional appearance through a phone conversation, you will need to rely on confident, intelligent diction.  Specifically, avoid using trivial words or phrases like “um,” “like,” or “you know,” and refrain from turning statements into questions.  Applying the first suggestion, Prepare in advance, and having a basic outline of your main points sitting directly in front of you, you’ll be less dependent on “filler” language that will detract from your credibility.

4) Listen very carefully.
Since you will be unable to rely on the interviewer’s facial expressions or body language to gauge whether or not you have made a favorable impression, make sure you listen to every sentence very carefully.  If you need to, pause for a second before answering questions to make sure that your responses are thorough and you are getting your points across effectively. Although it may be tempting to spend the majority of the conversation thinking about what you are going to say next, you actually have to listen very carefully during a phone screen to ensure that you obtain all the necessary information about the position.

5) Close professionally.
Nothing says, “I’m not interested in this role” like closing with, “Thanks, bye.” If the interviewer doesn’t inform you about the next steps in the hiring process, be sure to show initiative by enthusiastically asking on your own.  This will demonstrate that you’re serious about obtaining the position, not just anxious to get off the phone. Be sure to reiterate your interest and to thank the interviewer for the opportunity to speak with them.

Views: 1287

Comment by Darryl Dioso on May 8, 2012 at 10:07am

Great points. I'd add "Sound enthusiastic". Too many times I have disqualified a candidate because they sounded like they didn't want the job and that my phone call was annoying them. Lovely.

Comment by Russ Recruits on May 8, 2012 at 11:17am

Research the Employer!

I still am never amazed to hear from my MD who has conducted an informal telephone chat with a candidate and reported back that they had not undertaken any research. "what do you know about us...?" followed by sounds of candidate googling.

Especially annoying when you have sent links etc and they seemed suitable.

Everything listed here should be used by any applicants  - nice post.  

Comment by Manny Barrientos on May 9, 2012 at 7:56am


Very nice post on the basics. As others have said, it's amazing what some candidates will or will not do on something as basic as a phone screen. We usually use a candidate's performance on a PS to make various, very accurate, determinations about a candidate.




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