How to nail your phone screening interview

Congrats! You’ve applied for a job and got a callback. Make sure to celebrate, as this is a great accomplishment. Many job openings receive hundreds of applications, and not nearly that many candidates receive the call back you received! After you celebrate, it is time to prepare. Preparation is the key to nailing your phone screening interview.

First, and foremost, let’s quickly get aligned on what exactly a phone screening interview is and does. Phone screening interviews are the initial conversation(s) that you have with an organization, typically by phone. By design, they are quick and geared at understanding your high-level fit with the job and organization.

It probably goes without saying, but first impressions really matter here. Screening interviews can be a ton of fun for both the interviewer and the candidate. As a candidate, you can either make the interviewer (often a recruiter or the hiring manager) absolutely fall in love with you OR make them decide very quickly you're not a fit. There's always the middle ground, too, in which the interviewer will be undecided or neutral about your candidacy. And, in the recruiting world, a neutral review is typically a no. Insider tip: when I conduct screening interviews, I ask myself two questions: Am I excited to learn more about this person? Is this a candidate that I’d confidently present to XYZ hiring manager? Your goal is to give me, as a recruiter, a resounding yes to both of those questions!

There are some key things you can do (both ahead of time and during your interview) to "wow" your next interviewer. Here are some tips that I've developed from my personal experience as a candidate and as a recruiter.

  1. Do your homework. I cannot count the number of times I hop on a phone screening in which a candidate either doesn't know the job title of the role they're applying for, the name of the organization or just completely fails to mention their interest in this job, at this organization, at this time. Not a good first impression. Lesson: do your research - review the company website, check out LinkedIn profiles of people who work at the organization, talk to someone you know that works at the company (make sure you actually know them).  Additionally, in most organizations, the mission matters greatly above all else. Tip: As you’re doing your homework, jot down “zingers”, or things you discover that really resonate with you. Then, find a way to tie the role and the organization to your personal mission, and prepare ways to make that known in your interview, which leads me to my next point...
  2. Strategize what you’ll say. Once you've done your homework, it's time to strategize and craft what you’ll say in your interview. To be clear, this takes thought, strategy, and reflection. Think: how can I help this company solve the problem that is the reason this job was created? In what ways can I blow it out of the park? This is where you should put most of your prep time in advance of an interview. It is YOUR job to show how your background and experience are totally relevant to the job at hand, and that you are the right person to do it.  In other words, you need to show how you’re the perfect fit from a skill, will, culture, and mission perspective - no easy feat! However, if you do this right, your interview will feel easy AND fun. Here's how I do it (in case you are wondering): I print out the job description and my resume.  Then, I start to build a case based on my experience (i.e. resume) of how I could live into the particular action items, goals, competencies, etc. on the job description. This is not an exact science; however, these strategies have been integral and effective in my own job searches in the past.
  3. During your interview, be you.  There is no replacement for 100% authenticity in interactions with people, and the same is true of interviews, as they are simply an interaction with someone you don’t know...yet.  Think about it this way: If you are ultimately selected for the job you’re applying for, don’t you want to be selected because of who you are, the skills you bring, and how you’ll execute you work? Remember that this is about assessing fit for you too, and the only way to truly assess fit for yourself is to be fearlessly and authentically you.
  4. Always ask (good) questions at the end. If you don't ask any questions, this signals that you're not interested and/or didn't care enough to do your homework (see above). Secondly, make sure you ask strong questions.  Don’t ask about anything that is clearly found in the job posting. You’ll want to ask new, thoughtful, reflective questions. A bad question = What are the responsibilities of this person? A good question = I see that your enrollment goal is 80% by October. How has your team done against this goal in the past?
  5. Send a thank you note or email. A showing of gratitude is always a good thing, and evidence of emotional intelligence. I recommend sending within 48 hours of your interview, particularly for roles in which relationships matter (so, all of them).

Originally posted in February 2016 on my LinkedIn profile.