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How to Nail the Initial Phone Interview

A man works from home office talking on the phone

Once your resume makes it through the slush pile, you’ll likely be asked for a screening interview. Usually done via phone, these interviews can be framed as short and sweet “get to know you” calls, but don’t be fooled: They are a critical—and unforgiving—step in the hiring process.

The questions asked at this stage may seem insignificant because they’re often big-picture questions. What’s really happening, though, is that the recruiter or hiring manager is trying to cut to the chase on whether you’re a possible fit before they get any deeper into the process. They’re weeding out the candidates who are fundamentally misaligned on values, skills, and expectations.

SHRM offers these sample questions that are often asked in phone interviews in some variation:

  • Is the salary range for this position within your acceptable range?
  • Why are you searching for a new position?
  • What are the top three duties in the job you now have or in your most recent job?
  • What is your highest degree?
  • What do you see as your strongest skills, and what are your key challenges?

Routinely the questions are even more general, like “tell me about yourself” or “describe your work history.” Practice answering these and other interview questions with a friend, colleague or trusted recruiter on the phone. With a phone interview, you’re missing a significant part of your communication: body language. So while you may be a rock star in person, you could discover that your energy seems low, you’re not able to convey the right tone, or you seem to talk too fast when it’s just your voice doing the work. It’s better to get those critiques from someone on your side rather than someone who will decide your employment fate.

Increasingly, screening interviews are conducted by video conferencing, so be sure to find out whether your call will be via audio or video. There’s a big difference. For one, video conferencing can be marred by any number of technical difficulties, so it’s critically important to test your environment and equipment in advance. Everything from your clothing, to the camera angle, to the room’s lighting and background noise can affect how you’re perceived.

The Cut offers other great phone interview tips to consider, and Glassdoor offers helpful advice on what not to do. Plus, if you find out a screening interview will be conducted via video chat, here are some additional tips from Monster.