Phone Screen

All of a sudden you get a phone call from a recruiter about a position you applied to. And even better if you get called out of the blue about a position you did not apply to (this is a good sign they really like your background).

Almost always a recruiter will ask in their initial introduction “is this a good time to talk”. I always recommend to my clients to state something similar to “unfortunately not, but could we schedule a time for later today or tomorrow?”.

Why do I recommend clients to schedule for a later time? Regardless of how good you are at interviewing/discussing your experience and skill set, it is always better to prepare for the conversation. It allows you the time to find a quiet place, to pull up your resume, to quickly refresh your memory about the position, and to research the company you applied to. If you are cold called about a position, this allows you time to look up the job description and company to see if this is something you wish to spend time further discussing.

Standard questions you should be prepared to answer during a phone screen:

  • Why are you interested in this position?*
  • Why are you interested in the company? Or what do you know about the company?*
  • Why are you looking to leave your current company?
  • What are your short-term career goals (i.e. career expectations over the next couple years)?
  • What are your longer-term career goals (i.e. career expectations over the next 5 to 10 years)?
  • What are your compensation expectations?**

*Only applicable when you have applied to the position.

**It is best to be open and honest about your salary expectations so you don’t waste your time or their time. Be as specific as possible because “being flexible” or “open” leaves a question in the recruiter’s mind and if there are numerous qualified candidates to bring in for an interview this might be the reason you are not called in, as little as it may seem.

Other questions asked during a phone screen are going to be more specific to your education and work experience, as well as any specific skill sets required in the position’s job description.

What is going wrong if after a phone screen I am consistently not being asked in for an interview? There is a myriad of reasons why you may not be moving on. When I was a recruiter, if you could not clearly answer why you were interested in the position or company than that was typically a “no” on moving the candidate forward to an interview. Also some other quick reasons might be that the candidate’s salary expectations were too high or their career goals did not align with the position/company.

If you are getting called about your application than that means you appear to meet the experience or have the skill set required; however, if you are not able to give clear examples and explanations on questions related to required experience/skill sets than that may be another reason for the lack of interest in bringing you in for an interview.

Conducting a mock interview with a career coach to see where the problems are occurring is a great option, but will cost money. If you do not have the budget for a mock interview, I would recommend jogging your memory to think back to the questions asked that were difficult for you to answer. Start by writing down those difficult questions and begin practicing responses that draw upon examples from your past work or educational experience. You do not want to memorize your answer because than you appear to be too scripted, which is typically viewed negatively. Just have an idea or two on how you would go about answering the question and let your response flow naturally when you are asked again in the future.

Most phone screens and interviews will utilize behavior based questions. These are questions that ask you to provide an example from your past to show you have the skill set necessary.


Tell me about a time you lead a project team?

The answer to this questions should give the recruiter/hiring manager an idea of the range and scope of projects you have lead.

Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult colleague or customer?

The answer to this question will give a recruiter/hiring manager an idea of your interpersonal skills, as well as how you handle conflict.

I advise clients prior to a phone screen or interview to think about 3 to 5 big projects or accomplishments they have had during their career. These projects/accomplishments can likely help you to answer a variety of questions asked.

You should use different examples to answer the questions. If you continue to answer questions by referring to the same example, this leads the recruiter or hiring manager to assume you have no other accomplishments. Also the benefit of answering questions with different examples from your various jobs forces the recruiter/hiring manager to look at all of your resume and of course also implies mastery of your current and all past roles you have held in your career.

So in summary complete the checklist below and hopefully you will start getting asked in for an interview.

  • Schedule a specific date and time to conduct the phone screen.
  • Be able to answer the standard questions listed above.
  • Practice answering behavior based questions by providing examples from your your current and past positions.
  • Think back to difficult questions you were asked in the past and practice answering those questions.