Why The Phone Screen Is More Important Than You Think To Landing The Job

After applying to dozens of jobs, you’re likely excited to hear that a company wants to schedule a phone interview. And you should be excited. You’ve made it to the first decision-maker in the company, a feat some statistics report only about two percent of candidates manage to do.

But don’t get too caught up in celebrating that you skip the critical step of preparing. While you may think a 30-minute phone conversation isn’t worth the same level of preparation as a full day of in-person interviews, the exact opposite is true. It actually may take more prep. Here’s why, and more importantly, how you can nail the phone screen and make it to the second interview:

  1. Hiring is about elimination, not selection. On average, a job opening receives about 250 applications (likely more in the age of Covid-19). With only one opening and limited time and resources, companies need to narrow down to a manageable number of candidates, and usually that comes in the form of programming Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to eliminate applicants who don’t meet certain requirements (e.g., years of experience, salary range, desired education, etc.). So, if statistics show only about 4 – 6 people are making it to a phone screen, this is indeed a great sign, but you’re still very much in the elimination stage of the process. In-person interviews are time-consuming. The phone screen allows the company to ensure only the top applicants make it. Get ready: The mantra of this stage is to match first, stand out second. The screener is verifying you have the core requirements to do the role, including an enthusiastic willingness to engage in the less exciting aspects like excessive travel, after-hours events or even relocating if it’s a necessity. This isn’t the time to bring up potential concerns or create barriers unless you want to be eliminated. If you have a special ask that doesn’t interfere with the ability to produce results (e.g., you have a 3-week honeymoon planned this fall), save it for later. They’re also interested in learning about your attitude, reason for pursuing a new role and any potential red flags. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll come across. Later, when you’re a finalist, then you can bring out the reasons you stand out against the competition. But, if you fail to match first, you may never get this opportunity.
  2. You’re most likely speaking to a corporate recruiter. Usually, the first interaction is with someone in the HR department, not the actual hiring manager, who will only likely see the finalists from this round. This means you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t fully understand the day-to-day of the job and may not be able to extrapolate how your transferable skills are a fit. They’re also likely more worried about not wasting the hiring manager’s time, so will easily move on to someone else on the list if you’re viewed as a potentially risky candidate. Get ready: Relay the info the phone screener needs to move you to the next level. It can be helpful to use language in the job description, talk about results you’ve achieved that align with the company goals, and mention core certifications or other specific requirements listed that you possess. As a former corporate recruiter, I can share that many are checking a series of boxes at this point to decide if they’ll move you forward, so it’s helpful if you do the work for them, while projecting positive energy and a collaborative approach.
  3. It can be harder to impress. Honestly, if you’ve never listened to yourself recorded (audio-only) or over the phone, this may be a good time to test it out. Having conducted hundreds of phone screens that led to in-person interviews, I can share most people are more dynamic when you have the whole picture. On the phone, you lose essential non-verbals like eye contact and hand gestures, so if you tend to emote with actions versus tone, you’ll want to address it now. Get ready: The best way to prepare is to record yourself on your mobile phone or laptop and listen back. Do you vary your tone (this is more important when it’s audio-only)? Can you hear if you’re smiling (this does help!)? Do you drone on (since you can’t see if someone is tracking with you, it’s best to speak in sound bites and verbally check in)? The good news is we’ve catapulted the use of video conferencing as an interview tool, which can solve some of the challenges of audio-only. However, it can still feel a little off if you’re trying to focus on the camera and not the person, so best to practice your video skills as well.
  4. You may not get a warning. While this tends to be rarer today since there are a variety of ways to communicate, if you’re in a job search, don’t be surprised if you answer your phone and it’s a recruiter on the other end. Sometimes it’s just easier to pick up the phone rather than deal with the back and forth of email or text. Also, that call may come months after you’ve applied. Hiring moves at a glacial pace and with ongoing restructuring due to the impact of the pandemic, companies may put hiring on hold. Get ready: If you’re actively searching, always be ready. This isn’t the time for your 10-year old to have a snarky outgoing message on your voicemail or to answer the phone while lounging in bed or day drinking (I once had a candidate answer at 11am, clearly inebriated). First impressions matter and are hard to turn around. Since you likely will get an email first to schedule a phone screen, select a time when you’ll be uninterrupted by family members or other distractions. While some of this is hard to avoid as we’re sheltering-in-place, you’ll come across much better if you can focus on the conversation.
  5. You’ll be asked about your salary expectations. This is the question that most often gets candidates weeded out at this stage of the hiring process. If you’re excessively out of range (too high or low), they’ll move onto the next person, even if you express that you’re flexible. While some US States have prohibited employers from asking about salary history, they’ll still ask about your expectations for the current role. This is a positive for both you and the company because it prevents a lot of wasted time if the numbers are significantly off. However, if you’re being intentional about applying to roles you’re truly interested in and have researched compensation, this doesn’t need to be a huge hurdle. Get ready: Do your homework, have your strategy ready and practice your response. I’ve posted a lot about this, and this one-minute video is a quick summary.

While getting invited for a phone screen is fantastic news, remember you’re not in the home stretch just yet. The interviewer is still looking for ways to eliminate about half of the candidates on the short list, so you have some obstacles to overcome.

Not having the benefit of presenting yourself in-person, speaking with someone who may not fully understand the role, and knowing it’s your very first impression to the company all add to the challenges of the phone screen.

However, when you approach the process knowing these hurdles, you can create a strategy that allows you to easily sail over them and get to the next stage of the hiring process.

Happy hunting!

Reposted from: Forbes.com

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