Twenty years ago you would find a job by scanning the local paper’s Help Wanted section, not by launching a web browser. You’d then stopped by a company’s office with a freshly printed resume, fill out an application and, sometimes, talk to the hiring manager about the position. If your resume stood out, the company would ask you back for an interview and then, potentially, extend you an offer. With technology and a rise in job scarcity, it’s a whole new, very complex ball game. Applications are submitted exclusively online with keywords being more relevant than actual experience. Even if you make the short list, there are waves of interviews including phone screens, in-person meetings, panel interviews, presentation requests and more. It sounds daunting but, if you understand the dynamics of what you’re walking (or calling) into, it’s well worth the effort.

In most cases, the phone screen starts the interview process. It’s the company’s initial attempt to weed out candidates that looked good on “paper” but lack communication skills or the necessary experience to compete for the job. If you’re actively pursing a new position, it’s the interview you’ll face the most. Learn what companies attempt to gain from it and how to be engaging and informative throughout the conversation.

Never underestimate the power of preparation. Once you comprehend how to prepare, make sure you reserve time to practice just as you would for a client presentation or speech. Write out questions an interviewer is likely to ask you and request a spouse or friend to call you and simulate the experience. And make sure you ask someone that will tell you the truth about your performance. Take feedback from them on the interview and then do it again. Continue the rehearsals until you’re confident on the content and sound natural in your responses.

Locate a quite environment and find a good phone. Odds are you aren’t conducting a phone screen interview from your current employer’s office. This means either you’re at home or leaving the office for an hour to take the call. Either way, put yourself in the best position to succeed during the phone screen interview. Make sure you’re in a quiet location with no distractions. If you have an office or spare bedroom at home, reserve it for the hour so your spouse, children or roommate don’t wander in. And, if you were at work but leave the office for the conversation, talk in your car – not while driving – or at a quiet park where there is little background noise. Another environmental factor is the phone call quality. An interviewer won’t have the patience to call back three times because of your sketchy cell phone service. Use a landline or make sure your cellular service is strong at the location you’re conducting the interview from. This becomes part of your previously discussed preparation step as you’ll practice from your chosen location as much as possible.

Stand up to boost your energy and confidence. Several studies tell us that people who stand up during phone conversations sound more energized, engaged and confident. If you’re comfortable after trying it out, consider doing it throughout your phone screen interview. You can have both an interesting personality and an incredible resume but you’ll come across as much less appealing if your voice sounds flat. While some people have naturally charismatic voices, others need a little help and standing while you talk might just do the trick.

Print your resume and be knowledgeable about the position and the company. When it comes to preparation, treat a phone screen like an in-person interview. When you show up for a job interview you typically bring a pad of paper with some prewritten notes along with a resume for the interviewer. When you answer the phone for a phone screen interview, ensure you have the same things available. Though you know your experiences better than anyone, nervousness may cause you to hurry through the discussion and forget a vital point. Have your resume printed with important lines highlighted to ensure you touch on each one at some during the conversation. Don’t over do it but make sure you have a couple sheets of paper with valuable information written down too. Jot down or print out the job position information so you know what qualifications and background your potential employer seeks. Hone in on those job requirements as you talk to connect yourself directly to what the company is looking for. Employers also want to know you pay attention to what the company is doing. Take down vital statistics and a background of what the company does. Know their new lines of business and growth opportunities and be able to explain why it’s a great place to work. This preparation pays off because you come off as interested in the position and the company as well as proving you can articulate who you are and what you bring to the table.

Know what’s coming and how to respond. Since the phone screen is not an in-depth, face-to-face interview, you likely won’t be asked how to code around a specific problem or to explain a P&L statement in detail. But it won’t be a 5 minute conversation (hopefully) requesting you to recite your resume and confirm available times for another meeting. Phone screens typically come from HR employees, not hiring managers, so keep that in mind as you prepare for the call. They won’t know much about the position technically besides what the job listing says. But they need to ensure you have strong communication skills, have the background that matches the job description and your salary expectation is within the ballpark of the company’s allotted budget. Be ready for questions about your strengths and weaknesses, what your salary expectations are as well as explaining why you want to work for their company. You’ll also be asked general behavioral questions and be expected to site specific examples to prove you’re a team leader and can deal with problem teammates. As for that touchy salary question, everyone handles it differently. You could give an honest answer of your target salary or just tell the interviewer what you currently make with the unspoken assumption that you’ll want some sort of raise. It’s important to explain, either way, that you don’t want to get hung up on a specific number because there are other factors to consider in evaluating a job offer. Phone screen interviews are much more predictable than follow up interviews; be prepared with details and examples and you’ll do well.

Close the call with grace and excitement. The phone screen interview typically concludes with the interviewer asking if you have any final questions. There is no need to ask how you did or if you passed the screen. You won’t get a direct answer. Instead of awkward questions about your performance assessment, take the time to ask last minute questions about the role and company’s organizational structure. Thank the interviewer for their time and ask them if you can provide any follow up information or materials to help in their evaluation. Also, obtain their contact information, if possible. After the call is complete make sure to send a thank you note or email and follow up in a week or two if you haven’t heard back to remind them of your interest in the position.  

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