For those of you who have been around the job or internship search block, you’re familiar with the dance of the phone screen. That call you get from the friendly recruiter or HR representative who saw your resume and wants to conduct a screening to get to know you a little better.
Your first thought? “Yeah, they want me. This is the interview I’ve been waiting for. I’m in!” Well, here’s the reality. The truth is, while every contact you have with someone at a place you’d like to work can be considered an interview, the phone screen is more of a litmus test than an actual interview. Let me elaborate…
Simply put, the phone screen is a means of measuring your stock as a potential candidate. It’s a way for recruiters and HR representatives to gauge your abilities to speak in complete sentences, conduct yourself in a professional manner, and make sure you won’t muddy the consideration pool with any employment red flags. But in case that’s not enough detail for you, here are a few more tidbits on understanding what the phone screening process really means.
• Brief. Phone screens are a quick and dirty screening tool meant to take only 10-15 minutes. Keep in mind the recruiter or HR representative’s goal is to make sure you’re a viable candidate worthy of passing along to the hiring team for further assessment. So keep your answers simple, stay on topic and let the interviewer lead. Playing your cards right at this beginning stage will make or break you moving to the next level of the employment game.
• A checklist. The person conducting the phone screen typically has a checklist of items they ask each candidate for legal and consistency purposes. They need to check that you have no disqualifiers for the job such as unrealistic salary expectations, start dates, relocation or work authorization issues.
• A rapport builder. You’re resume intrigued enough to make the company want to call and get to know you better. So succinctly let them know you’re just as fascinating via phone as you are on paper. Strike up some friendly banter and show the screener you have some thought and personality to go along with the attributes on your brag sheet. This will help you be a more memorable candidate. It will also help keep things fresh for the screener since they’ve probably screened several other candidates prior to your conversation.
• An opportunity to demonstrate your interest. Screeners are looking to see if you’re truly interested in their role or just a spaghetti thrower applying to any and every job on the boards seeing which applications will stick. Do your homework about the company and the position. Act interested and engaged. Make the screener feel like dialing your number was time well spent and not just another number to add to their “we’re just not that into you” pile.
A Phone Screen ISN’T…
• A personal campaign speech. As I mentioned, phone screens are meant to be quick and to the point. So this is not the occasion to launch a long-winded campaign on why you’re the “it” person for the role. You can save that for the actual interview. Instead provide high-level answers to the screener’s questions and offer to elaborate if needed. This will demonstrate your professionalism and respect for the other person’s time.
• An automatic qualifier for an interview. This is often the kiss of death for many young job seekers. They think just because someone from a company has called to screen them they’re automatically moving on to an interview. Slow. Your. Roll. In most situations, the screener is checking for basic information to pass along to the hiring manager or team for consideration.
The key word here is CONSIDERATION. The individuals who look at the screeners notes may or may not consider you to move on to the interview stage. Your safest bet is to ask the screener what the next steps in the process are and a timeline for when you’ll learn your consideration status. This way you’re being proactive without appearing entitled and can set realistic expectations for yourself.
Yolanda M. Owens is a recruiting sensei, intern whisperer and awarding-winning author of How to Score a Date with Your Potential Employer. Learn more about Yolanda and her employer “dating” tips by visiting her website or fan her on Facebook.