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Getting an Interview: 6 Tips for Phone Screen Success

A lot of candidates don’t appreciate the importance of the phone screen. If you don’t do well in this part of your job search, you could find yourself struggling to pin down an interview. Maybe you have a great background, and have perfected your resume writing skills. Hiring managers are calling you, but you aren’t being asked to interview.

If you are getting calls, then your experience is probably good enough for the job. So, if you don’t get an interview, you are almost certainly falling short at the phone screen stage.


The phone screen – what is it?


Recruiters and hiring managers typically want to speak to promising candidates over the phone, typically for no more than 5-10 minutes, before sending any interview invites. This call does a lot to help the recruiter decide who to progress to an interview.


The phone screen is a great tool to:

  • Check for communication skills, warmth, phone-manner
  • Qualify the experience on the CV
  • Check the candidate’s motivations and expectations against the role
  • Give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions


An interview can take a good chunk out of a recruiter’s day, so they want to make sure they are only spending that time on candidates who are genuinely interested in the role and who have the right skills and experience. If recruiters were to invite applicants to interview based on their CV alone, they would either have to interview many more candidates than time would reasonably allow, or they might miss the best people for the job.


How to nail your phone screen!


Expect it

The first step to success is simply to expect, and be ready for, a call from a recruiter. If you see a phone call coming in from an unknown number, don’t ignore it! If you miss the phone call, ring back. The world of recruitment is a fast-paced one, and there’s a chance a recruiter may not try you again if they have a large pool of qualified applicants.


Be friendly

You want to be warm and engaging, regardless of your industry. Communication and geniality are screened for in every candidate, for every role, even if verbal or phone communication is not an integral part of the job; hiring managers still want candidates who will be pleasant to work with, and their first insight into this is how you answer the phone.

A lot of phone screens start like this:

Candidate: “Hi,”

Recruiter: “Hi there, it’s Oliver calling from Scitex Recruitment. Is this John Smith?”

Candidate: “oh, yup.”

This is a terrible start; it makes you appear unprofessional and disinterested.

Instead, you should answer in a warm and engaging manner.

“Hi there, Lisa speaking,”

Or, “Hello, this is John. How can I help?”

Anything along those lines – at a minimum you should greet the caller and introduce yourself. I never expected to need to give advice on how to answer the phone, but surprisingly many candidates do this poorly. The first few moments of a phone call can make a real difference to your job search success.

Tip – a recruiter is more likely to overlook small gaps in your skills if your communication is really strong.


Be ready to introduce yourself

You will almost certainly be asked to set the scene for the recruiter: Why are you looking for work? How has your job search been going? What sort of work are you looking for? Have answers to these sorts of questions ready.

You might also be asked to elaborate on your experience in certain areas. You should be prepared to provide insight into your background, and give some great examples of your skills and achievements. You could have great experience but if you cannot communicate it well enough, you may not be invited to interview.

Before you start your job search, have a think about your key skills and achievements, and you will find it easier to answer these sorts of questions well.


Ask for more information

A job needs to fit you, just like you need to fit the job. This is a great opportunity to ask any questions you may have about the role, or the company. For example, you may want to double-check the responsibilities of the role, the hours, or the salary. Asking can help you understand whether the job is right for you, but also makes you appear enthusiastic, and like a genuine candidate.

If you aren’t sure which job you are being called about, say so – we understand that you have potentially applied to multiple jobs, and that keeping track of them can be difficult.


Stay natural and flexible

Be yourself, and relax. While it is great to prepare for a phone screen, you don’t want to be overly formulaic in your approach. After receiving a few phone calls, or practicing a lot, you may start to sound a little robotic. At the end of the day, this is a conversation, and you want to find the right balance between sounding friendly and natural, and still having a good idea of what you need to say.


It is okay to postpone

You may be at work, or busy with something else, whatever the reason, it is okay if you need to postpone the call. If the recruiter is doing their job well, they should ask if you have time to speak when they call you. If they have caught you at a bad time, just say so. Explain that you can’t talk now, and that they can try you again later.



Depending on the role, the phone screen could be a hugely important step for a recruiter finalising a shortlist. If a job has many different candidates who, on paper, have good enough experience, the hiring manager or recruiter will use the phone screen to choose the best few to invite for an interview.

Don’t discount the importance of this stage in your job search process. A lot of candidates spend hours fussing over their CV, and they practice interviewing, all while forgetting about this vital step in the middle. It doesn’t take much, but it could make a world of difference to your job search success.

If you aren’t getting as many phone calls as you think you should be, maybe you need to work on your CV. Check out our blog here: Resume Writing 101




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