Initial Screening Phone Interviews

As impersonal as the medium itself, the telephone interview is meant simply as a way for recruiters and human resources professionals to weed out those candidates who are not suited to the job or the company. A telephone interview can happen at any time, and since it's very important that you make a great impression here, you should always be prepared to engage in one after sending out a resume. By their very nature, telephone interviews are more like surprise interviews. They are meant to catch interested job seekers in the middle of the day to see whether they are as interested as they claim to be in their resume and cover letter. In some cases, the phone interview occurs spontaneously as part of the initial screening effort for the job. While there is no way to prepare for the timing of these interviews, you can be well prepared to field the questions that are likely to be asked. After all, the goal of the phone interview is to sound interested and intelligent enough to be invited in for a face-to-face interview.

The following example shows the most common parts of the phone interview dialogue, what the interviewer is trying to get at, and the best way to respond to the interviewer's statements and inquiries.

Interviewer: Hello, Mr. Smith. My name is Sally Smalls; I am the human resources director at Fill-in-the-Blank Corporation.

Translation: With just this simple introduction, the interviewer is hoping to hear some recognition in your voice. She wants to make sure that you remember where you sent your resume.

Best Answer: The best way to respond to this introduction is to acknowledge the person and her company. If you know something about the company offhand, you could throw it out there. A great response to this introduction would be something along the lines of “Hello. How are you? I just read that Fill-in-the-Blank is hoping to acquire Blankety Blank. Things must be pretty crazy around the office.” Keep the conversation polite and friendly and always be professional.

Think before speaking. Don't drone on and on about skills or experiences that are not really related to the job you're there to get.

Interviewer: Hello, Mr. Smith. We received your resume the other day, and I was wondering whether you had a few minutes to speak with me so that I can get a better idea of what it is you're expecting from this position.

Translation: Your resume caught our attention. Before we bring you in for a face-to-face interview, we would like to get a feel for the kind of person you are. Can I take a few minutes of your time to screen you before inviting you into the office?

Best Answer: Absolutely. Part of the test here is to see whether you are ready to talk about your qualifications and desire to work with this company at a moment's notice. From the time you start sending out your resume, always be prepared to hear from a recruiter over the phone. Above all, take it as a compliment that you received a phone call; some people don't even make it this far. If you are really taken by surprise by such a phone call and don't think you would be at your best to speak with the interviewer, don't be afraid to ask to reschedule the interview. You should, however, try to reschedule it for as soon as possible and say something along the lines of, “Right now is not a very good time, but I would be able to speak with you in another hour or so, if that would be okay.”

Interviewer: I see here that you are currently working as a sales representative for Addison Company. Why do you want to leave?

Translation: Why do you want to leave your current position?

Best Answer: Talk about your desire to branch out or grow and the lack of opportunity you have to do that with your current employer. Even if you are asked this question during a phone interview, be prepared to answer it again during a face-to-face interview. Be prepared with a strong answer to this question. Remember, whatever you say, do not slander your current employer. Tip: the best reasons to give for leaving a job include lack of growth opportunity or an unchallenging environment.

Interviewer: What led you to apply for this position?

Translation: Why do you think you would be a good match for this position, company, and industry?

Best Answer: Be honest. What are the reasons that influenced you to send your resume out to this particular company? How do you think a job with this company would benefit you? What do you want to accomplish?

Interviewer: What would your ideal job be five years from now?

Translation: Are you looking for a job or a career? If we were to hire you, would we be making an investment in the future of the company? Is there any chance that you would even be around in five years, or are you hoping to make a quick buck and get out of here?

Best Answer: With the typical career path of someone in your position in mind, describe the types of things you see yourself doing in five years. What are some of the everyday tasks you envision as being part of your job? Without giving specific job titles, give the interviewer an idea of the types of professional activities you would like to be involved in within the next several years.

Interviewer: The final part of the conversation—which should last no more than five to ten minutes total—will usually consist of the interviewer telling you a bit more about the position. She will let you know the hours, what would be expected of you, the qualifications they are seeking, and all the other pertinent information.

Translation: Are you the right person for this job?

Best Answer: Assure the interviewer that you meet if not exceed the criteria mentioned. Talk a little bit about your skills, and state your interest in the position, especially now that you've learned more about it. Remember: always be extra brief when on the phone. There will be plenty of time to talk about your myriad talents and skills when you meet this person face-to-face, which is your goal in this final answer!

Interviewer: We will begin interviewing candidates next week. Would you be interested in coming in and speaking with us a little further?

Translation: You've passed the phone screening. Now it's on to the next test!

Best Answer: “Absolutely. What day and time would work best for you?” Remember, it is very likely you will be asked the exact same questions that you were asked over the phone. While you should be careful when answering these questions a second time, you should also be aware that you will be given more time to prepare the best answer possible in the time between this interview and a real one—if there is one. Just as in a face-to-face interview, remember to always stay positive and never mention salary or anything about monetary compensation!

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