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Passing the telephone screening interview


Provided by the career experts at Robert Half Finance & Accounting

With continually increasing workloads, more hiring managers are relying on short, preliminary phone conversations to determine who should be called for interviews. Screening applicants in this manner allows managers to evaluate a person’s abilities and skills and gauge their interest and enthusiasm for the position in a relatively short amount of time. Although the phone-screen call may seem like a casual discussion, it is the key to landing the interview. In other words, you should prepare for it just as you would an in-person meeting with a prospective employer.

Expecting the unexpected

You’ve probably sent dozens of resumes and you may even have difficulty remembering those companies to which you’ve applied and your contact at each. Consider keeping a list of such information near the phone for easy reference when a hiring manager calls. Always have a pen and paper handy to jot down notes, questions and other information. And know where your list of references and resume are so that you can consult these documents if needed.

Although the conversation probably won’t be as lengthy as a one-on-one interview, the information you supply at this stage is just as important to the person making the hiring decision. Prepare by devising a list of potential questions you may be asked. Some of the most common include:

  • Can you tell me about yourself and your work history?
  • What interests you about this job?
  • What skills can you bring to the position?
  • What is it about our company that appeals to you?
  • Can you describe your last job?

Consider your responses and the key points you’d like to convey. Then rehearse your answers so that you can reply in an articulate manner. It’s also a good idea to research the company on the Internet and in industry publications to find out about recent developments or planned changes. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to ask the interviewer your own targeted questions about the firm, its culture and the position that interests you.

Getting the call

When a hiring manager contacts you, try to take the call in a quiet room to minimize potential distractions. The person to whom you’re talking should have your full attention, so be sure to discourage interruptions from others. Also, avoid using a mobile phone unless you have a strong signal, so that you minimize the risk of being disconnected.

Even though you won’t be face to face with the person interviewing you, presentation still counts – perhaps more so because he or she cannot see your expressions or body language. When talking to the hiring manager, use the same business etiquette you would for an in-person meeting. As unusual as it sounds, try smiling when you talk. Doing so will give your voice a friendly and enthusiastic lift. Also pay attention to your tone; subtle inflections play a big role in the messages you send.

Carefully listen to the interviewer’s questions and take a moment to think about your answers before responding. You don’t want to say something you’ll later regret by rattling off the first thing that comes to mind. Use complete sentences, rather than “yes” or “no” answers, and backup your assertions with real-world examples. For instance, if a manager asks about your experience working in a team-based environment, describe a past situation in which you played a role in the success of a group project.

Closing on a winning note

As the conversation wraps up, thank the interviewer for his or her time. Also be sure you understand the next step in the hiring process. If the hiring manager doesn’t suggest an in-person interview, inquire about how the company plans to proceed. For example, you may say, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and learning more about your firm. Should I expect to hear from you by a certain date?”

Being well prepared for a preliminary screen can provide you with a significant advantage in the hiring process. Although it isn’t a replacement for a face-to-face interview, making a good impression over the telephone can increase your chance of being asked to an in-person meeting and ultimately to landing the job.

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