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Don’t phone it in: six steps to nailing your next phone screening

So you received that glorious call from a prospective employer who’s impressed with your job application – but before they meet you, they want to “ask you a few quick questions” on the phone.

However casual these questions might seem, it’s known as a phone screening – and it could be the difference between getting an interview and missing out altogether.

Organisations often use phone screenings as their first port of call – essentially, to narrow down a large pool of promising applicants to those worth bringing in for a face-to-face interview.

And that means you should take a phone screening just as seriously as you would a physical interview.

But without the opportunity to wow your interviewer in person, how can you convince them you’re the right candidate for the role?

Careers writer Judith Stock has these six steps to nailing your next phone screening:

1. You can’t be too prepared

Just a like a face-to-face job interview, a phone screening requires preparation. Your interviewer should give you some time for this by asking when you’ll be available to answer some questions. If possible, give yourself at least a few hours to prepare. If you answer the phone and the interviewer wants to ask some questions right there and then, let them know you need a few hours, and ask if they can call back – or you can call them back – at a more convenient time.

Start your preparation by perusing the organisation’s website, including the ‘about’ page, the organisation’s history, current leaders and staff, and any controversies or recent news. Read up as much as you can!

Next, brainstorm some likely questions and rehearse the answers aloud.

Then prepare a couple of questions for your interviewer that demonstrate your competence as well as your interest in the organisation and the job. Your phone-screen interviewer may or may not give you a chance to ask questions, but it’s worth having them just in case.

Try questions like, ‘What specific skills and experience are you looking for?’ and ‘How do you see this position contributing to the success of the organisation?’

And try to find a photo of the person interviewing you – their LinkedIn profile or the organisation’s website are great places to do this – because it’s always easier to chat to someone if you know what they look like.

2. Attend to housekeeping

The last thing you want is to be disturbed by noise or visitors, so find a quiet room where family or flatmates won’t interrupt you. Let others know you’re not to be disturbed – lock the door or put up a sign if need be.

While a landline is the most reliable option for a phone screening, many people no longer have one – so make sure your mobile phone is fully charged and has strong reception.

And before you start, get the interviewer’s phone number just in case you get disconnected.

3. Dress for success

Tempted to sit in bed in your trackies? Don’t – research shows that how you hold your body has a big impact on your mental state. You’ll likely feel more confident and sound more professional if you dress up and sit as though you’re going to an in-person interview.

Because you can’t rely on your body language or facial expressions to convey your enthusiasm, make sure you smile – that positivity will come through on the phone. Another great trick is to set up a mirror in front of you to monitor your facial expressions – and keep a glass of water nearby to quench a dry throat, too.

4. Take advantage of being invisible

During a phone screening, the recruiter or hiring manager obviously can’t see you – which means they also can’t see your notes, ‘cheat sheets’ or laptop.

Lay out any materials that might benefit your interview – like your CV, the position description and any other notes you’ve made – in front of you for easy reference.

5. Nail the three Cs: concentration, conciseness and courtesy

Tempted to scroll through your social feeds or check your email as you chat? Concentration is key to nailing your answers so take notes, remove anything likely to distract you and don’t multitask.

Phone screenings are generally shorter than face-to-face interviews, so keep your responses short and to the point to make an impression in the time you have. You can always ask if they want more information after a short answer.

Finish the conversation by asking the interviewer when you can meet them in person. And no matter how the screening goes, don’t forget to say thanks – professionalism and politeness never go out of fashion.

6. Follow up

Send a brief thank-you email to your interviewer no more than 24 hours after the phone screening. Thank them for the opportunity, summarise what you talked about and restate your interest in the role.

And if you really want to make an impression? Include a link to an interesting news article that’s relevant to something you might have spoken about on the phone.

A lack of non-verbal cues can make phone screenings a little tricky. But with the right attitude and a little preparation, you could find yourself invited in for a face-to-face interview – and that’s when you can really show them you’re the right person for the job.

How do you prepare for phone screenings? Share your tips in the comments below!

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