Ring! Ring! Hello?! Your next job is calling! How to be prepared for a phone screen.



In Episode 13 of my podcast, Jess Get Hired, I cover the dreaded recruiter phone screen. Everyone seems to agree that the interview process is lengthy enough; therefore, why is a phone screen a necessary step? Getting a phone call regarding a job opportunity is exciting if you are actively looking for work. When you throw in the fact that you have to speak with someone, it becomes even more nerve-wracking. Congratulations are in order if you've been filling out job applications and the phone finally rings and they want to talk to you! This is known as a phone screen, and it is the first step in getting a conversation with the hiring manager for the job you applied for. What will you do next? How can you get ready?

Why is the recruiter phone screen necessary?

Many people have created polls about the interview process on LinkedIn. I've seen comments about how the phone screen is redundant, and that candidates should receive the first call from the hiring manager. Recruiters are viewed as stumbling blocks in the hiring process. The recruiter phone screen, however, is a very much needed step because it is their role to narrow down the best candidates possible that meet the job qualifications. Also, without recruiters, we would have an even bigger problem with turnover. Can you envision a hiring manager that only hires warm bodies to fill unfilled positions? There would be a surge of unqualified workers competing for skilled jobs, leading to low production. Companies would then go through yet another lengthy recruitment process to find the best candidate for the job, spending a fortune on marketing, hiring, onboarding, and training. In the end, they would be hiring for the same position and it would be a revolving door of spending money.

Recruiters are a critical part of any growing organization.

Recruiters were deemed as "non-essential" during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many recruiters, including myself, were furloughed or laid off. Now that hiring is back in full swing, there don't appear to be enough recruiters, and businesses are eager to fill their positions. A previously unimportant job is now one of the most in-demand jobs for 2021-2022. Having said that, recruiters are an important part of the process, and a phone screen is the first step in getting your foot in the door. Recruiters act as a company culture QA department, ensuring that you meet the quality standards that the company is looking for and then assuring them that you're the right person for the job. If you treat recruiters properly, they can become your best friend! A recruiter's job is to also identify the best talent available. They review a large number of resumes, narrow down candidates based on specific skills and experience, and then determine if you meet the company's target compensation and future career goals. You will not be okay to continue to the next stage of the interview process if you do not get past them. So, is a phone screen usually needed? Naturally, if you ask me, I'll say yes! Recruiters must help make sure that what you put on paper matches up to what you tell us over the phone. We need to hear the voice that is hidden behind your resume. We also want to hear about your experience, get a sense of your personality, and see what you're looking for in a company before we can share any additional information with you that cannot be written on a job description. So the recruiter phone screen is the first step in getting closer to the job you're trying to apply for.

Recruiters can be your new BFF

Recruiters genuinely want to help you get the job you want. It is critical to develop positive relationships with the person who might just call you to offer you a job. Although the recruiting community is large, the networks are small. For many positions, we rely on referrals or past candidates for future openings. I've called on candidates for other roles who I was particularly impressed with or with whom I had a good rapport. I still communicate with a few candidates who I know have exceptional talents, but we had to hire someone else. I always refer these same candidates to open jobs I see online or when my colleagues ask if I have any referrals. Recruiters sometimes get a bad reputation because we can be the best call and the worse call you get. If we reject you for a position, it's not always up to us to decide whether you get the job or not. How you react and later interact with us can make a huge difference. So be kind - Recruiters are here to help you shine! Learn to network with them even if you don't get a position. You never know when they can help you in the future.

Not all companies will have a recruiter call. Smaller companies will have the manager or HR person call directly. If this happens, you still need to be prepared! An important step to getting the job you want after you submitted the application, is simple: Answer your phone!

Treat your job search like a business. Your customers, aka Recruiters or Managers, cannot hire you if you don't answer your phone!

Change your Voicemail

People no longer answer the phone anymore unless they know who is calling. One aspect of the process that tends to be overlooked is your voicemail greeting. If you are unable to answer the phone, is your voicemail greeting professional enough to make a good impression? I've heard so many crazy voicemail greetings that have left me to question if I should even call someone back. Everything from, "Hey - wazzzz up - it's your girl - JG - holla back at me." to "Yo - you know I don't answer my phone so text - peace!" and the list could go on........

If you're looking for work, you should start thinking of yourself as your own company. Your customers are recruiters and managers. If you don't answer the phone or set up your voicemail, it's a waste of everyone's time. Many companies will use text messaging or email, but we have to talk to you eventually, so answering the phone is the quickest way to get through the hiring process. You will create a good impression if your voicemail is clear and concise. They will be more likely to leave a message.

A phone screen is your chance to make a good first impression.

The First Call

What can you expect when you get someone to call you about your application? Preparing your elevator pitch or elevator speech is important. An elevator pitch is how you would describe something in the time it would take you to ride up or down an elevator. Most elevator pitches should be under 1 minute. The phone screen is a chance for the recruiter or manager to get to know you. What are a few things you want people to know about you?

There are several templates online to help, but this should not sound scripted or rehearsed. Use the examples below to set up a good framework of what to include in your elevator pitch, but remember to practice until this comes out more natural.

Elevator Pitch Examples for Interviews:

  • Introduce yourself by stating your name, years of experience in the role or industry, a fun fact or a personal goal, and what you are looking for in a career/position.

  • Describe where you went to school, major, areas of study as it relates to the job you applied for, and the type of roles you are looking for (For Entry Level)

  • Tell them about your most relevant experience, any successful projects or big budgets you had to handle, most recent accomplishment, what the company could gain if they hired you

Your elevator pitch is your game opener. It should hook in the person listening to want to learn more about you. The phone screen is about kicking off a good conversation, and your elevator pitch is the start of what needs to be a good flowing discussion. When they ask, "Tell me about yourself" or "What should I know about you?" this is where a solid pitch is important.

Do's:

  1. Write out your accomplishments. Keep a list of your skills and experience. Use this list to write your elevator pitch in a number of different ways.

  2. Practice your pitch often! It should sound natural and not scripted. Be relatable.

  3. Keep your introduction to less than 1 minute.

  4. What is a fun-fact about you? Keep this in your back pocket for any follow up questions.

  5. Depending on the role you are applying to - remember key metrics and bring it up if it makes sense.

  6. What can you bring to the table if you were hired? Include this as the "hook" and don't forget to ask if they want to learn more.

  7. Be confident! Show your personality!

Don'ts:

  1. Don't overshare! Stick to relevant topics or facts about yourself.

  2. Don't freeze up! This is why practice makes perfect. The best pitches are short and sweet. Don't add pressure to yourself and let it come out naturally.

  3. Don't exaggerate. There's a difference between bragging about your accomplishments and having proof to back it up, and then there's exaggerating to the point where the examples you give sound unrealistic and unreal.

Don't bash your previous employer or your former boss!

Phone screens generally take 15-30 minutes. After the introduction phase, most of the questions will center around your work experience. The questions will also focus your skills, why you are looking for work, what you are looking for in your next role, and target compensation. Here are some additional tips to help get you through the next few minutes of the phone screen:

Questions related to work experience

Knowing the start and end dates of employment is important. You should memorize your resume so that you can recall where you worked, when you worked there, and what you did. It surprises me when candidates can't recall timelines, but it happens. Address any employment gaps that may exist. If you have downtime in between jobs, you should be prepared to discuss what you were doing and why.

If you are currently employed, you should also be prepared to explain why you want to leave. This is not the time or place to express your frustrations with your current employer. It's also best not to bring up how bad your boss is or how big of a jerk they are. When conversations start down this path, I imagine what kind of employee you might become, and it's a total turnoff.

Highlight any major projects, high-volume accounts, impressive statistics under your control, or major milestones you were a part of.


Questions about what you are looking for in a company/career

Think about things that are truly important to you. Is it work-life balance? The ability to work remotely? Is it the ability to move up quickly? Is company culture important to you? Are you looking for a company that provides good benefits or training programs? Do you want a job that has more/less travel? Take an honest look at the items that are most meaningful to you and be willing to tell them what you expect to gain by switching companies. Make a list of what you like about your current organization and what it lacking. This question is typically asked to determine where you see yourself and how you might fit into what they have to offer.

Know your worth. Don't be afraid to ask for what you know you deserve, but don't be unrealistic.

Compensation Questions

The compensation question is always the most awkward part of the conversation. Depending on when the interviewer asks you, it can interrupt a good flowing conversation if asked near the end of your screening. If you are interviewing for roles within the same industry and that are similar to what you were doing in the past, you should have a good gauge of what the market rate is for your position. A rule of thumb is to take your current salary and add about 15-20% and then provide them with a $5K-$10K pay range to work with.

To understand compensation, avoid going to salary or job board websites. These sites are untrustworthy because they rely on data entered by employees. The sites provide an average of what candidates entered, which is often inflated. Besides that, the sites do not take into account the average cost of living or the location of the jobs. Instead, visit the Department of Labor or the Bureau of Labor Statistics websites to obtain a more accurate picture of salary and compensation expectations.

The compensation question is also a good time to turn the tables and ask the interviewer, "what is the budget for this position?" or "Can you tell me more about the benefits your offer, any bonuses available, and what the target comp is for this role?"

Asking them for more information allows you to determine whether the benefits and budget are something you are willing to consider. Don't be too optimistic. It's unlikely that if you asked for a million dollars and an expense account, you'd get it one. Conduct market research and keep in mind your previous salary history. Don't be afraid to throw out the number that makes the most sense and ask them, "does that fit within the budget for this role?" and see what they tell you. You might be surprised to see what they say next!

Questions to ask

The final step of the phone screen will focus on questions that you might have. You want to make sure you get all of your questions answered before hanging up the phone. Remember, they called you. You have their full-attention so use this time to your advantage! A few questions you might ask include:

  • What does the rest of the interview process look like after this?

  • How many other interviews will there be? Will it be a video call or will I be expected to meet in person?

  • If I'm moved to the next interview, can you tell me about anything I should know or do to prepare?

  • Can you tell me more about the hiring manager? How do they like to manage their team?

  • Is there anything in my background that you feel like I should go into more detail about?

  • Would there be any reason why you would NOT move me forward?

Don't be afraid to ask for the next interview. Also, get the recruiter's contact information. Most candidates don't send thank you emails anymore, so this is still a nice touch when you can thank them for their time.

Let the phone screen be a nice, professional conversation with your new bestie - Your Recruiter! Don't forget to follow up if weren't able to score the next interview right away. The foundations of "getting to know you" are going to be important to take the call to the next step towards your new career.

Listen to the Jess Get Hired Podcast on your favorite podcast platform for more tips or visit www.jessgethired.com. Episode 13 - The Recruiter Phone Screen is now available on iTunes, Spotify, Audible, Google Podcast, Anchor, and more!


ABOUT the AUTHOR

Jessica Fiesta George is a Talent Acquisition Mastermind and Hiring Miracle Architect. She has spent the last 15 years developing strong talent acquisition strategies for start-ups and mid-sized businesses. She is currently the Head of Talent Acquisition for Atlantic Street Capital Advisors, Inc., a private equity/management consulting firm, where she advises all portfolio companies on how to develop agile and robust talent attraction and retention programs. Jessica also hosts her own podcast, Jess Get Hired. The podcast if for jobseekers, business professionals, the underemployed, and the unappreciated employee. Her topics cover how to find jobs, how to recruit candidates, personal branding, and how to get ahead in the workplace. Most recently, Jessica was named Top Female Podcast Host in the Recruiting category. Her podcast was also ranked #9 out of 60 Talent Acquisition podcasts in 2021 according to Feedspot, and Top 20 Recruiting Podcasts in 2021 by Welp Magazine. To learn more or connect, visit her website: www.jessgethired.com or connect with her on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/fiestageorge).


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