5 Things You Should Know About a Phone Screen Interview

Posted by Bill Branstetter
phone screen interview

I want to share with you my objective, as a recruiter and a hiring manager, during an initial phone screen with you.

By this time in the hiring process, I’ve already seen enough in your resume to warrant a conversation. I typically save the in-depth discussion of your experience and qualifications, your technical skills, culture fit, personality, etc. for the second interview. During the initial phone screen, I’m trying to answer one main question: Why does my job make sense for you?

This isn’t going to win me any popularity points, but my questions are designed to screen out candidates who are applying for the wrong reasons. Maybe you’ve been unemployed for a while and you just need something to pay the bills. Maybe you hate your current boss/job and would take anything just to get out of that environment. Maybe you’re just chasing more money regardless of what the job entails. I only want to move to the next step in the hiring process if I can determine that you’re likely to be a long-term, satisfied employee.

The first items I want to discuss are your employment status and your motivation for considering my opportunity. Are you currently working? If you are, what’s going on in your job that’s causing you to consider other opportunities? If you’re unemployed, how long has it been? I’m looking for red flags here. If you talk about job dissatisfaction, I’m trying to discern if the problem is with your current company or with you. If you’ve been unemployed for months, I want to know why other companies haven’t hired you already. If there aren’t opportunities for growth in your current company and you’re ready for a new challenge, that’s a good reason to look elsewhere.

Then I want to understand your career trajectory. Where have you been and where are you going? What do you want to be doing in 5-10 years? If my job isn’t an obvious stepping stone toward that goal, I suspect you’re potentially taking my job for the wrong reasons. If you’re going to school for nursing, but my job is in information technology, will you quit my job for a medical position as soon as you can find one? If you’ve been a manager/team lead for a few years and my job is only as a team member, why would you take that step back?

It might be taboo to discuss compensation in the first interview, but I usually ask the question, “What would you like to make?” This question is meant to save us both time in case I can’t afford you. Nobody wants to waste their time going through a multiple interview hiring process only for it to fall apart at the end because the compensation didn’t match up.

Candidates tend to hate these questions because they believe by answering, they’re giving me the keys to lowball their offer. While this concern makes logical sense, it’s not likely to happen simply because I want you to be with us long-term and because I despise refilling positions. If you’re unemployed and I give you a lowball offer, you may accept it, but I know you’re going to keep looking for another job that pays more. Eventually, you will find it. Even if you are currently employed, you may take my job but keep pursuing better-paying opportunities. That’s not a win-win scenario.

When you start work with my company, I want you to feel valued, that you are paid fairly, excited at the next chapter in your career, and that you can finally end your job search. That’s only going to happen if I make you a competitive offer and the job makes sense for you.

Bill Branstetter

Bill Branstetter is the Director of Recruiting for 9th Way Insignia. He’s also the author of The Six Second Resume. Follow Bill on LinkedIn.


This entry was posted on Monday, March 08, 2021 7:18 pm

3 thoughts on “5 Things You Should Know About a Phone Screen Interview”

  1. The best article I have seen on the subject for a long long time.

    If you are open to helping me a bit, please check out my LinkedIn profile and call me

  2. That sounds like someone my age would be screened out because I probably won’t have a long career with your company. I’m very qualified, have certifications and clearances. I want to relocate to Florida for health. I’m only submitting my resume for jobs that I want and think I will do really well. Do recruiters ever look at the average stay with the company before they screen out the old people?

  3. You’re forgetting about the potential candidates’ consideration of the work experience he or she might be getting if they work for you.

    Candidates want employment that compliments their academic achievements and past work experience OJT.

    Many companies, targeting a business area they want to break in to, will look for a candidate with a particular expertise.

    At a second or third interview, hiring managers will lie to the candidate touting corporate capability they (the potential employer) do not have (on the assumption that the new-hire will find this out in the too late post-hire period) so the new hire can teach them.

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