Phone Screens: Everything You Need To Know

Updated Dec 21, 202210 min
Phone Screens: Everything You Need To Know

Phone Screens: Everything You Need To Know

Elise GelwicksUpdated Dec 21, 202210 min
Phone Screens: Everything You Need To Know


 🏆 Goal

Make an excellent first impression on the phone screen, the first stage of the bona fide interview process. Knock it out of the park, so you become a front-runner going into further interviews. 🙌

📗 When to Read

You have a phone screen! Just because the interview is a quick phone call doesn’t mean you can brush it off. 

We’ll focus on phone screens in this guide. Use our comprehensive Interview Prep Guide for later-stage interviews.

🔑 #1 Tip

Plan 2-3 ways you’re going to stand out on the phone screen. Someone will be the favorite - it might as well be you!

⌚ Time Required

Plan to spend 2-3 hours preparing for every 1 hour that you’ll be interviewing. That might sound like a lot, but we promise it’s worth it.

✅ Done When

You’ll have mastered the art of the phone screen when you pass 70% of phone screens. Set that as a milestone for yourself, and celebrate when you get there!. 🎉 

For a particular phone screen, you’re ready when you can confidently speak to the following: 

  • What what the company does

  • Why you’re interested in the role

  • Who you’re interviewing with 

  • How you can add value to the organization

Setting the Stage

phone screen is typically a 30-minute, 1:1 phone call with a recruiter or someone in an entry-level position. At smaller companies, you might talk to a hiring manager or a member of the team instead. It’s almost always the first step in an interview process.

The purpose is to check for high-level alignment between your experience and the company’s needs. They want to see if you are in the ballpark of what they are looking for and assess whether it’s worth their time to invite you for the next steps. 

Many people don’t take phone screens seriously enough. It’s just a quick phone call after all, right? Not so fast. This “quick phone call” is the sole determining factor for you securing a spot in the next round of interviews. If you don’t do well on the phone screen, you won’t land the job.

The fundamental steps to set yourself up for success are:

  • Do Your Research. 

    Fully understand the role and show that you did your homework.

  • Prep your stories. 

    Build out your cheat sheet of examples that address the job description.

  • Practice! 

    Get reps under your belt with how you answer the phone, answer, and ask questions.

  • Scout a quiet location.

     Make sure you’ve got a quiet place with great reception.

Let’s walk through these steps in detail!

By the way, we know you have a ton on your plate right now as you navigate the job search, so we built the Placement App to track your pass rate for you. Easy peasy!

Preparing for Your Phone Screen

First, congratulations! When you have phone screens, you’re doing something right. 👏🏻

Do Your Research

Companies are looking to weed out people whose experience and presentation are most specifically relevant for the opportunity.

Just use our Interview Guide. There, you’ll find everything you need to know and specific walkthroughs to understand:

  • The Company Context

  • The Opportunity

  • The Interviewers 

Once you’re set with that, come back here for the next steps!

Practice Common Questions 

Phone screeners are trying to figure out if you have the baseline skills and qualities to do the job. They usually ask fairly broad questions to get a sense of your background, how you present yourself, and your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

At a basic level, you should be ready to answer the following: 

  • Tell me about yourself (stay tuned for our upcoming guide all about how to answer this question!)

  • How did you learn about this position?

  • Why are you interested in working at our company?

  • Why are you interested in this specific role?

  • What makes you an excellent fit for this position? 

  • What are your strengths?

  • What are your weaknesses?

  • What work have you done that directly relates to the work you’d be doing in this role? you’re interested in the company and position (good thing you did your research!)

  • What does your schedule look like over the next few weeks for additional interviews?*

  • When are you available to start the position if you get it?* 

💪 Get to Work: To get started, practice the questions listed above! Listen to your answers, putting yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. You’ll find lots of opportunities to improve - we all do. You can practice these answers right in the Placement app. You can also practice with a friend or with a Placement Career Coach. Getting specific feedback from people who care is immensely helpful!

If going deeper is helpful, take a half-step back right here and start with our Practicing for Interview Questions guide. There, you’ll find a deeper walkthrough of types of questions, the STAR method, and a breakdown of what to say.

* You’ll know you did an excellent job if and when you get asked about availability during the interview. Have a sense of your schedule over the upcoming weeks for further interviews. If they don’t ask, don’t worry just yet! You may well get the question via email after the interview is complete. 

Prepare Questions for the Interviewer

Just about every interview ends with the interviewer allowing you to ask a few questions. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the role and show them you’re serious about the position. 

Assuming you’re talking with someone in HR or recruiting, some great questions include:

  • Can you tell me more about the cross-functional teams I’d be working with?

  • What is the most important thing you’re looking for in a candidate?

  • What does the overall interview process look like?

If you’re doing a phone screen with a hiring manager or team member, you’ll find 20+ ideas of questions to ask in our Interview Guide.

In the case you’re talking to someone at a 3rd-party recruiting firm, you might ask:

  • You have a valuable perspective as a third-party working with the company I’m interested in. How would you describe the corporate culture?

  • Do you have a sense of the timeline the company has for filling this position?

  • What do you see as the most essential attributes in an ideal candidate for this role? 

What Not to Ask ❌

It’s also essential we cover what you definitely should NOT ask in an interview. 

DON’T ask too directly about the process:

  • Do you plan to move me to the next step?

  • How many people are you interviewing?

These kinds of questions put your interviewer in an awkward position. The interviewer will rarely provide you with a meaningful answer, so it is better to spend your time on other topics.

DON’T ask the salary range upfront:

  • What is the salary range for this position?

  • How much can I expect to make in this role?

Focus on selling the company on your value before you talk numbers. There are exceptions to this rule, but in general, you don’t want the company to perceive you as being primarily concerned with compensation.

DON’T ask directly about promotions:

  • How soon can I be promoted?

  • What promotional opportunities are there for people in this role?

  • How easy is it to transfer internally?

These kinds of questions distract from the company’s decision of whether to hire you for this role. You can ask some inquiries along these lines after you have an offer, but not before. 

DON’T ask things that a quick Google search can answer:

  • What is it like to live in Atlanta?

  • Where is your company based?

  • How many employees do you have?

These kinds of questions might do you more harm than good. You want the interviewer to perceive you as genuinely interested in the company. Asking simple trivia questions might indicate that you haven’t done your research.

The Secret Formula for Interview Day 🧪

Interview day should be significantly less nerve-wracking if you are well-prepared and have done your research. Even after all this prep, there is still more to learn. But don’t worry, we’ll give you our formula for success.

📍 Location

Scout a quiet location to take the call. Make sure you have good cell service and privacy. Turn off notifications on your phone and your laptop so you don’t get pinged during the call. Make sure you’re 100% focused on the conversation you’re having.

✅ Friendly Hello

Sometimes, people answer the phone in their “normal” voice, and as soon as they realize it’s an interviewer, they turn on their “stage” voice. #awkward. Instead, answer calls from unknown numbers with, “Hi, this is [insert first name]” and say it in an upbeat, friendly voice. 

Actually, smile when you say it. People can feel your smile through the phone, and emotions are infectious. :)

👋 Take a Minute to Connect

You’re talking to a human being, and you want to build a human-to-human relationship with them quickly and elegantly.

Find an opportunity to build rapport in the first couple of minutes of the conversation. In Practicing for Interviews Guide, you’ll find examples of friendly ways to kick off the exchange. 

Let’s take a look at a quick audio clip of how to kick off a phone screen by building rapport with the interviewer. Here’s the scenario:

Elise is starting a first-round phone interview. Her goal is to build a rapport with the interviewer personally before the more formal questions begin - listen to how she skillfully does that.

😍 Enthusiasm

Companies tend to hire people who show a lot of enthusiasm about the opportunity. If your voice tends to be a little downtempo, monotone, or nasal-y, that’s OK. Just make sure that you practice sounding warm and smooth in the first couple of minutes of the call. Opening with a friendly tone works wonders and sets the tone for the entire conversation. 

Otherwise, doubt will creep into the interviewer’s mind that you’re potentially not that excited about the opportunity, and they’ll be more likely to pick someone else to move forward with.

📝 Notes

A perk of a phone screen is that you can have notes in front of you without the interviewer knowing. What a relief! 

Have your cheat sheet open with a few bullet points to jog your memory. Don’t, please don’t, really please don’t, let the interview feel like you’re reading from a script. It feels transactional to them, which reduces your chances of moving forward. 

Keep a notepad nearby to write down any next steps mentioned or things you want to reference in your follow-up email. 

☎️ Closing

Thank the interviewer for their time and reinforce your enthusiasm about the role at the end of your phone screen. Here is an example of a strong close:

“I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed our conversation today. I can honestly say it increased my excitement about joining your team. I know my background in product design for early-stage companies will allow me to hit the ground running here. Thanks again for taking the time to talk, and I’m excited to hear about the next steps!”

After you end with your positive, enthusiastic close, don’t hang up the phone. Let the interviewer be the one to hang up the phone first. It can come across as abrupt if you preemptively hang up on them, so stay on the line until they’ve left the call. 

Just because this is so important, we’ve created an audio example so you can hear what it sounds like to close strong. Here’s the scenario: 

Before hanging up the phone, you have one last chance to win over the interviewer. Hear how Elise ends on a positive and enthusiastic note with her closing comments.

You got this! 🙌

If you follow this playbook and put in the time, you are guaranteed to win interviews over the long run. Put your best foot forward by researching the company and the role, practicing common interview questions, and applying our secret formula on the interview day.

Almost nobody passes every phone screen they participate in, so don’t worry if some don’t go your way. You only need one great company to say yes to succeed in your job search!

Phone Screen Guide Checklist ✅

Preparing for Your Phone Screen

  • Research the company and the role you’re interviewing for

  • Research the person who is interviewing you

  • Prepare your responses to anticipated questions

 The Secret Formula for Interview Day

  • Find a quiet location with strong reception for your interview

  • Always answer the phone in a friendly, confident tone

  • Kick-off the conversation by establishing rapport

  • Maintain enthusiasm throughout the interview

  • Prepare any notes you’ll need to have in front of you during your interview 

  • End the conversation by restating your excitement and reinforcing why you’re a great fit

Elise Gelwicks
Elise is a communications and emotional intelligence training consultant for companies and law firms

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