Questions to Ask in a Telephone "Screening" Interview

No one, especially candidates, likes telephone screening interviews. They are one dimensional, and even the people who conduct them aren't thrilled. But they are very popular and lots of companies do them.

If you have to conduct a telephone interview, make sure you establish a few things. Conduct the interview on a land telephone line. Do it at a private place with no distractions. Never do it on a cell phone while you are driving. Be focused and be ready. In the next few pages, we'll discuss the questions you can ask to give you a better chance of getting a face-to-face interview.

Remember, you can't get enough information over the phone, especially in an initial telephone screen, to make a decision about the job. So, unless there is a total mismatch (i.e., there is 75% travel in the job and you can't do that), don't eliminate yourself from the interviewing process at this time. Get the face-to-face interview.

If the interviewer is a screener, reread the above section about questions to ask an internal recruiter, human resources representative, or third-party internal screener. He or she will usually have a list of standard questions to begin asking you. If you can, try to interject a question near the beginning of being questioned. Why? Because then you start asking questions, and when you ask the questions, you will begin to control the interview!

So, if the person interviewing you asks, "How many years of experience in our business do you have?" You ask, "Well, how many would be ideal for the job?" If the person answers you, then you ask, "Tell me, what kind of experience and background would be perfect for the job?" Once the person starts answering that kind of question, you keep asking questions and getting answers. The more information you get, the better you will be able to "customize" your experience when you restate to that person the information he or she wants in the light of your own background. Ask factual questions and be ready to sell the face-to-face interview. In fact, the overall question you want to ask in a telephone screen situation, is: When can we get together face to face?

Open-ended, factual questions that give you information by which you can sell the face-to-face interview is what you want to ask. Many of the questions to ask over a telephone interview are similar to those you'd ask of a screener. But, remember that a telephone interview is two-dimensional, so listen closely to how the interviewer responds.

What is your role in the interviewing process?

The answer tells you how much authority this person has.

Can you describe the ideal candidate?

If the screener reads it off to you, you know he or she doesn't know much about what he or she is doing. It might be difficult to tell over a phone interview whether the screener is reading, but you can usually tell by a change in his or her voice pattern.

Is this an addition or a replacement? Why?

If the person doesn't know, don't embarrass them. Just move on.

When would you like to fill the position?

Nonthreatening question and should be easy for the screener to answer.

Who will be doing the initial interviewing?

Again, you need to know, and it tells you who the next step is with.

Remember, after about 20 minutes, any telephone screening/interview begins to get old. So, about the time you sense it, say something like, "Based on what we have discussed, my experience and background fit well. When can we get together?"

If the interviewer/screener says, "Well, we will get back to you if we are interested." You now have the hiring authority's name, so call that person and state that you had a telephone conversation with_. Tell that person that you fit what the company is looking for and you'd like to meet with him or her face to face.

If the telephone screener is the hiring authority, which happens 50% of the time, your questions can be a lot more professional and direct. You don't have to worry as much about embarrassing him or her with what he or she doesn't know.

Your goal is to still sell the face-to-face interview—the next step. But you can still have a good conversation on the telephone if you ask questions. Again, don't eliminate yourself over the phone. And again, when you ask questions, you control the interview.

In the next section, we will discuss initial interview questions you can ask that make you look good when the interviewer is the hiring authority. You can ask some of the same questions when you are on the phone with the hiring authority. The difference is that when you are on the phone, you will want to close for the face-to-face interview faster: "It sounds like we need to get together, face to face. Would tomorrow afternoon work for you?"

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