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January 24, 2018

5 Tips to Ace a Surprise Phone Screen Interview

If you’re open to new job opportunities, you know it’s smart to keep your resume updated. But did you know it’s equally important to be ready for a phone screen interview – which could happen at any time?

And are you ready?

A headhunter may find you through a personal referral or LinkedIn and give you a call. Make no mistake – this “chat” is an interview! And typically fewer than half of those screened move on to the next step. Here’s how to make sure you’ll be on that short list.

To ace that phone interview:

  1. Make a positive impression in the first few seconds. Do you consistently answer your phone in an upbeat, friendly tone of voice? Does your voicemail greeting identify you, at least by first name, and sound likeable and professional? If not, fix it now!
  2. Make a judgment call if you can’t talk now. If it’s a terrible time or place to talk, offer to call back – in the shortest possible amount of time. Otherwise, talk to them now, because phone screening is often done on a hurried basis and they may not be willing to reschedule. If you’re driving, pull over before continuing the conversation.
  3. Don’t fly blind. If you’ve been applying to jobs, have those descriptions instantly accessible near your phone. You don’t want to be wondering, “Which job is this about?” or doing a frantic internet search while you’re doing a phone interview. If you don’t have your entire resume memorized (and who does?) keep that handy, too. You can even look at notes about how to answer key questions. Just don’t read a script, because it will sound . . . like you’re reading a script.
  4. Be prepared for those tricky questions about salary. A wrong answer can knock you out of the running or result in less pay.
  • If asked “How much are/were you making?”, it may be wise to politely decline to answer, especially if you have been underpaid or overpaid.
  • If the question is “What salary are you looking for?” try to get the recruiter to tell you the range they have budgeted for the position, then say “That’s a reasonable ballpark, and I’m sure that once we agree I’m a good fit for the job we’ll be able to agree on a salary that’s fair.”
  • If they insist that you name a figure, say “I’ve done some research and I’m seeing salaries from $X to $X.” Then use the “I’m sure once we agree” language above.
  1. Get ready for these common interview questions as well:
  • Can you tell me a little about yourself? (Know your key selling points – the top two to five outstanding skills or accomplishments that will make you stand out – and incorporate those into your answer.)
  • Are you interested in this job? (If approached about a job you hadn’t thought about, err on the side of expressing interest. You can always change your mind later.)
  • Why are you interested in this job? (Express enthusiasm about the role and company.)
  • Can you tell me about your current or most recent job? (Describe it in terms of what’s relevant to the job the recruiter is calling about, and include accomplishments.)
  • What are your reasons for leaving your current or most recent job? (Keep it brief and positive.)
  • Can you tell me about (tricky situation on your resume such as a gap in employment or lack of a key skill or credential)? (Prepare carefully!)
  • What questions do you have for me? (Ask about the job and the company, but stay away from salary, benefits, hours, etc.)

Remember, a phone screen interview for your dream job could happen when you least expect it. Be ready!

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