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Kristen Fife's Blog

Initial Contact - The Phone Screen

2009-04-14 23:37:03

A friend of mine living in a high-unemployment state (OR - 9%) asked me some questions about phone screens and reminded me that I should probably blog about it. So, here you are.

Nowadays, it’s pretty standard for someone to contact you for a phone screen if you look good on paper. Generally the initial contact is from someone in HR/Recruiting. This conversation is to ask you some general questions about your background, but it is also to assess your verbal skills. It is *also* his/her goal to establish your compensation range (I’ll discuss this in a later blog post).

Here are a few pointers to ensure that the phone screen gives a good first impression.

-Be flexible in your times
Lunch, early/late hours. If you are currently employed try and block time weekly for your conversations. Remember, recruiters work business hours although they may be willing to call you later or earlier.

*Make sure you use a phone that has clear reception (ie avoid SKYPE), and go to a place where you will be undisturbed. No kids, pets, traffic, music, TV, or interruptions. Make sure your cell phone is charged and you have reception. (I’ve gone to my car many times). Have a pen and paper handy to take notes to ask additional questions.

-Remember that the person on the other end may be typing, so keep your responses conversational, don’t just start rattling off what sounds like a canned answer. *Listen* to the question, don’t assume that all phone screens will ask you the same thing. Stay engaged with the person at the other end. If the question can be interpreted more ways than one, ask for which track the person is asking. For example, I had a phone screen for a recruiting position, and the Director of HR asked me about my experience talking about salaries. I asked her to clarify. Did she want an example of salary negotiation with a candidate, or re-leveling a position with a hiring manager for a candidate that was over/underqualified but was a great candidate, or was she asking what tools/methodology I have used for industry compensation analysis? The fact that I asked this question with a question answered *her* inquiry, because obviously I *do* have experience with “salaries”.

-If a recruiter calls you unexpectedly, do *not* get flustered and ask, “where are you calling from again? I’m sorry, I’ve sent out so many resumes…” This is one of the fastest ways to take you *out* of the running. Know what companies you have applied to. Keep a spreadsheet if necessary. Fake it if you need to. “Hi, this isn’t a good time for me to talk. Can we set up a time later this week?” Then ask for them to send you an email confirmation, this lets you know their company as well as their name.

This initial phone call is also a chance for you to engage. You *should* ask questions (and you should avoid questions regarding benefits and vacation, etc.)

-Research the company.
Use all the tools available to you to get to know the company, their product/service, their market share. Do your homework. Find out as much as you can. LinkedIn, SEC Filings/annual reports, Hoover’s, press releases, white papers/case studies, marketing materials, professional contacts inside the company or their clients.

-Prepare questions about the company, the position, the team, the role. For example, why is this position open? (Backfill for someone, if so find out if they were promoted or is it a new position?)

If your initial phone screen goes well, some companies set up a follow up phone screen with a member of the hiring team. Generally, this conversation will drill more deeply into your industry and professional knowledge. Expect in depth questions about your past. Make sure you are familiar with *everything on your resume* and can discuss projects and relevant experience. If you are working with a headhunter, you can pretty much expect this to happen.

Remember, this is your first “live” contact with your potential new employer. Be professional yet engaging. I’ve had candidates start rattling off information by rote. This puts them in the “slush pile”.

Hopefully, you will make a great first impression and the company will want to bring you in for interviews.

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Rico Rumph: Re: - Initial Contact - The Phone Screen
2010-09-01 07:19:01

Great information! please tell me about initial questions they may or may not ask? Could you send me a list of possiable questions? What are some questions I should ask of them?

Kristen Fife: Author Reply
2010-09-22 00:28:47

Hi Rico,
Assuming you are in the US, it is illegal to ask you any questions regarding your ethnic background, marital/family (children) status, religious beliefs, gender or age. It *is* legal to ask you if you can legally work in this country. You may legally be asked if you can work during the core business days/times the business is open.

There are a vast amount of resources on the internet for illegal questions and responses. I'd look up "behavioral based interviewing" to understand the sorts of questions you will be asked.

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