how to answer screening interview questions

As a hiring manager, you know what a good resume and cover letter look like. You also know that despite their promises, they might fail to deliver the candidate you need. The phone interview questions you ask during this first round of vetting will be a critical piece of winnowing the field and making a successful hire.

Time always matters, so you should be both efficient and strategic during this initial call. Questions for a screening interview will touch on whether a candidates hard skills, experience, education and certifications are right for the open position. But as you check off the boxes, pay attention to soft skills and how the candidate presents during the call. At the end of a phone screen interview, you want to be confident a candidate can do the job and also mesh well with your organizational culture.

Open-ended or technical questions aren’t necessary at this stage of the hiring process. A screening interview is typically a 15- to 30-minute phone call. Your objective here is to narrow your list of top candidates to the handful you want to consider for formal interviews. That’s when you can go deep.

Read on for some tips for what to look for — including red flags — along with phone interview questions to ask during this first call, and what comes next.

1 What type of management style do you prefer?

Employers may ask about your ideal management style to see whether or not you would fit well with the supervisor that will be managing you. For example, if you prefer to work with a trusting, collaborative manager that creates a calm, creative working environment, you might not work well with more fast-paced, aggressive leadership styles.

Example answer: “While I’m flexible in working with many different personality types, I’ve found that the management style I thrive most under is both trusting and involved. While I don’t like to feel micromanaged, I do very much enjoy quality one-on-one time on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas for the projects I’m working on and how I can do better in my role.”

Why are you looking for jobs?

Employers might ask this question during your phone interview to see if there are any red flags about your employment situation. If you are currently employed but are looking for new jobs, simply explain why. You should make your answer focused on your career instead of personal reasons or small preferences like hours or commute time. For example, you might be looking for new jobs because there are few opportunities for growth or movement in your current role.

If you’ve been let go for some reason, explain in a positive way that you and your employer decided it would be best for you to find a better fitting opportunity. You should address the ways you’ve been using your time to improve your skills and work styles.

Example answer: “I’m looking for opportunities to start my career as a project coordinator. Working as an executive assistant has given me abundant experience in managing and organizing schedules, so I’m ready to take the next step in my career. I feel especially qualified for this particular position because I’ve worked in the retail industry in my last two administrative roles. I’m more than ready to start my project coordination career and would be excited for it to be with your company.”

Why are you applying for this position?

Another common question, “Why are you applying for this position?” or “What about this job interests you?” tells employers whether or not you are serious and have a genuine interest in pursuing the position. To answer this question, use details listed in the job description that made you want to apply. This can be duties listed in the job description, details about the company or something about the job that aligns with your career goals.

Example answer: “I’ve been working for several years on gaining skills in your industry. I feel I have the knowledge, skills and qualifications you’re looking for, along with a unique perspective coming from a different industry. I am passionate about working in the environmental protection space, and it is time for me to make a change. I feel your company is the perfect place for me to do that.”

But First: Why Are Phone Interviews a Thing?

Phone interviews are, as you can imagine, convenient. As former recruiter and Muse career coach Angela Smith points out, “If there are a lot of candidates and you’re just trying to narrow down who to bring in for an in-person interview, sometimes a phone interview can be super helpful.” Especially if someone lives out of state, it saves the hiring manager from having to pay for the person to fly in and interview in the flesh (and saves the candidate from having to take that time to travel).

What are they looking for in that phone call? Usually it’s very high level: “They’re screening for risks, they’re trying to validate your qualifications, and they want to see if you’re a fit,” says Muse career coach Tina Wascovich. In other words, she says, “Who are you, what do you know about us, [and] why do you want to work here?”

Of course, it’s entirely possible you’ll get asked very specific questions that are unique to the job or your field. But more often than not—and usually in addition to those behavioral or technical questions—you’ll get asked the following in a phone interview:

Most Common Phone Interview Questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Why are you looking for work?
  • Why are you interested in working here?
  • What’s something you worked on that you’re proud of?
  • Tell me about a challenge you encountered and how you solved it.
  • When can you start?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Do you have any questions for me?
  • “The old adage that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression is very pertinent here,” said Lesia Harhaj, director of career success at the engineering bootcamp Fullstack Academy. “This is your first introduction to the company and potentially to the team. This person will be the person recommending whether or not you should go forward.”

    While all phone interviews are different, they do follow a similar blueprint, Harhaj added. At this stage, recruiters ask questions to determine whether or not you can do the job and be successful at the company.

    You don’t need to go into too much depth with your answers, but you should be able to succinctly tie your past experiences to the job opportunity, said Amanda Augustine, a career expert at TopResume.

    This can be tricky for all interviewees regardless of experience level, she explained. More experienced candidates tend to have trouble editing down everything they’ve done in their careers to specifically answer the questions. Early-career interviewees might struggle with sticking to the etiquette of the phone interview and providing job-relevant responses.

    “Interviews are always unnerving,” Augustine said. “It never feels natural, whether you’re five months or 25 years into your career. We just don’t do it enough to feel natural.”

    Whether you’re just starting out or looking to change jobs, it helps to know what questions to expect during a phone interview.

    More on Job Interviews30 Great Job Interview Tips From the Experts

    FAQ

    How do you answer a screening question?

    Thoroughly answer each question without providing too much detail, just as you would in an actual in-person or phone interview. If the questionnaire includes space in which to answer each question, don’t exceed the space given. Keep your answers concise but complete.

    What questions are asked in a screening interview?

    Let’s take a look at the five most common questions asked by HR during screening interviews and how you should approach them.
    • Why are you interested in this position? …
    • Tell me about yourself. …
    • Why are you leaving your current job? …
    • What do you know about the company? …
    • What questions do you have for me?

    How do you pass a screening interview?

    7 Tips for Acing the Initial Screening Interview
    1. Don’t be so available. That’s right – don’t answer your phone. …
    2. Review the job description. Prior to calling back, thoroughly review the job description. …
    3. Call from a quiet location. …
    4. Learn about the company. …
    5. Be timely with tests. …
    6. Be transparent. …
    7. Be enthusiastic.

    What do you say in a pre screening interview?

    Pre-Screening Interview Questions
    • What about your current and past work experience make you a great fit for our role?
    • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your current or previous role? …
    • What are your goals for professional development? …
    • What does your perfect manager look like?

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