How to handle screening calls

This article is recommended for individuals near the beginning of their careers

You just applied - what comes next?

Having spent many years working in recruitment, I understand the excitement and nerves that come with applying for a dream job.

Now that you've submitted your application, it's time to wonder about the next steps in the process. If your application has caught the recruiter's attention, the first thing they're likely to do is conduct a phone screening call.

Think of the screening call as a pre-interview, where the recruiter aims to assess your suitability for the role and determine if you should proceed to a formal interview. This initial call is crucial, as it can make or break your chances of moving forward in the hiring process. If you fail to make a good impression during the screening call, it's unlikely you'll progress further, and you may receive a letter of rejection.

In this blog post, I'll share some valuable insights to help you increase your chances of acing your next phone screening. I'll cover essential topics like voicemail message dos and don'ts, how to prepare effectively for the screening call, what to do when you receive the call, and, most importantly, how to shine during the conversation.

How to handle screening calls | What comes next?

Your voicemail message

've come across three common gripes when trying to contact candidates for screening calls:

Firstly, some candidates don't include their name in their voicemail message. It may seem like a small detail, but for recruiters, it's crucial to know if we've reached the right person. Workopolis has recommended a simple solution: putting your first or family name in your voicemail - for example:

"Hi, you have reached Christian. I can't come to the phone right now, but please leave me a message, and I will get back to you as soon as I can..."

Secondly, we often encounter inappropriate voicemail messages. While humour is great with friends, it's not the best choice for potential employers. Messages like the following are not appropriate choices:

"That's right, this is Christian. If you’re hearing this, it means I’m probably trying to avoid you, so don’t leave a message, because no one likes you."

"Hello, you've reached Christian. I’m sorry I didn’t answer your call, but I’m afraid you’re not important enough! If I hear your message and deem you worthy, I’ll think about calling you back, but for now... Bye!"

During your job search, it's essential to keep your voicemail professional and straightforward. You don't want to put off a recruiter before they even speak to you directly!

Lastly, some candidates don't have a voicemail message at all. Similar to the issue of not including your name, this leaves recruiters uncertain if we've reached the right person. So, to increase your chances of success, save time, and make things smoother, include a voicemail message when you're job hunting.

How to handle screening calls | Your voicemail message

Be prepared

It is important for job seekers to remember the basic details about the roles they apply for. When I make a screening phone call, and the candidate can't recall the name of the position, the company they applied to, or any other pertinent information, it leaves a poor impression.

Imagine being on the other end of that call. It's not just about a minor lapse in memory; it raises questions about the candidate's level of interest and attention to detail. It may even make the recruiter wonder if they applied to the company on a whim, without actual interest in the role.

Moreover, if a candidate mentions that they've applied for so many jobs that they can't keep track of them all, it can be concerning. It raises doubts about their job search strategy, and why they haven't been successful after so many attempts. As a recruiter, I look for candidates who are genuinely interested in the opportunity and who can articulate their motivations for applying.

How to handle screening calls | Be prepared

To ensure you ace your next screening call, have a well-organised folder on your computer containing all the necessary materials.

Firstly, you should save the job advertisement as a Word document, along with a copy of the cover letter and CV you submitted for the role. Keeping these documents together will allow you to refer back to them during the call and have a clear understanding of what the employer is looking for.

Additionally, it's essential to have quick access to the company's website and social media accounts. Familiarising yourself with the organisation's background, culture, and recent updates will demonstrate your genuine interest in the company and the position.

Be ready to explain any gaps, rapid job changes, or industry shifts in a concise and positive manner. This demonstrates honesty and transparency.

To anticipate and answer the screening call questions effectively, focus on the top 3-5 key selection criteria mentioned in the job advertisement. Reflect on your past experiences and think about which instances align best with the role's requirements. By doing so, you can tailor your responses to showcase your suitability for the position.

In addition to tailoring your responses to the job requirements, it's essential to prepare for some common questions that recruiters often ask. For instance:

  • What is your biggest strength?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • How do you handle time management?
  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • Why did you apply for this role specifically?
  • What are your salary expectations?

Moreover, be ready to discuss your best professional accomplishments, and times when you took initiative, dealt with conflict, utilised problem-solving skills, collaborated with colleagues, and went above and beyond your job description. These examples will help paint a picture of your abilities and potential contributions to the employer.

Ask the recruiter if you can call them back

So the phone rings and you answer the call. It is a recruiter - how exciting!

How to handle screening calls | Ask the recruiter if you can call them back

After spending many years in the recruitment field, I've noticed that most job-seekers take their screening phone calls wherever they happen to be, whether it's in a bustling supermarket, while walking the dog, at their current workplace, or even in a noisy café. Unfortunately, these places aren't ideal for a confidential conversation, as the background noise often makes it hard for me to hear them properly.

One common issue recruiters encounter during these calls is that job-seekers often lack the necessary information about the role and the company when they answer the call. They're so excited about the opportunity and afraid of missing out that they respond with a resounding "ABSOLUTELY."

Instead, something like, "Thank you for calling. I would love to hear more about the opportunity. Currently, I'm out and about/in a meeting/driving, so would it be possible for me to call you back in 15 minutes/2 hours? Is 2:15 PM a good time for you?... Great! Could you please provide me with your name and company, and I'll give you a call then."

And for those who are driving, it's best to ask if the recruiter can text the information instead.

Taking this approach will give job-seekers some time to prepare for the call. I always recommend that candidates take the following steps to get ready:

  • Read through the job advertisement and identify the top 3-5 key selection criteria. This helps to focus on what's most important for the role.
  • Familiarise yourself with the company by going through their website and social media accounts. This will give you a sense of the company culture and enable you to come up with questions to ask the recruiter.
  • Look up the recruiter on LinkedIn to get to know their background. This information can be valuable during the conversation.
  • Review your CV and cover letter that you submitted for the position, refreshing your memory on the information you've already shared.
  • Prepare for potential screening call questions and practice your responses. This will help you feel more confident during the call.
  • Brainstorm connections between your skills and experiences and the key selection criteria for the role. Also, have a few success stories ready that you can share with the recruiter in less than 30 seconds.

It's essential to be ready to address any issues that the recruiter may identify in your resume, such as gaps in employment, rapid job changes, or shifts between industries. Being prepared and showing that you've done your homework can make a significant difference in how the screening call unfolds and leaves a positive impression on the recruiter.

Ace the call

There are a couple of things you should avoid during the call to make the best impression.

Firstly, please don't take the call on speakerphone. It's important to ensure good call quality for the recruiter to hear you clearly. If you want to take notes during the conversation, using a headset will also allow you to do so comfortably.

Secondly, be open and honest during the call. It is understandable that sometimes there might be gaps in your employment history or frequent job changes. It's crucial that you are prepared to address any such issues in your CV. Honesty is key, and attempting to hide information or providing vague answers about your personal details can lead to complications later on in the process.

Remember, preparation is essential. Take the time you need before the call to gather your thoughts and be ready to discuss your background, experiences, and any potential concerns. Don't rush into the call unprepared. Delaying it slightly to get organised won't make you miss out on the opportunity for an interview.

Phone screening calls are not only about getting through this particular stage but also a chance to practice and improve your interview skills. So, relax and be professional during the conversation, and treat it as a valuable experience that will help you in future interviews.

Regardless of the outcome of the call, stay positive and keep in mind that every step in the process is a learning opportunity. A successful phone screening will bring you closer to securing your dream job. 

Christian Madsen

What are your thoughts?

I'd love to have a conversation with you about this topic - please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or opinions 🙂

Christian Madsen

Managing Director of 11 Recruitment

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