How to handle screening calls

You just submitted your application for your dream job... What comes next?

Well, if the recruiter is interested in your application, chances are their first action will be to conduct a phone screening call.

This screening call is essentially a pre-interview, where the recruiter will examine your suitability, and decide whether you will progress further to a formal interview.

If you fail to make a good impression during the screening phone call, it is unlikely that you will progress further, and you can expect to receive a letter of rejection.

In this blog, we will cover the following topics to help you improve your chance of acing your next phone screening.

  • Voicemail message do's and don'ts.
  • How to prepare for a screening call.
  • What to do when you receive a screening call.
  • How to ace your next screening call.
How to handle screening calls | What comes next?

Your voicemail message

Recruiters have three main gripes when trying to contact a potential candidate for a screening call:

They don't include their name in their voicemail message.

If you don’t include your name in your voicemail message – or if you don’t have a voicemail message at all – then the recruiter won't know if they have reached the right person.

Workopolis suggests putting your first or family name in your voicemail. Something like the example below, will do the trick.

Hi, you have reached Jane. 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…”

They have an inappropriate voicemail message.

While a funny voicemail message might be a hit with your mates, it won’t go down well with a potential employer.

Below are some examples that are not appropriate choices for a voicemail message:

“Hello, if you’re hearing this, that means I’m probably trying to avoid you, so don’t leave a message, because no-one likes you.”

“Hello. 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!”

While you are looking for a job, it’s a good idea to keep your voicemail as professional and simple as possible. You don’t want the recruiter to be put off before they even speak to you directly!

They don't have a voicemail message at all.

Having no voicemail message, like not including your name, means that the recruiter won’t know if they have reached the right person. On top of that, they will have to leave a text message or be forced to call you back later in the hopes of reaching you. This can be very off-putting for a recruiter, so save their time and increase your chances of success by including a voicemail message.

How to handle screening calls | Your voicemail message

Be prepared

Not remembering the name, company, or other details about a role you applied for will make a poor impression during a screening phone call. Additionally, if you tell the recruiter that you have applied for so many jobs that you don’t remember theirs, they will be left to wonder why you have been unsuccessful after so many attempts. So you need to be prepared.

How to handle screening calls | Be prepared

To make sure you are prepared for your next screening call. Every time you apply for a role you should create a folder on your computer containing:

  • The job advertisement saved as a word doc, plus a copy of the cover letter and CV you submitted.
  • A link to the company’s website and social media accounts
  • Prepared answers for issues in your CV such as gaps, rapid job changes and industry changes.
  • A list of possible screening phone call questions and answers.

To create a list of possible screening call questions, look for the top 3-5 key selection criteria in the job ad. With these in mind, reflect on your past employment and brainstorm which experiences best match the requirements of the role.

In addition to this, Grammarly has compiled a list of common questions you should prepare answers for. Some of these questions include:

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

You should also be prepared to talk about your proudest professional accomplishment(s), as well as times where you took initiative, dealt with conflict, used problem solving skills, collaborated with others, and went beyond your job description.

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

Most job-seekers take their screening phone call wherever they are - whether that is in the supermarket, walking the dog, at work, or in a café. These are not places for a confidential conversation, as background noise makes it hard to hear.

More importantly, as addressed previously, the Job Seeker does not have the information about the role, the company etc. in front of them when answering the call, but as they are often so excited about receiving the call (and afraid of losing the opportunity to progress) they say “ABSOLUTELY”.

The appropriate response is more like this.

"Thanks for calling. I would love to hear more about the opportunity. I am out and about/in a meeting/driving, so would it be okay for me to give you a call back in 15 minutes/2 hours? Is 2:15 PM a good time for you? … Brilliant can you please provide me with your name and company, and I will give you a call then…"

If you are driving, ask if the recruiter can text the information to you.

This will give you time to prepare.

We recommend you look through the folder you created when you applied for the role and:

  • Read the job advertisement, identifying the top 3-5 key selection criteria.
  • Familiarise yourself with the company by looking through their website and social media accounts. This will give you a feel for the company and set the foundation for any questions you might wish to ask the recruiter.
  • Look the recruiter up on LinkedIn, this allows you to get to know the recruiter’s background.
  • Review the CV and cover letter submitted.
  • Read through the list of screening call questions you think the recruiter may ask and practice your responses.

It is a good idea to brainstorm the connections between your skills and experience with the key selection criteria for the role, and to come up with a few success stories that you can tell the recruiter in less than 30 seconds.

Workable suggests being prepared to address any issues a recruiter may identify in your resume, such as gaps in employment, rapid job changes, and industry changes.

Ace the call

Now, it is time for the most important part – make the call. Here are two things for you to avoid when you take your next screening phone call:

  • Don’t take the call on speaker phone. This decreases the call quality, and the recruiter may find it difficult to hear you. If you wish to take notes during the call, use a headset.
  • Don’t hide information. As stated previously, you should be prepared to answer issues in your CV. This could be things such as gaps in employment, rapid job changes and industry changes. You should be honest with the recruiter, as any falsified information may be found out further down the line and you don’t want to be caught out. This includes giving ambiguous and vague answers for personal details.

Keeping all of this in mind, remember to relax and be professional on your screening call.

Always give yourself the opportunity to prepare – you are not going to miss out on an interview just because you delayed a phone screen.

Regardless of the outcome, phone screening calls are an excellent way to prepare for future interviews and handling them well will put you one step closer to landing your dream job.

How to handle screening calls | Ace the call
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