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a portrait of Grace

Grace Chiu

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication

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Just because there is no face-to-face interaction does not mean a pre-screening phone interview is not as important as a formal interview. In fact, this phone interview makes or breaks your chance for an in-person interview and, ultimately, a job offer.

So you applied for a co-op, internship or full-time position and the organization wants to schedule a pre-screen interview with you. Are you scratching your head and wondering what a pre-screen interview is and how you can prepare for it?

Pre-screen interviews are usually conducted by the organization's Human Resources (HR) representatives or recruiters to narrow down applicants in the candidate selection process, saving the hiring managers time while learning more about the qualified candidates prior to the actual in-person interview. Here are some quick and useful tips to help you prepare for pre-screen interviews to increase your chance of moving on to the next round of the selection process!

What is a Pre-Screening Like?

Pre-screen interviews are usually conducted over the phone and often last about 20 to 30 minutes. These calls can be scheduled or come at any time. If you feel you are not prepared enough or are at a loud, disruptive place, politely ask the interviewer if you could call back or reschedule the interview.

What Kind of Interview Questions Will be Asked?

Interview questions will vary depending on the nature of the position and industry, but here are some typical questions you may be asked: 

1. Your Background

The first question you will be asked will likely be "Tell me about yourself." This question really means giving a professional overview of who you are, so the interviewer knows where you're at in your career as well as your most important qualities and, possibly, your interests and passions that have led you to apply for the position. 

2. What Do You Know About our Organization?

The interviewer is testing you to see if you have put in the effort to look up the company and if you're actually interested in working for them. If you really want the position, you would have done a significant amount of research on the company, their products and services and any other important or interesting bits about them that would impress the interviewer, such as their corporate responsibility programs.

3. Why Are You Interested in this Position?

This is a great opportunity for you to highlight the different aspects of the position that interested you or that you are passionate about while connecting and highlighting your strengths - your knowledge and experiences - and show the interviewer that you have the qualifications as well as the passion and interests. When you are really passionate about something, you will talk differently, whether it is in your tone of voice, when discussing it with someone else. So make sure you don't bore your interviewer speaking in a monotone, show your enthusiasm and that you really want the job! 

4. Your Soft Skills

You may be asked about your teamwork and leadership abilities as well as your interpersonal skills, such as "In what kind of a work environment do you work best in?" and "Can you tell me about a time when you didn't work well with a coworker or supervisor and how you handled the situation?"

5. Your Hard Skills and Qualifications

If the job posting required project management, social media or programming experience, expect questions asking about your knowledge level and hands-on experience related to these requirements. You want to describe the situation you used or developed the skill, what tasks you had to accomplish and the action you took to accomplish the tasks as well as the results/achievements. 

6. Your Salary Expectations

This is a tricky question because you don't want to be paid lower than what you're actually "worth" but, at the same time, you don't want to go overboard with your expectations and make a bad impression on the interviewer. You may want to avoid providing exact numbers and respond that you know the organization has an excellent reputation when it comes to compensation for employees, so you know you will be provided with a reasonable salary. You can also turn the question around and ask the interviewer what the salary range for this type of position is at their company and in the industry.

7. Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

Since you'll most likely be interviewed by the HR representative or recruiter, you might think s/he won't have the answers to your questions, but you'd be surprised! Prepare the questions as if you are interviewed by the hiring manager because, even if the interviewer can't answer your questions, you'll impress them with your preparation and interest in the position. This is also a great opportunity to ask general questions about the organization and their hiring practices, benefits, training or professional development opportunities and anything else you may be interested in learning more about.

How Do I Prepare for the Pre-Screening?

Tip #1: Research and Practice

I really can't stress enough how important it is to research and practice! Research the organization and review the job posting again to make sure you know the expectations and qualifications. From the job posting, you may have some ideas as to what interview questions will be asked, so come up with some possible responses and have concrete examples to back up your answers. If you never had a phone interview, you may want to practice by recording yourself or calling a family member or friend to get feedback on your performance. Pay attention to your volume, speed and clarity when speaking.

Tip #2: Phone & Location

Make sure you choose a quiet place without distractions to conduct the pre-screen interview, notify your family or roommate if necessary. You may also want to use a landline instead of your cell phone unless you are sure your phone has a good signal in the chosen location. Ensure your battery is charged and call waiting is turned off so your call won't be dropped or interrupted during the interview, which can make a bad first impression.

Tip #3: Attire & Posture

Some people prefer to dress up as if they were going for an in-person interview because you would feel more formal and professional. This isn't a "must," so dress in what's most comfortable for you. You will also want to sit up or stand so your voice comes out as clearly and naturally as you can, you'd be surprised how much your posture can affect the level of confidence and enthusiasm conveyed in your voice over the phone.

Last Tip...

It doesn't hurt to send the interviewer a thank-you note after the phone interview, even if they are not the hiring manager. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism as well as addressing any points you may have forgotten to mention or feel you didn't communicate clearly or fully during the interview. But most importantly, thank them for taking the time to interview you and capitalize on this opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with them because, you never know, they might just be your lead for another position in the future. 

Just because there is no face-to-face interaction does not mean a pre-screening phone interview is not as important as a formal interview. In fact, this phone interview makes or breaks your chance for an in-person interview and, ultimately, a job offer.

  • Grace Chiu Jul 8, 2012
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About the Author

a portrait of Grace

Grace Chiu

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication
Grace is a 4th year Communications major who enjoys volunteering, writing and mentoring people. She has worked at BCNET and SFU Volunteer Services prior to her fourth and fifth co-op placement with HSBC. She is currently interning at SAP and working part-time at SFU OLC as the Volunteer Recruiting & Project Coordinator. In her spare time, she loves watching drama and movies.

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