Your Guide to Phone Screen Interviews

10 min read

Job interviews are not what they were a decade ago. Technology has revolutionized the hiring process — including how job applicants are screened. 

Now that employees and freelancers can work remotely for companies on the other side of the globe, in-person interviews are no longer necessary. Instead, quick telephone interviews and video chats have become crucial early steps in the interview process. 

A brief screening call is not a full interview, but you should take it as seriously as if it were a face-to-face interview with the hiring manager. Here’s some advice so you can ace your phone screen interview and advance to the next part of the hiring process.

What is a phone screen?

A phone screen is a short phone call with the company’s recruiter that lasts 10-30 minutes. It’s an early phase of the hiring process when the hiring team is gathering preliminary information about job applicants.

When you have a phone screen interview, you should expect to answer basic questions about:

  • Yourself and your experience

  • Your interest in the position

  • Your availability (even if you’re a freelancer)

  • Points on your resume and cover letter

  • Salary expectations

  • Why you’re leaving a current job and seeking a new job

  • Some background on your last job

A phone screen is for the recruiter to spot any red flags so they can quickly weed out job seekers who aren’t the best candidates. At a screening interview, you can expect to prove that you’re a worthwhile applicant who’s trustworthy and serious about the job. It’s simply an initial, surface-level verification of who you are.

Is a phone screen the same as an interview?

A phone screen interview and a phone interview are not the same. A phone screen is a brief, initial screening with the recruiter, while a phone interview is in-depth and extensive. 

What is the purpose of a phone interview? For many companies, a phone interview is another step in the screening process to narrow down the pool of candidates. However, for businesses hiring remote contractors, a phone interview often is the most crucial conversation in the hiring process. It’s when interviewees show they can walk the walk — not just talk the talk. 

Common phone interview questions focus more on your abilities and attitude than on your background. These will be technical interview questions if you’ve applied for an IT position that requires a highly technical skill set. But that would come after the initials screening.

Passing the phone screening does not mean you’re going to be offered the position, nor does it mean you’re one of the top contenders. It means you’re in the running. If you make a good impression, you can make it to the next round of interviews with a formal phone interview or video call.

Getting Prepared for the Phone Screen 

This type of interview is the first round of vetting, so you want to make a strong first impression. That means thorough interview preparation long before the telephone rings. How do you prepare for a phone screen interview? Follow these 7 tips:

1. Set a Time and Place

Give plenty of thought to when and where you’ll take the phone screening. Choose a time that works best for you. Don’t schedule it near any other appointments or during your work shift, if possible — you don’t want to have to cut this short.

Make sure you have the following for your call:

  • A good phone signal

  • A fully charged battery 

  • No possible distractions or interruptions (like children or pets)

  • Enough coffee

Set aside some extra time, just in case the interviewer doesn’t call right at the confirmed time or they don’t pick up the phone the first time you call.

2. Get to Know the Job Description

The open position’s description can tell you a lot about the company’s expectations and priorities. Read and re-read the job listing, taking notes on each of the desired qualifications so you’re very familiar with them. Get a second or third perspective on the job by having your friends and former colleagues read the job posting and share their observations with you.

3. Do Some Research on the Company

Do your homework and learn as much as you can about the company itself. Start by browsing their website and reading any About Us, Our History, and Company Culture pages. Then peruse their social media accounts and LinkedIn company profile. Finally, branch out by looking at third-party websites like Glassdoor for employee insights into the company.

4. Perfect Your Pitch

Don’t be taken by surprise during your phone screen. Have solid prepared responses for the most common, basic interview questions — especially giving a succinct . Never ramble on a screening interview; these are supposed to be brief conversations that get right to the point. 

When it comes to answering “Tell me about yourself,” your response should touch on:

  • Your background and experience, including major accomplishments

  • Your current job situation or most recent gigs

  • What you’d like to accomplish next and how this job fits that 

Also, be prepared to respond to “Why should we hire you?” Your answers to these questions should be around 1 minute each.

5. Take Advantage of Social Media

You’ve been researching the hiring company, so it’s safe to assume that they’ll be looking into you, too. In addition to your resume and cover letter, the recruiter will probably check out your social media accounts and online presence. It’s important to dust off your LinkedIn profile, check the privacy settings on your Facebook account, and maybe remove any embarrassing tweets. 

Also make sure you follow the leading companies and personalities in your industry, such as these top tech influencers. Keeping up with other professionals will show potential employers you’re staying on top of industry trends.

6. Prepare Some Questions

Although the majority of the call will involve the recruiter learning about you, this conversation allows you to learn about the company, too. Prepare some phone screen interview questions so you can determine if this gig will be a good fit for you.

Know what your deal-breakers are and ask about them. Find out what you can about the company culture, benefits, workload, compensation plan, and expectations around communication and availability.

7. Get Ready to Answer All Types of Questions

The phone interview will involve many standard questions and answers. So, take time to prepare answers to the most common questions instead of answering on the fly. 

Want to know the most common phone screen interview questions that companies ask? Keep reading to see our list below. 

Phone Screen Questions to Expect

What are some common questions for a phone screen interview? Some of the most common questions you can expect at a preliminary phone interview are:

  • Tell me about yourself. 

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • Do you enjoy the work that you do? 

  • What is your expected salary range?

  • Why should we hire you for this job? 

  • Describe your ideal work environment.

  • Do you currently have gigs with other companies? 

  • Why are you seeking new work?

  • Do you have other responsibilities that limit your availability? 

These are boilerplate questions you should expect at any early interview. Have clear answers ready for them.

During the Call: Phone Interview Tips

1. Have What You Need in Front of You

Have any documentation you may need ready at your fingertips. That way, you don’t have to comb through your computer files, tabs, or emails during the call. Be able to look at:

  • Your resume

  • Your cover letter

  • The job posting

Remember, if you’re using your cell phone for the call, you can’t rely on it for other functions. If you need to access anything online, have a computer or laptop handy.

2. Take Notes

Another benefit of having a computer in front of you is to take notes during the call. Or, take notes with pen and paper if you prefer the old-fashioned method. Why take notes during a phone screen? To keep track of:

  • The name and job title of the interviewer

  • Any tasks you’re asked to do after the call or promise to do

  • Anything that seems important to the employer 

  • Points that you want to mention or revisit before the call ends

  • Details of the conversation that you don’t want to forget afterward

Write down everything in your head after the call concludes. Even if you don’t get the job, a record of the experience and your thoughts can be useful for doing better next time.

3. Speak Clearly & Be Straightforward

As mentioned earlier, the phone screen is supposed to be short and succinct. Thus, anything you say should be, too. It’s easy to ramble and stammer if you have jitters. Here’s what to do if you get nervous during a phone interview:

  • Pause and take a breath before speaking again

  • Be aware of your body, improving your posture if possible

  • Close your eyes to shut out visual distractions

  • Give yourself some positive self-talk — inwardly

Listen to everything the interviewer says. Don’t get distracted by your own thoughts; you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on the conversation after it ends! Ask for clarification if you’re not sure how to respond to a question. This will look much better than hazarding guesses or making assumptions. Above all — stay positive! 

4. Don’t Forget to Smile

Soft skills matter whether you’re on an audio call or a video call. You may assume that body language doesn’t matter if you’re only making an audio call. But, your physical demeanor comes through in your energy, tone, and enthusiasm. It’s hard to have a positive tone when you’re frowning!

That’s why it’s important to have good posture and smile even if you’re not on video. 

Is a phone screen interview a video interview? That depends. Sometimes, recruiters prefer to use a webcam or phone camera to see you during a screening call. If that’s the case, you’ll definitely want to look neat and professional.

5. End the Call Well

You’ve made it this far; don’t drop the ball now! Wrap up the conversation on a good note. Effective ways to end an interview call include: 

  • Thanking the interviewer for the call 

  • Expressing enthusiasm for the future and follow-up interviews

  • Reiterating your interest in the job and confidence that you’re a good fit

  • Confirming their contact information 

  • Asking for an estimate of when and what the next steps will be

  • Asking if they need anything else from you

After Any Phone Interview

No matter how the phone screen went, sending a follow-up thank you email as a professional courtesy. Thank the interviewer again for the opportunity to interview. Restate what you concluded the phone call with to ensure it’s recorded. Leave the interviewers with a positive impression of you.

Don’t be afraid to call back if you don’t hear from the recruiter within the timeframe they gave you.

Looking for your next gig?

MVP Match wants to make your whole job search easier — not just interview preparation. We’ve helped many freelancers connect with companies who are looking for skilled professionals. Join our freelance network to get on our roster and find your next gig.

We also help companies with talent acquisition. MVP Match can curate a list of great candidates for your next project so you spend less time vetting applicants. Contact us if you’d like to take advantage of this valuable recruiting tool.

About the Author

Match wants to bridge the perspectives of talents and companies, and Marta’s job is to blend all the elements without burning the engine. She translates backstage know-how into practical insights and stories. What can’t be written on a blog will land on socials as a meme. She believes that shaping the #futureofwork is all about transparency and courage in communication. While collaborating with writers and authors from all over the world, she makes sure that everything that ends up on the Match blog makes the bridge stronger than ever.