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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

What’s a Phone Screen? Here’s What You Need to Know Before That “Quick Chat” With the Recruiter

person talking on phone while looking at laptop and sitting alone in conference room
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So you got an email back from a job you applied to—awesome! The person who reached out is asking to schedule a phone screen. Or perhaps they’re asking to schedule a “quick chat” or “brief phone call.” What does this mean? Is “phone screen” just another way of saying “phone interview”? Not exactly. But it’s still a great sign—it means someone has read your application and likes what they’ve seen so far.

Here’s what you need to know before your phone screening so you can move to the next round of the hiring process.

What Is a Phone Screen?

A phone screen is typically a short phone call, lasting from 15 to 30 minutes, during which you’ll discuss basic qualifications for and information about a job, says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith, founder of Flourish Careers and former recruiter. Phone screens usually include straightforward questions about why you applied for the job, what your salary requirements and availability are, and whether you have some of the basic skills required to do the job.

Phone screenings are usually conducted by a recruiter or coordinator on a company’s talent acquisition team after they’ve reviewed candidates’ application materials. They’re trying to further narrow down the pool for the people who will hold more comprehensive interviews and decide who to hire. “[The recruiter’s] goal is to provide the hiring team with a select group of qualified candidates,” Smith says.

Wait, So How Is a Phone Screen Different From a Phone Interview?

Phone interviews are typically “a more in-depth assessment of a candidate’s fit and ability to do the job” than a phone screen, Smith says. Phone interviews usually last from 30 to 60 minutes and are conducted by the hiring manager—the person who will make the ultimate hiring decision and who is often the boss or department head for the position being filled—rather than a recruiter.

If you have a phone interview, you should prepare to answer more detailed interview questions that delve deeper into your experience and how well you’d work with the current team. Often phone interviews will include behavioral questions that start with “Tell me about a time when…” in addition to or instead of the basic questions asked in phone screens.

Do All Screening Interviews Happen on the Phone?

While screening interviews are most commonly conducted over the phone, you might also be evaluated in the same way at a job fair or similar event, Smith says. “The people representing the company could potentially screen your background face-to-face as you engage with them at the job fair.” So if you’re attending a job fair, you should prepare much the same way you would for a phone screen. If you’ve been asked to do a pre-recorded digital or virtual interview, that might also be a form of a screening interview.

How Do I Prepare for My Phone Screening?

Here are some tips to help you get ready for your phone screen:

  • Perfect your pitch. Many interviews start with the question “Tell me about yourself,” and phone screens are no exception. “This is your opportunity to sell yourself right away,” Smith says. Your answer to this question should be clear and succinct and specific to this job.
  • Review the job description and know how your qualifications match up. Be ready to talk about how your skills and experience make you the right fit for this job, Smith says, and make sure you have examples to share. “A few stories about your accomplishments will make you more confident and more memorable.”
  • Research the company. For a phone screen, you don’t need to know everything about a company, their history, or every time they’ve ever appeared in the news, but you should “be able to speak to what they do and why you want to work there,” Smith says. Take some time to review the company’s website as well as their social media accounts and Muse profile if they have one.
  • Set up for a successful call. Make sure that your phone is charged and that you’ll have a clear signal and minimal distractions wherever you plan to take the call. (If it’s during the work day, you might choose to sit in your car or somewhere else where you’ll have privacy.) If possible, have a copy of the resume you submitted accessible so you can see what the recruiter is referring to.
  • Be ready to answer the right kinds of questions. Phone screen interview questions may not be super in-depth, but you should definitely be prepared to talk about logistics—for example, availability to start and relocation—along with your professional history and your interest in this job and company. In short, know what you’re looking for in your next job and why. And be ready to ask any questions you have about the role.
  • Take your phone screen seriously. “Even though it’s a short call, it’s a gatekeeper conversation to get to the next round of interviews,” Smith says.

What Do I Do After My Phone Screen?

Don’t forget to send a thank you email (and aim to do it within a few hours of hanging up). Sometimes people neglect to do this because they don’t think a phone screen is as big a deal as another type of interview, but you really should, Smith says. “It will set you apart!” Afterward, if you don’t hear back from the company in the time frame they gave you, “Don’t be afraid to follow up,” Smith says. “Send a quick note to check in—this will showcase your interest and persistence.”

You should also take some time to think through anything you learned about the job and the company during your phone screen. Does this job still seem right for you? If something you found out was a deal breaker, it’s totally OK to withdraw your application in a quick email, or even in your thank you note. After all, interviewing is a two-way street and you don’t want to waste your time or anyone else’s on further interviews for a job you know isn’t a fit.