How to Handle Screening Interviews
A fair number of email correspondents have been telling me recently that before they even get to speak to a hiring manager, they’re being put through a screening interview, usually conducted by someone in the organization’s HR department and often over the phone. With all the competition out there and with companies taking care with each precious opening these days, screening interviews give the company a chance to weed out those who may not have the necessary qualifications, and to focus hiring managers’ attention on those who likely will be the best candidates.
Yet a screening interview also offers an opportunity for the job candidate — not only is this a chance to win over the first interviewer and get to the next round, but you may also be able to throw your hat in the ring for other openings in the company. So treat this as seriously as you would any other interview and make the most of it, rather than viewing it as a hassle.
Here are some tips on how to handle screening interviews:
*Plan and prepare for it. If you get a surprise call from a screening interviewer, ask if you can set up a time to talk in the next day or so, when you’d be prepared. Ask them — or whomever in the organization is setting up this interview — for their job title and the titles of others who may be screening you, and for the purpose of this interview. Ask what materials they would like from you. And then prepare as you would for any other interview — researching the company, the job and the interviewers; and getting ready to discuss your qualifications as well as coming up with some sharp questions to ask at the end. If this first round will be in person, dress appropriately and bring along extra copies of your resume and other materials.
*Treat this interviewer as you would other recruiters or hiring managers. A mistake some job seekers make in screening interviews is to act as though this step doesn’t really matter, and that this interviewer doesn’t have a serious role in the decision-making process. In fact, they are quite important because if they aren’t impressed, you likely won’t even get to the next step. Show them the same courtesy and respect that you would other interviewers, and be careful not to ask questions that seem like you’re biding your time in advance of the “real interview.”
*Ask questions and gain information in this round. Sharp job hunters can make this step work for them. Often these interviews are shorter — especially if they’re on the phone — than subsequent interviews will be, so use that to your advantage and ask questions about the job, the company and its goals, and the timetable for filling this position. Show real interest through your questions and attitude. And if it appears — as sometimes it will — that this position likely isn’t a good fit for you, seek to make the screening interviewer an ally in going after other positions in the organization that may better match your skills. If you do, you may well find that they are contacting you weeks or months down the road for another position with this company.