What is a Phone Screen Interview? Tips and Example Questions

Phone screens are usually the first step in the interview process. They’re different from phone interviews and usually last between 15 and 30 minutes.
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A phone screen interview is a relatively quick call between a job candidate and a member of the hiring team (usually a recruiter or a human resources representative).

Typically, phone screens are the first step of the interview process. They’re distinct from phone interviews, which take place with a hiring manager later in the interview process and involve more in-depth, behavioral questions.

In this article, we’ll discuss the objectives of a phone screen, and what qualities recruiters are — and aren’t — looking for. We’ll also provide examples of questions you might be asked during a phone screen.

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What is a phone screen interview?

During a phone screen, the recruiter shares general information about the role, including the job’s responsibilities, location, salary range and remote work policy. They also ask questions about your work experience, career goals and interest in the company. The call typically lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, according to Robert Half, a human resources consulting firm.

The objective of a phone screen is for the recruiter to filter out people who aren’t a good fit, says Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of professional talent solutions at Robert Half.

That means recruiters look for red flags from candidates. A bad interview could prevent a candidate from advancing to the next stage of the process.

According to multiple recruiting firms, those red flags might include:

  • One-word answers.

  • Multiple interruptions.

  • An inability to say why they’re interested in the job.

  • Difficulty describing previous work experience.

  • Little knowledge of the company or role.

  • General rudeness or gruffness.  

A phone screen gives candidates a chance to filter out employers, as well. That means it’s a good time to speak up if any of the expectations shared during the call don’t line up with your wants or needs. The recruiter often can ask if certain requirements are up for discussion.

Examples of phone screen interview questions

While phone screen questions are usually simpler and more straightforward than phone interview questions, you should still be prepared to speak specifically about your experience and expectations.

“For any interview, no matter what it is, you should always have some level of preparation,” Steinitz says.

According to multiple job search experts, here are examples of phone screen interview questions you could use to prepare for your call.

Questions about your work experience may include:

  • What are your responsibilities in your current job? (or: What were your responsibilities in your previous role?)

  • How familiar are you with [specific software or tool]?

  • Why do you want to quit your current job? (or: Why did you leave your previous role?)

Regarding your interest in the role, the recruiter might ask:

  • Why are you interested in this position?

  • What do you like about the company and its mission?

  • What makes you a good fit for this position? 

To see if your work style and career goals align with the position, a recruiter might ask:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • What are some of your strengths and weaknesses in the workplace? 

Finally, some general questions about salary and logistics could include:

  • What is your ideal starting salary? Is it negotiable?

  • When are you available to start working?

  • Are you willing to commute into the office/workplace X days per week?

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How to prepare for a phone screen interview

In addition to rehearsing your answers to specific questions, go into the call with a few questions to ask the recruiter.

Remember: this is also your chance to suss out whether the job is a good fit for you. Think about what would keep you from accepting a job offer — whether that’s a certain salary or amount of vacation time — and ask the recruiter for more information on those factors.

Plus, having questions prepared will make you look prepared, thoughtful and like you’re taking the opportunity seriously.

Keep your questions broad, the Indiana University Southeast’s Career Development Center recommends. Feel free to ask for general information about the job or the company, but avoid asking about specifics that the recruiter or HR representative may not know.

If the recruiter leaves out job details that would help you decide whether you want to proceed with the interview process, ask for that information. That could include your ideal salary range, benefits or remote work flexibility.

Here are other suggested questions from Steinitz:

  • How long have you been with the company?

  • What do you like about working at the company?

  • Who previously held the position I’m applying for, and where are they now?

Just before the phone screen, put your phone on Do Not Disturb and disable any apps that may send notifications during the call.

During the call, focus on speaking clearly, listening carefully and effectively answering any questions you’re asked. If you check those boxes, you’ll improve your chances of moving onto the next round of interviews.