Have you ever had a problem with your boss? What was the main reason you left your last job?
Given a little time, you can probably come up with good answers to these questions — but that’s not how a typical phone screen works. When you get that call after applying for a job, the promptness of your answer is usually as telling and as important as its substance.
The idea is twofold: to confirm that you are who you claim to be on your resume; and to gauge your immediate response to an open-ended type of examination. “They will ask you a set of behavioral questions,” said Eric Chen, an associate professor of business administration at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Conn.
The call will typically be made by a recruiter at the company or someone in the human resources department. They’ll want to know if you’re articulate, professional and know your stuff. They will also want to determine if there are any specific red flags such as having a salary requirement that’s not in line with their budget. If you check out, you might make it to the next round for an interview with the hiring manager. “You want to have some of this behavioral stuff out of the way before you call someone [in],” Chen said.
He added that while there are a few things you can do to prepare for the phone screen — for example, just making sure to answer truthfully — there are also plenty of things a candidate can do wrong, which could disqualify them before ever getting through door.
One of the most obvious mistakes has to do with the way the contact information is being represented. “I tell all my students ‘you have to sanitize your e-mail address,” Chen said. “You do not want the employer emailing ‘hotgirl93.’”
Another good idea is for an applicant to include their cell phone number instead of a landline that could be picked up by a child or someone else in the home. If the call is missed, Chen says it’s important to return that call as soon as possible – even if it’s after regular business hours. “You return the call that same day even if you are returning it back to another voicemail,” he said. “At 7, 8, 9, 10 p.m. just say you’re sorry but you got the message and want to talk tomorrow.”
Showing that kind of discipline can go a long way toward upholding your image as a hard worker and loyal employee, Chen said. “Here you are at 9 p.m. and you’re returning their phone call,” he said. “That says something too. It shows you care.”
But that doesn’t mean that any time at all is suitable for returning a call. It’s unadvisable to wake a recruiter up in the middle of the night just to say “sorry I missed you earlier” and the call has to be done in a professional setting. “You don’t want other people screaming in the background,” Chen said.