A Recruiter's Top 5 Tips for Acing Your Prescreen Interview

A Recruiter's Top 5 Tips for Acing Your Prescreen Interview
by Josilin Torrano
Photos Tonhya Kae | July 13, 2016
Josilin Torrano is one of our career mentors. Book a 50-minute session with her to work one-on-one on anything job-related. 
We've got the inside scoop on prescreens (straight from the mouth at the other end of the line).
I’ve been a recruiter for over eight years and done my fair share of interviewing potential candidates. In recruiter speak, we call these “prescreens.” It’s typically the first step in starting an interview process within a company and your first opportunity to “wow” us. You’ve probably been on one of these calls. If you haven’t, trust me, there’s one coming.

Corporate recruiters can average upwards of 50 prescreens per open role. Standing out in the prescreen can give you an early lead on the competition, but it’s more than that—in my experience, these calls can make or break your candidacy, so it pays to be ready. You’re facing a huge opportunity, and it’s one that you can master in a few steps.

1. before the phone interview, DO YOUR HOMEWORK

This seems like a no-brainer, but let me tell you, it is not. I’ve had candidates pick up the phone without knowing anything about our company’s latest initiatives, what role they’re interviewing for, or simply unable to discuss why they’re interested in said role. Do your research on softball questions—when was this company founded? Are there multiple office locations? What’s their mission statement? Questions like these can come up during these calls, and it doesn’t look great if you’re unfamiliar with the mission of the company in which you’re applying. 

An added bonus to knowing the basics is that you can weave them into your answers as you go. An example of this could be…

Recruiter: Tell me why you’re interested in this role at Facebook.

You: Facebook’s mission to connect the world resonates with me because of my interest in helping people. After my time in undergrad, I was able to join the Peace Corps and spent two years in South America helping build out communication resources for local towns and villages.

See what happened there? Win, win. You were able to show the recruiter you did your research, but you were also able to showcase a unique part of your background and parlay it into a selling point for you.

You should also do your own casual creeping on the person you are speaking to. Know their background, where they went to school, where they’ve worked in the past, what are their passions outside of the office, articles they’ve published, etc. These are wonderful ways to express your enthusiasm for the company, appreciation of their time, and also convey a level of respect for who they are.

2. during the interview: SET EXPECTATIONS

I’ve never finished a prescreen without talking about money. Not just the candidate’s current salary/bonus structure/stock vesting schedule, but sometimes also the salary they’re seeking for their next role. I also dive into if they have offers from other companies and what those offer packages look like. If you’re not comfortable discussing these topics, get comfortable. If anything, it’s to your benefit to let recruiters know where you stand so they can ensure a competitive offer or let you know early on if they don’t think they’ll be able to match your expectations.

If you’re unsure how to propose the salary you’re expecting, do your research. Check Glassdoor, Quora, and speak with friends to get a good understanding of what is reasonable. I’ve had candidates propose far fetched salary expectations with no ability to back up where they got that number. Two things happened then: 1) they looked unprepared and slightly disrespectful, and 2) we didn’t move forward.

Logistically, it’s also smart to come into this prescreen with an understanding of when you’re looking to make this career move. Do you have some large projects you need to complete with your current employer? Are you getting married and booked an awesome honeymoon in the next few months? Best to set these expectations ahead of time in order to avoid any surprises. Lastly, if there are multiple office locations, know which is right for you and why.

3. and SHOW PASSION

Too many times I’ve had calls with candidates where they said “all the right things”—in the most monotonous tone imaginable. It pays to show your passion for the role, for the company, and the time the recruiter is giving you.

You can convey this passion in the tone of your voice and your word choice. Don't be afraid to show off the research you've done on the company and your enthusiasm about it. Hearing a candidate's excitement through their voice, the inflection of a smile in their tone, goes a long way. I don’t believe in playing hard to get or sounding disinterested/too cool for school. This can come off elitist and can be off-putting. Always be gracious and engaged.

4. and definitely GET YOUR STORY STRAIGHT

In addition to sussing out a candidate's skills and experience on this call, I am also trying to figure out who this person really is. I want to get a feel for their personality, their story, and why this role makes sense in their career. You want to be able to talk through your work history, what your key skills are, and what you can bring to the proverbial table.

Mock interviews and practicing answering questions are key. Get comfortable talking about yourself and know what points you want to bring up. If you have your story, your strengths and top skills, and your career goals on lockdown, you’ll be able to weave them into your response to any question you receive.

5. after the interview: ASK QUESTIONS AND FOLLOW UP

You’ll find that most prescreens end with a recruiter asking, “Do you have any questions for me?” Too often, I receive the answer, “No, I believe you’ve answered all of my questions.” And while I think I explain myself pretty well, I don’t think I’m that good.

It really pays to write out some questions ahead of time. You want to ask questions that lead to additional conversation, that are dynamic, that show you’re “thinking.” These could be as easy as:
  • What traits and skills do you think will help someone be successful in this role?
  • What do you expect will be some of the primary goals of this person in the first 30, 60, and 90 days?
  • How do you see this role evolving over the next 12 - 24 months?
  • What are some of the challenges you face at [insert company name]?
  • What do you enjoy about your job and why did you decide to join the company?
Lastly, always make sure you have appropriate contact information to follow up, and don’t forget to ask about next steps and their timeline. It’s also never a bad idea to shoot over a quick ‘thank you’ email shortly after the call. If it’s been a week and no word, politely follow up re-expressing your interest in the role.

Have any lingering questions? Ask them in our comments section and we'll have Josilin
 answer them for you.