Round One and Done: How to Ace the Screening Interview

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

In order to get to the hiring manager, you've got to get past the screening interview.

When you read job hunting advice columns, they'll often tell you that the easiest way to get a job is to jump over the recruiter and get straight to the hiring manager.

This is great advice, but in many companies, it's almost impossible unless you already have a relationship with the hiring manager.

Hiring is the domain of the recruiters, and they will determine who gets to the managers.

Sure, the hiring manager gets to make the final decision, but she only sees the resumes of the people that the recruiter has approved. 

This means you're going to have to get through the screening interview before you get a chance to wow and impress the hiring manager with your great skill sets.

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In an ideal world, the recruiter would be an experienced professional who understands the ins and outs of your field. In reality, she may be an inexperienced professional who is recruiting for numerous positions across a wide spectrum of skills.

The only thing she may know about the type of work you do is what the hiring manager said when they worked together to write the job description.

In other words, she's not going to quiz you about your skills with a certain computer program because she wouldn't be able to tell if that's a good or bad answer. 

So, how in the heck do you get through a screening interview? If you can't dazzle the recruiter with your skills, what do you do? Never fear. Here are a few hints.

Of course, these won't work with every recruiter, as recruiters are different. And some are extremely well versed in your speciality, in which case you can expect a more in-depth interview.

She's Looking for a Cultural Fit

One thing recruiters specialize in is finding people that will fit in at the company. Company cultures can vary drastically, and before you waste your time with a hiring manager and an in-person interview (that requires you to take time off your current job), the recruiter wants to make sure you would be happy with this company, should you get an offer.

If you're a super straight-laced person who is used to wearing a suit to work and calling everyone Mr. and Ms. rather than Bob and Sue, you probably won't be happy at a company where people wear flip flops and call each other slightly off-color nicknames.

Do your research on the company before the interview and find out what their culture is like. If you feel it would be a fit, then speak to things that match that culture.

Salary Matching

If you're looking for a job with a salary in the $70k range, interviewing for a job with a salary budget of $52k just wastes everyone's time. Now, most of the time the recruiter will try to get this information by asking you your current salary.

This is ridiculous as the recruiter should be looking at the market rate for the position and not what you're currently making. You may be overpaid, and you may be underpaid.

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Regardless you shouldn't be excluded based on your current salary. Instead, answer the question of how much you currently make with, "I'm looking for jobs in the X range." This should satisfy a recruiter. It might cause her to pry more, but that's your decision if you want to say. 

General Competence

She wants to see if you can communicate clearly, She wants to see if you can express yourself and your ideas smoothly. She wants to make sure you sound smart.

Now, hopefully, the recruiter is smart enough to know that someone who is not client facing and who won't be doing presentations to the board of directors doesn't need to be a sparkling conversationalist.

Nevertheless, being one is helpful for this part of the screening interview. 

Company Knowledge

Frequently the recruiter will tell you a bit about the company. You will come across as a much stronger candidate if you already know something about the business.

Now, of course, before you even applied to the company, you checked it out to determine if you think it would be a good fit for you. So, you should know something about the company before you have this screening interview.

The more you know, the better, not that you should show off by reciting lists of facts, but you should sound competent when speaking with the recruiter about the company.

She will probably be happy to answer some questions, but if your questions could have been answered by spending 20 minutes on the company's website, you'll come across poorly.

Don't Act Annoyed

Sometimes job candidates feel frustrated because they know if they could just speak to the hiring manager, they could convince her of their brilliance.

The recruiter seems like an annoying checkbox. Don't treat it like that. The recruiter has a tremendous amount of power. Additionally, some recruiters are highly skilled in what they do, and the hiring manager will take her opinion very seriously.

Related Article: How to Get Further in the Interview Process

If you act like she's not worth your time, you're toast. Be polite and professional, even if you think it's a waste of time. It's not.

Remember, the screening interview is a real interview. Treat it like one. It's the key to getting to the hiring manager, so do your best.

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