Phone Screens and Video Interviews

There is no doubt that this is an impersonal and oft times rude job market.  In the past, candidates always received some acknowledgement of their application.  Not so much today when companies simply include language like ‘Due to the high volume of applications, only those applicants invited to interview will be contacted’ to excuse the fact that they don’t acknowledge applications.  While one could argue that the internet drives up the number of applications to a level where individual replies aren’t feasible, I would argue that the same technology allows companies to send out automated e-mails to let the applicant know their resume was received and, assuming the company is taking a pass, that the applicant is not in the running for the job or internship to which they applied.

If you get beyond the ‘black hole’ of the application process and actually hear from HR or the hiring manager, the screening phase can also be very impersonal and will often start with a phone screen or video interview.

Following are some tips to help you make the most out of phone screens and video interviewing.

Phone Screens:

The biggest mistake applicants make when preparing for a phone screen is to assume that it is just a friendly call to schedule the ‘real’ interview.  The phone screen is the first line ‘real interview’ and those who don’t prepare for it as such, blow the opportunity to make a positive first impression.   There are benefits and downsides to phone screens.                        


You can have notes in front of you including the job description, your resume, and answers to key questions.

You don’t have to dress up as you can’t be seen*


May get distracted by too many notes or sound too rehearsed

You can’t see the interviewer either, so you won’t get the cues from their facial expression to let you know how you’re doing

The only way you can convey enthusiasm is through the words you choose, your tone, pace and volume

*While you don’t have to dress for a phone screen, there is no doubt that dressing for the interview will put you in a different frame of mind.

It is critical to prepare for a phone screen as you would for any other interview.

• Do your research so you can speak to why you are interested in this internship/job and organization.  Prepare your answers to typical questions like ‘tell me something about yourself’ and ‘why should I hire you?’

• Focus your answers to highlight your skills as they meet the needs outlined in the job description.

• Have a list of questions to ask about the job and company.

• Be sure to line up a quiet place to conduct the interview where you are sure to have good cell service or use a landline to ensure you won’t get cut off.

• Remember that you can only convey enthusiasm through the words you choose, your tone, pace, and volume.  Phrases like ‘I am excited about this opportunity because…’ or ‘the most important contribution I made to the business was…’ will be certain to help peak the interviewer’s interest.

• End the phone screen as you would any other interview by asking about next steps.

• Send a thank you note within 24 hours, restating why you are a great candidate for this position.

Video Screening Interview:

More companies seem to be using the video screening interview instead of or in addition to the phone screen.  This is not a Skype interview, rather a one way presentation based on questions that appear on the screen.  Applicants are typically presented with a question and given a set amount of time to prepare before they hit record.  In some cases, you will get the chance to review and re-record your answer ONCE.  In other cases, your first answer is what will stick.  Here, too, the key is preparation, in terms of both content and technology.

Some tips for the video screen include:

• Pick a quiet setting and one without distractions.  You do not want the person who reviews the recording to spend more time looking at the posters in the background than

focusing on what you are saying.

• Test your computer to make sure the sound is

working properly.

• Once again, you can have your resume, the job

description and notes on the table, as long as you don’t look down at them while you’re recording.

• Have a pad and pen ready to jot down some notes as you plan your answer to the question on the screen, but do not read your answer.  Speak as if there is someone across from you.

• Visualize a person on the other side of the camera and speak to him/her to make this feel more real.  Pin up a picture of a person if that will help.

• Put a sticky note on the top of your laptop near the camera that says ‘smile’.

• Be sure to focus on the camera, not on the screen.  If you focus on the screen, you will not be making eye contact with your unseen reviewer.

• Raise your laptop up so the camera is at eye level.  This will make it easier to focus on the camera versus the screen.

For more tips on setting up for a video interview, check out 11 Tech Tips for a Stress Free Video Interview

The key to getting past the screening interview, whether it is via phone or a recording, is the same as for every interview.  You can’t just wing it.  You have to prepare.

Want some additional help with interviewing techniques?  Go to Navigator and click on Events to sign up for an

Interview Workshop or schedule an appointment with a career advisor by calling 973-761-9355.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 7th print edition.


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