Ever wondered what’s going on when you get a call from a recruiter after applying to their job ad?

It starts off sounding pretty casual, but you finish the call with the queasy feeling you've just been assessed - and weren’t quite as prepared as you would’ve liked.

This is a ‘pre-screening’ call, and it’s a critical part of the recruitment process. A good recruiter will want to be sure they’re not wasting your time (or their own) in an interview if they’re unlikely to place you.

So, what can you do make sure you don't end your next 'phone screen' call by banging your head against the nearest wall?

Try these tips:

Use a professional voicemail message

First impressions really do count, and it’s amazing how often smart people get this wrong.

No message at all, or even worse, anything of the ‘Leave a message for Nate Dawg after the beep, yo’ is not going to help your case.

By the way, the same goes for email addresses. I’ve seen some crackers, ranging from the clever but wildly inappropriate (calculatingb*tch@XXX.com for a female accountant), to the just plain dumb (boozehag@XXX.com. Yes, really).

If you do use a ‘quirky’ personal address, create another especially for your job search (not, however, ‘specialjobhuntingaddress@XXX.com’, as one candidate I worked with did after I made the above suggestion).

Check your messages regularly – and return them promptly

Hissing cryptic messages down the phone because you’re at your open-plan desk isn’t going to cut it.

If you can’t answer the call, let it go to voicemail and then return it within 24 hours (during business hours), when you can speak freely.

Keep a record of the jobs you’ve applied for

There are few things more off-putting to a recruiter than talking to someone who makes no bones about the fact they’ve applied for so many jobs, they have zero memory of the one they’re being called about.

If you’ve found several jobs that suit your criteria and experience, keep a record of each of them, summarising why you’ve applied and any questions you have. Keep your notes handy for when you get a call about one of them.

It’s all about the delivery

Ask any recruiter and they’ll say the number one criterion they’re trying to assess over the phone is communication ability. This is especially true if you've applied for a junior level role, or if English is your second language; but even native English speakers at a more senior level can let themselves down on this front.

Conducting what’s essentially an interview over the phone is enough to throw anyone. Try this: Sit tall, as you would for an in-person interview, or even better, stand up. Slow down your rate of speech. Listen for verbal queues, and try not to interrupt (it’s easily done over the phone without visual clues).

Treat the call like what it is: A mini-interview

Be prepared to answer questions about:

  • Why the job interests you
  • Why you’re looking to move from your current role
  • What stage you’re at currently in your job search
  • Your current and desired salary/pay rate
  • Your previous experience

Ask good questions

Asking well-considered questions is one of the best ways to demonstrate your motivation and preparedness – it’s often the deciding factor between making the shortlist or not. It’s also your opportunity to make your own assessment about whether the role and company seem right for you, and if you’re happy for the recruiter to represent you.

Keep in mind that the recruiter’s client may have asked them to withhold the company name from non-shortlisted candidates. However, if you’re shortlisted and asked to meet the recruiter, you should be given the company name first, as you may have a reason for not wanting to work there.

Be flexible

If the recruiter wants to meet you in person, try to be as flexible as possible with times - remember, they'll be trying to juggle multiple interviews and diaries.

Lastly, don't forget that the recruiter should be aiming to impress you, too! 

This person is going to be partnering with you and representing you to employers. They should be professional, positive and know their stuff. If not, kick them to touch and focus your efforts elsewhere.


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