Lately I’ve been getting so many requests for help with phone screens, phone interviews and video interviews too. Does it seem like employers keep coming up with new ways to frustrate and rattle job hunters – or is it just me?

If you’re not sure what to do when invited to any of these interviews, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are some consistent elements to all of them that can make a big difference if you are prepared for them.

First, let’s distinguish among four different types of screening devices you may encounter:

The phone screen: The phone screen is designed to catch you off guard because you’re not expecting it. It’s a call from a recruiter or hiring manager. It’s brief and very general. The goal is for them to see if you are good on the phone, available and interested. During the pandemic, phone screens have increased dramatically. See the notes below about how to handle these.

The phone interview: This is generally a scheduled call with a recruiter, not the hiring manager. The objective is to see if they want to bring you in for an interview. The questions are simple and focused on your resume and interest in the role/company.

The video screen: This onerous device (yes, I’m letting my judgment show), is meant to get information from you without involving any real human interaction. It’s a series of online prompts/questions, and you have to record the answers. It is inherently stressful because it is timed, you don’t know the questions ahead of time, and you only get one “do-over” on most platforms. More and more companies have adopted this technology in the last 6 months, and I expect is to become the norm because if the dramatic increase in the number of applications companies are receiving as unemployment increases.

The video interview: These are generally conducted over Skype or Zoom. It may be basic or in depth depending on the stage of the process. Dress as you would for a traditional interview, and be prepared to interview with multiple people, sometimes, together, sometimes, not. THE way you’ll be interviewed during the pandemic for most industries. In fact, the entire interview process for most companies is taking place in a virtual environment, and so is onboarding, and of course, the job itself. 

Before digging into preparation, one important point about a phone screen. This is the call you are not expecting. You either pick up the phone or you let them leave a message. If you pick up the phone, remember you are under no obligation to let them screen you on the spot. Instead, say “Hi, it’s great to hear from you, but unfortunately, I’m not able to talk right now. I’m free (offer a few times).” Or let the call go to voicemail (and make sure your box isn’t full!) The point is you don’t want to get caught in an important conversation while you’re in the middle of something at work or otherwise distracted.

In terms of preparation, it’s pretty much the same, regardless of format: Know how to tell the story of you…your skills, your career path, and why you are specifically interested in this job.

This means scouring the job description for key skills and responsibilities and finding ways to talk about how your experience has prepared you for the role. Essentially, you’re preparing an answer to the question, “Tell me about yourself…” or “Walk me through your resume…” (Watch this for what you should say and watch this for how to prepare.)

A few other tips:

  • Keep notes on skills and experiences you want to highlight, written out on a piece of paper (you don’t want to be searching for it while you’re online or on a call).
  • Choose a quiet space with minimal distractions.
  • If you are recording, keep in mind that background matters. (Do you really want a hiring manager to see a TV or unmade bed in the background?)
  • For video, dress for the interview as you would if you were doing it in person (at least from the waist up!).
  • Check to see if other candidates have shared the interview questions they were asked for the same role.
  • Google commonly asked interview questions for the role.
  • Practice all of your answers on video. Record, watch, delete, repeat!

Cheers to your career!


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