A screening interview is an initial stage of the recruitment process. It is where everything starts and what decides whether you move on or not. Therefore, it holds a big importance in your job search.
In this article, we will answer the most common and pressing questions about the screening interview. Read on to find out what it is, what to expect, and what happens after.
A screening interview is the very first conversation you will have with somebody from the company you applied for. The chances that it will be the employer are low, as it is too early in the recruiter process for you to meet them.
Usually, the screening interview will be conducted by a recruiter. They will ask basic questions to evaluate whether you’re a good fit for the role and should move on to the next stage.
The main purpose of a screening interview is for the recruiter to get to know you better and decide if you fit the profile they’re looking for. It is also an opportunity for you to ask your initial questions and find out if you wish to pursue the role. You will also find out a bit more about the company and the role.
Essentially, a screening interview is a way to make sure both you and the recruiter don’t waste your time. There is no point in interviewing for a position you don’t like or are not qualified for. A screening interview is there to ensure that doesn’t happen.
A screening interview is a regular procedure in the recruitment process. A vast majority of companies practise it, and it is completely normal to get invited to one.
It is likely that a screening interview won’t be outright called that. Instead, you can often see the recruiter asking if you are available for a quick call. If you hear this question right after sending your CV or being head-hunted, you can be sure that what they actually mean is a screening interview.
Being invited to a screening interview is not an indication of having an advantage or falling behind other applicants. Every candidate whose CV catches the recruiter’s attention needs to go through it, regardless of their qualifications.
A screening interview usually lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. It’s usually not longer than that, as it is not the standard interview yet.
Recruiters usually don’t need more than that to find out all the basics they need about you and tell you a bit more about the company. It may run a little over if your answers are very long, or if you have a lot of questions. However, the aim is to keep it concise.
You may sometimes hear a screening interview being referred to as a screening call. This only means that it will be conducted over the phone.
A screening interview can be conducted in person, via a video call, or just a regular phone call. Frankly, the last option is probably the most popular. Due to how short a screening interview is, recruiters may not think it’s necessary to have candidates commute to the office.
Pro tip: if you know you are located in a different country than the recruiter, it might be a good idea to suggest conducting the screening call over WhatsApp or a similar online communicator. Standard calls in roaming could generate additional costs on the employer’s side, so it is better to warn them and make them aware.
A screening interview is a type of interview but in a very early stage of the recruitment process. Consider it a demo version of a full job interview.
To begin with, it is much shorter than an official job interview. While the latter can last anywhere from 45 minutes to well over an hour, a screening interview is usually no longer than 30 minutes.
The type of questions you will be asked is also not as thorough yet. They are usually very basic, and not as in-depth as during a job interview at the later stages. If you’re interested in specific examples, jump to the section of the article with the most common screening interview questions.
A screening interview may also seem much less formal and more relaxed than an official interview. Recruiters usually don’t even call it what it is in order not to generate unnecessary stress. They want to get to know you better and allow you to ask your questions without extra pressure.
Note: that doesn’t mean that you should approach a screening interview too informally. Remain as professional as you would during a regular interview and dress appropriately. You don’t yet need to worry about tough or tricky interview questions at this stage, but make sure to be polite and act as you would in a formal setting.
Although a screening interview may sometimes not seem as formal as a regular job interview, opt for a smart outfit. A dress shirt and nice trousers or a blouse and a skirt in neutral, toned-down colours are the safest option.
Style your hair and make sure to wear full shoes that do not expose your toes. Do not put on too much makeup or dress provocatively.
Pro tip: follow the instructions above, even in the case of a screening call. During a video call, the recruiter will still be able to see you, so wear a full smart outfit in case you need to stand up during the call. It’s rather unlikely, but if it did happen, you wouldn’t want to flash your sweats or pyjama bottoms paired with a fancy shirt.
Expect the standard procedures of a regular job interview. You will be asked basic questions about your professional background, career, goals and motivations, expectations, or reasons for applying for the role.
Your answers to them don’t have to be as in-depth as at the later stages, but they do have to be exhaustive. Say enough to satisfy your interviewer, but don’t make your responses long enough to overwhelm them. For now, their role is just to establish which pile your CV falls to: those who proceed further, or the dreaded “discarded” pile.
It is likely that if you move on to the next interview, you will be asked some of the same questions again. If that happens, you will be expected to answer more thoroughly. The recruiter can also ask you to expand or elaborate on anything you had said before, so don’t worry about having to cover everything during this very short conversation.
You can expect a slightly less formal atmosphere, as the interviewer will want to get to know you when you’re relaxed. No commitments are made at this stage yet, so there is no need for creating extra stress.
However, do keep in mind that first impressions matter, so while relaxed, remain professional throughout the duration of the interview. Dress smartly, mind your body language and facial expressions, and be polite.
You can never fully predict exactly what questions you will be asked. However, there are some screening interview questions that are more common than others.
A screening interview is very commonly opened with a universal, simple phrase: “Tell me about yourself”.
Saying this, recruiters want to hear about your professional background, the most important milestones in your career, as well as your achievements and qualifications.
Don’t go on a tirade detailing every single year of your professional history. Only outline the most important aspects at this stage. Choose the ones which are the most relevant for the position you’re interviewing for.
The form “tell me about yourself” seems more casual and open-ended than a specific question, which is why interviewers like to use it. However, as informal as it seems, they still expect to hear only about pertinent matters.
Below, you can find some of other most common screening interview questions:
What made you apply for a job at our company?
What are your expectations in a new job?
What drove you to leave your previous job?
What is your professional history?
What are your biggest strengths/weaknesses?
Which personality traits would make you a good fit for this job?
Why did you apply for this position?
Which previous accomplishments would help you perform well in this role?
What motivates you?
Additionally, you can expect more technical questions concerning the specific position, such as:
When can you start?
Are you aware that the job is fully remote/fully office-based?
Are you willing to relocate for the job?
Would it be a problem for you to commute for the job?
Do you have permission to work in x country?
Are you aware we don’t offer visa sponsorship?
Are you aware that the position comes with frequent international travel?
These types of questions are very pragmatic and meant to sieve out candidates who are not suitable for the job for logistic reasons. Imagine going through the entire recruitment process, only to find out at the very end the company doesn’t provide visa sponsorship, which you need. It would be a waste of your time and effort, as well as a big setback for the company, which has been convinced they have found the perfect candidate.
If a question about a technical aspect you’re interested in isn’t asked, you are free to ask it. For example, if nothing is mentioned about visa sponsorship, you can ask if the company provides it. Finding out that isn’t not may be disappointing, but this fact would not change further down the road, so finding it out at the very beginning saves time for both you and the employer.
There are also certain questions recruiters are not allowed to ask. Forbidden interview questions include queries about:
Age and gender
Race, colour, and ethnicity
Marital status and family
Family planning (“eg. “Do you plan to have children in the near future?”)
Origin, country of birth, or nationality*
Interviewers cannot ask about these things because they are obliged to make unbiased decisions. They are not supposed to know anything which might somehow impact their judgement of you as a candidate.
*Some recruiters may be tempted to ask about your nationality on the grounds of establishing whether you are legally eligible to work in a certain country. However, your country of birth does not always determine that, so they should formulate the question directly.
You are not obliged to answer any questions related to the matters listed above. First of all, do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
The best approach is usually saying that you don’t see how this is relevant to the position you’re applying for. If the interviewer insists, say you don’t feel comfortable answering this question and that you won’t do it.
This may upset a nosy recruiter, but don’t worry about it. You probably wouldn’t want to work for a company whose policy supports asking these types of questions during interviews, anyway. Such practice is a clear red flag and should make you reconsider choosing this employer.
Usually, recruiters prefer leaving the salary talk until the last stages of the recruitment process. However, it is not impossible that you will be asked about your salary expectations during the screening interview. Some interviewers may be required to ask this question in order to filter out candidates whose financial expectations don’t overlap with the company’s offer.
Therefore, it is a good idea to do some research regarding salaries. Things to take into consideration are:
The position you’re applying for
Location of the job
All of these aspects have a direct impact on the range of salary you should expect. Always be reasonable, but never ask for too little.
Preparation for a screening interview is similar to preparing for an official job interview. Here are a few of our best tips to ace a screening interview:
The purpose of a screening interview is to prove to the recruiter that you are a good fit for the position. In order to do that, you first need to find out yourself if you are a good fit for the position.
This is why you need to carefully read the job description. It includes specific keywords you will need to pay extra attention to. Identify them and keep them in mind when crafting your answers to common screening interview questions.
The job description will also specify the requirements and experience expected of the candidates. It’s okay to apply for positions where you don’t check all the boxes – they are usually over the top on purpose. Recruiters are willing to consider candidates with less experience or who don’t fulfil all the requirements, but don’t push it. Avoid jobs you have nothing in common with.
Similarly, pay close attention to formal requirements. Some companies expect applicants to be based in a certain location, have work permission in a specific country or a visa, or fulfil other legal obligations. They are usually non-negotiable for legal reasons, so it is crucial candidates follow them.
Visit the company’s official website and social media profiles. Read its reviews, including employees’ opinions on sites such as Glassdoor. Your company research is meant to both impress the recruiter and help you decide whether you'd feel comfortable as its employee.
Note down everything you feel may be important during the screening interview:
The services/products provided by the company
Company’s mission and goals
Pro tip: pay close attention to whether the company’s values align with your own. If there is anything that raises your concerns, don’t be afraid to inquire about it during the screening interview. There is no point in interviewing further for a position in a business you don’t feel comfortable in.
Don’t read them out loud during the actual interview. But do prepare them to have a starting point during the actual meeting.
Interviews can be stressful and have the tendency of getting our tongues. Getting your answers ready in advance and going over them a few times will make the conversation easier.
As we have already mentioned, it is not a given that you will be asked about your desired salary during the screening interview. However, this might happen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The more familiar we are with a scenario, the more comfortable we feel in it. It’s probably impossible to get rid of all stress accompanying a screening interview, but some of it can be taken away by practising beforehand.
The ways to prepare for a screening call don’t differ from preparing for a screening interview conducted in person. Follow all the steps outlined in the previous section.
The best way to ensure you ace the screening interview is to come across as confident and communicative. Be professional, believe in yourself and your qualifications, and remember that if you have been invited for a screening interview, the recruiter must have found your CV attractive.
Follow our advice regarding ways to prepare for a screening interview, and you will be sure to make a good first impression and move up in the recruitment process.
Pro tip: ask questions. Asking questions in an interview demonstrates your interest and willingness to find out more about the position and company.
While it is important to disclose any gaps between your application and the job requirements, don’t be too honest. There is no reason to pretend you have a certification or a visa if you don’t. Formal things like that can be easily verified, and revealing a lie will immediately disqualify you.
However, a screening interview is not a place to undermine yourself. While talking about your employment history, focus on the positive aspects. Mention what you have, rather than what you don’t. Direct the spotlight on your strengths, not your weaknesses.
It is also not recommended to ask about the salary during the screening interview if the recruiter doesn’t bring the topic up first. It is understandable that you don’t want to be wasting time interviewing for a position which doesn’t meet your financial expectations and needs.
However, even well-paid jobs sometimes don’t disclose salaries until later on in the recruitment process. This is to make sure that candidates are not solely motivated by the money, but that they are genuinely interested in the position.
The first thing you need to do after a screening interview is to send a follow-up email to the recruiter. Briefly thank them for their time and once again express your interest in the job. This demonstrates your care and politeness.
The steps of the recruitment process after the screening interview depend on the company. Sometimes, you will be invited straight to the official interview with the hiring manager. Other times, you will be required to do a series of tests examining your personality or technical abilities that are crucial for the role.
First of all, remember that it is not always the issue of you having done something wrong. The decisions taken by a company throughout the recruitment process are impacted by a number of different factors - most of which are out of our control.
If you do not get invited for another interview, it does not have to mean that you are not an attractive candidate. Perhaps the recruiter has decided that your experience is impressive, but you wouldn’t be a good fit for the team personality-wise.
The HR staff know the other employees very well, and their job is to not only find the best talent, but also select candidates whose energy and character match the other team members. They need to ensure everyone will feel comfortable, so if they decide the team’s dynamics wouldn’t be a suitable environment for you, they’re doing both sides a favour.
Every role and every company come with certain specifications. The recruiters have to make sure they overlap with the candidates as much as possible, so their decisions are never personal.
If you receive a rejection email, or don’t hear back at all, you can reach out and ask for feedback. This way, you can turn the situation around and learn something new to improve for your next screening interview.
This is all you need to know about a screening interview. The key is to remain calm and focus on your strengths. It is probably the most relaxed stage of the recruitment process, so there is no need to stress too much.
If you believe you are a good fit for the position and prepare for your screening interview well, your chances of succeeding increase. Remember that rejection by a recruiter is never personal, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t move on to the next stage.
If you follow our tips, you should be just fine! We wish you the best of luck in your upcoming screening interviews, as well as in the further stages of the recruitment process.
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