How to Get Past a Screening Interview

Avatar: Jim Kidd
  • Jim Kidd
Jul 31, 2020

A screening interview is often the first hurdle in an interview process. It can be administered in a variety of ways, including a phone call with live or pre-recorded questions, a video interview, or a text message conversation. Recruiters use these screening techniques to evaluate your qualifications and determine whether to invite you to complete a more formal interview, especially in cases where they have to quickly sort through a large number of candidates. 

Most screen interviews cover the same basic topics: a review of your background, role-specific questions designed to determine if you’re a viable candidate for the position, and sometimes details about your salary requirements and availability to work. 

Typically, more than 50 percent of candidates are screened out, which means it’s just as important for you to make a positive impression during this stage of the application process as if you were meeting with the CEO of the company for a one-on-one interview. Here’s how.

1. Pick a quiet setting where you can focus.

Whether you’re completing your screening interview over the phone or through a recorded video session, it’s important to minimize background noises that could make it difficult for the recruiter to hear or focus on your responses. You don’t want to be the person who’s remembered for having the toilet flush in the background. 

2. Dress professionally, even if you’re at home.

Even though there are plenty of memes going around the Internet about the pants-optional Covid days we’re living in, pants are always a good idea for video interviews. Dress pants or other professional attire are even better because they show that you take the process seriously. 


3. Smile, even if you’re talking on the phone. 

Ever notice how you can hear someone smile? It literally changes the tone of their voice. When you’re feeling nervous or thinking hard about a question you were just asked, it can be easy to forget to smile, yet this one little step can change your response from sounding cold and uninterested in the position to warm and enthusiastic. 

If you’re not completely confident in your phone/video voice, try recording some practice sessions and listening/watching them until you feel more comfortable. Or, ask someone you trust and respect to provide feedback on your practice recordings.   

4. Know your stuff.

Be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • Tell me about yourself. (Click here for details on how to answer this one.)
  • What do you know about us?
  • What kind of company culture do you thrive in?
  • ·What range of compensation are you looking for?
    Note: Give a straightforward response and then leave it alone. When a candidate returns repeatedly to the topic of salary or benefits during a screening interview, it can be a signal that they’re primarily focused on the money and the perks, not the job and company.
  • Can you commute or relocate if necessary?
  • If selected for the role, when would you be able to start working?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
    Note: Avoid negative comments about your former employers. Badmouthing is interpreted as a sign of poor professionalism and low tact and diplomacy. Instead focus on what you’re looking for in a new role. For example, instead of saying, “My current job doesn’t give me any growth opportunities,” say, “I’m looking for more opportunities to advance and develop my skills.”
  • Describe your current responsibilities.
  • What’s been your biggest achievement so far?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do you cope with stress?
  • What motivates you in a job?
  • How do you hold yourself accountable for delivering results?
  • Give an example of successful teamwork. What was your role? What was the result?
    Note: If asked for an example of anything, tell one specific story that illustrates a challenge and how you helped successfully solve the problem.

5. Keep your answers short and to-the-point. 

Some video screening processes limit the amount of time you have to answer each question to two minutes or less. Even if there are no external factors though, it’s still best to keep your answers short and to-the-point. If you are invited for a second interview, you’ll have more opportunities to unpack the full breadth and depth of your experience. In a screening interview, you just have to provide enough detail to pique the recruiter’s curiosity. Even in a brief interview, you can emphasize your genuine interest in a position as well as your enthusiasm for an organization and the value you could bring to the position.