Although a brief conversation, phone screens are an integral part of the interview process, so be prepared with glowing answers.
If you’ve applied to jobs lately, you’ve probably had a recruiter or hiring manager reach out about a phone screening: a brief phone conversation that takes place before scheduling an official in-person interview.
A phone screen simply ensures no one’s wasting time. The recruiter has already seen your resume and now wants to ask a few follow-up questions to make sure you could be a good fit for the open position. Additionally, you can hear more about the company and the job and decide if this is an opportunity worth pursuing.
Phone screens are typically brief — anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Although it’ll be over before you know it, there are a few common questions you should prepare to answer.
11 typical phone interview questions and answers
Because a recruiter or hiring manager is simply looking to get to know you outside your digital application, you can expect more general, open-ended questions during your phone screen. Surprisingly, these can be the most difficult questions to answer, so prepare ahead of time.
Here are some common phone interview questions you can expect — plus some tips to help you give strong answers.
Question No. 1: Tell me about yourself
Although the “tell me about yourself” question can sometimes be annoying, it’s an important one. A recruiter wants to get to know you beyond your resume. However, don’t dive into your family life, your hobbies, or your love for cheese.
How to answer this question: Answer this question with your extended elevator pitch, outlining your specific skills and qualifications that make you a good fit for the job. Use the job posting to help inform your answer.
Question No. 2: How did you find out about this position?
You might have answered this question in your online application, but you should expect it again. It’s mostly for internal purposes and to see what recruiting efforts are most effective, but you can also use it to your advantage.
How to answer this question: Be honest in how you answer, but if you know someone at the company, don’t hesitate to name drop. Even if you first saw the job listing in an online networking group, share the name of the poster. Companies love when you have an internal connection, even if it isn’t super personal. It also shows you’re a savvy networker who’s tapped into your industry.
Question No. 3: How familiar are you with our company?
Of course, you’re familiar with the company … even if you hadn’t heard of it prior to applying. You’re not going to be able to lie your way through this question; you’re simply going to have to do some research on the company before your phone screen.
How to answer this question: Understand what the company does and be able to describe it in one to two sentences. There’s no need to dive too deep, but be sure to look at the online career page, too. Oftentimes, you can find key information about the company’s culture and explain why it excites you.
For bonus points, research the company in the news. Perhaps it recently won an award or completed a big acquisition. A recruiter or hiring manager will love hearing you’re in the know.
Question No. 4: Tell me a little bit about what you do now
Similar to the “tell me about yourself” question, this is simply a way for the recruiter to get to know you a bit better. You don’t need to outline your day-to-day duties, but this is a great way to emphasize certain aspects of your experience.
How to answer this question: You’ll want to focus on the key aspects of your current job that are most related to this potential new opportunity. For example, if you’re a writer and applied to an SEO-writing position, stress the SEO work you do at your current job, even if that’s not your primary duty.
If you’re changing careers, pull out current skills that’ll translate to this new position. You can also use this question as an opportunity to explain why you’re passionate about entering a new position or industry.
Finally, if you’re re-entering the workforce after taking time off, you can offer an explanation for the gap — but don’t feel like you need to overshare.
Question No. 5: Why are you looking to leave your current job?
The last thing you want to do is bad-mouth your current employer. Instead, the purpose of this question is to help the recruiter understand what you’re looking for in the job and in your career.
How to answer this question: Feel free to remain vague and state you’re looking for a new opportunity, that you’re eager to learn more, that you want to focus on developing a certain skill, or that you’re looking to change careers. You might also have more logistical reasons for wanting to leave your current job, like avoiding a long commute or relocating to be closer to your aging parents. Those are fine to share as well.
Question No. 6: What about this position appeals to you?
Here’s another opportunity to show the recruiter or hiring manager you did your homework.
How to answer this question: Return to the job posting and pull out details that made you apply for this position and reiterate a few of the ones that made you most excited. You can also use this time to talk more about the company and explain what about it appeals to you.
Question No. 7: What are your salary expectations?
Already?! There is a possibility that this question will come up in a phone screening. The company wants to make sure your salary expectations are in line with what they can afford.
How to answer this question: Before your interview, do some market research. Tap into Glassdoor’s salary tools to see what current employees make and what your “market value” is. Instead of divulging a single number during the phone screening, offer a range. This leaves you room to negotiate later.
If you don’t feel comfortable answering, there are some simple ways to deflect the salary question. Let the recruiter or hiring manager know you’d feel more comfortable discussing money once you know more about the job. If you can, try to get the prospective employer to offer up a range before you answer.
As a final note, you should never, ever feel obligated to tell this potential employer your current salary. In fact, that question is illegal in some cities and states.
Question No. 8: How quickly could you start?
Here’s another question you’ll want to think through before hopping on the phone. Although a potential employer loves enthusiasm, you probably shouldn’t blurt out “Tomorrow!” Be realistic and consider your needs.
How to answer this question: The interview process will likely take a few weeks. If you do get the job, think through the next steps. Let the hiring manager know you’ll need to give your current employer a two-week notice. Then consider if you’ll have to move and how long it’ll take to find housing. Again, be honest and realistic.
Question No. 9: Are you willing to relocate?
If you’ve applied to a job located in a new city or state, expect this question. The recruiter or hiring manager wants to know how serious you are.
How to answer this question: Again, honesty is the best policy. If you applied for the job, you’re probably willing to relocate, so you can stress your willingness to pack up. If you’re not, you could ask about any remote opportunities. Just don’t expect the company to budge on this matter, especially since the hiring managers haven’t had a chance to really get to know you and your qualifications yet.
Question No. 10: What do you look for in a manager?
Related: What’s your management style? What’s your ideal work environment? What do you look for in a job? Once again, this is a question that’ll help a prospective employer better understand if you’re a strong fit for the company.
How to answer this question: Return to your company research and the job listing. Pull out a few key aspects that appeal to you and the way you work. Perhaps the listing says it’s looking for someone who’ll work closely with their manager. If you’re into that, emphasize the value you place on manager-employee relationships.
Question No. 11: Do you have any questions for me?
Just like a more formal job interview, you should always have questions prepared to ask at the end of your phone screen.
How to answer this question: Because this conversation will be more brief, you probably won't be able to ask super-detailed questions, but you can always ask about the next steps and the estimated hiring timeline.
Phone screen general rules of thumb
Keep in mind the purpose of a phone screen is to ensure you’re a good fit for the company — and vice versa. For that reason, you’ll want to be honest with your answers. Additionally, show enthusiasm about the potential opportunity. Recruiters and hiring managers want to hear your excitement; that’ll get them excited about you. Conclude your conversation with gratitude. Let your contact know you appreciate the time they took to talk and provide more information about the position.
If you don’t pass the phone screen, don’t feel bad. The recruiter or hiring manager saw something promising in your resume. It could simply be that you’re not the best fit for the company or the position, and there’s no need to waste your time interviewing again.
Plus, there are plenty more jobs out there waiting for your application.
Not acing the interview the way you want to? It might be time to get a professional opinion. Our TopInterview coaches can help!