Sarah Katz

NYC-Based Full Stack JS Developer

From the mind of Sarah...

The Interview Process: Phone Screen

July 08, 2019

While my job search has not yet resulted in me finding my perfect next job, it has led to quite a few interviews. In fact, last week and this week I've had a few phone screens scheduled. As I was trying to figure out the best time to schedule one of my phone screens, I thought it would be interesting to spend some time thinking about how I prepare for phone screens and see if I can pinpoint what works for me, what I can take out of my routine, and what I may want to add to my routine.

My prep for the interview process actually starts with my initial application. Before I apply to any job or reach out to a company, I do a little research on the company to see if it's the kind of place I want to work. I don't write any of this down, I just use the information to help me determine whether or not to apply, but this is when I first start learning about the company.

Fast forward to the next step. When a company reaches out to me to schedule the initial phone screen, my preference is to schedule interviews in the late morning/early afternoon (I like to have time to eat breakfast and get myself together, but not enough time that I start getting nervous), but I try to be fairly available.

Once I've scheduled the interview, I don't really do much prep until either the night before or the day of. If I don't really remember much about the company from my prior company research, I'll spend 30-45 minutes the night before the interview doing more company research. If I don't feel like I need to do more research, then I don't do anything to prepare the night before.

Interlude: I've been interviewing for a few months now, so I feel like I already have a good handle on my answers to the "standard" interview questions (what I'm looking for in my next job, things about my background, salary requirements, etc). If you're not confident in those answers, I definitely recommend spending some time the night before brushing up on what interviewers tend to ask and coming up with answers. If you have a friend or family member nearby who wants to help, try asking them to "interview" you so that you feel comfortable answering these questions on the spot.

My final preparations for a phone screen start the day of the phone screen, generally 30-45 minutes before the scheduled time for the call (sometimes a little more if I feel that I have a lot to prepare). The first thing I do is set up my physical space - I make sure I have a comfortable place to sit, a table, desk or other writing surface, and a pad and pen. I find that pad and pen is better for me than taking notes on the computer, both because it's quieter (so my interviewer likely will not hear me taking notes) and because it allows me to have the job listing and/or company website open on my computer during the interview. Which brings me to the next step in the process of getting set up - I make sure my computer and phone are both decently charged. If I think I will want to be hands-free for the call, I take out my headphones and plug them into my phone.

Once I have my environment set up, I start my preparations for the content of the conversation. This starts with opening up the job listing (if I have one), the company's website, and the company's careers page. I read through all of these and see if there's anything I want to ask questions about or anything I want to make sure to mention that I can connect to my prior experience or my career goals. When I find something that I know I want to mention, I write it down, either in a document on my computer or on a pad of paper that I can have on my desk in front of me. I also tend to try to find the LinkedIn page for my interviewer (assuming I have the person's name) just to give me a little bit of a background on who I will be speaking with and how long they've been with the company.

Once I've reviewed the job listing and brushed up a bit on the company and the things that connect me to the company, my next step is to brush up on what the company already knows about me, and I do that by reading through my resume and/or cover letter. I already know my own work history, but I do this to help jog my memory about things that I want to discuss during the phone call. It also gives me the opportunity to see if my resume raises any red flags that I may need to be able to explain (although it is hard for me to see these red flags in my own resume).

The last thing I do to prepare is make a list of questions that I may want to ask the interviewer. These questions may be related to the notes I made on the job listing and the company, or they may be related to my past experience and things I'm looking for in my next position. For example, at my last position I don't feel I was managed in a way that was conducive to my growth, so I generally ask questions about management style and career growth and mentorship to see if this company would be a better fit in that regard. Remember that while the company is interviewing you, you are also interviewing the company, and it's important for you to know whether the processes and procedures in place at the company fit your career goals. I always have more questions on my list than I actually plan to ask (I try to limit the questions I'm asking to 2-3 questions in this first interview if I can), and I decide which ones to ask based on how the conversation goes.

Right before the scheduled phone time, I take a trip to the ladies' room, make sure my water bottle and/or coffee cup is mostly full, and turn off the volume on all of my devices (including my Google Home, when I remember). I make sure that I'm ready to go at least a minute before I'm expecting the call (or if I'm dialing in to a conference call, I call in a minute early), but I also make sure I have something on hand that can slightly distract me while I wait for the phone to ring or for the other party to pick up the phone.

Once the interview starts, I try to be in the moment and focus on what my interviewer is asking me, but I also like to take notes. I will readily admit that I sometimes write down too much in my notes (I had one 30 minute interview where I took 2.5 pages of notes), but I think it is important for me to write down some thoughts on the interview. I mostly write down things the interviewer tells me about the company, the position, and the interview process, but I also take some short notes on what questions I was asked and a anything I may have said in my answer that I think I may want to re-emphasize later in the interview process.

When answering questions, I try to draw from my prep notes, while at the same time trying to be spontaneous and "real." If there's something I learned about the company that I felt aligns with my personal philosophies, I do my best to mention that, but I don't limit myself to the words I prepared before the interview. I definitely struggle with answering questions sometimes (talking about my background is always tough for me), and I sometimes lose my train of thought and I'm not great at covering that. But mostly I try to treat the interview as a conversation with a new friend, which helps me relax a bit and be less nervous.

After the interview, I take a few moments to "reset" my brain. I'll grab a healthy snack, play a game on the computer, clean up my working area a bit ... anything but think about the interview. Once I feel like I've properly reset and the emotions of the interview are gone, I sit down at the computer and type up my notes, occasionally adding comments about how I thought I performed, whether I could have answered a question better, and how the interviewer's comments resonated with me. At the end of my notes, I write a few lines about whether or not I think I will be asked to move to the next step and how (if at all) the interview changed my impression of the company (because I do find that I learn a lot more about the job and the company by talking to my interviewer than I do from reading through the website).

My process is far from perfect. I know I struggle with talking about my background and work experience, so I really probably should have a short answer to that prepped and ready to go. I probably do spend too much time taking notes, which pulls me away from the interview a bit. I probably do allow myself to relax a bit too much and could probably be more professional. I could probably do better company research and come into the interview with a list of a few things I'd want to accomplish if I was hired for the position. There is definitely room for improvement in my process, but overall, I think it works fairly well for me, and it's rare for my to go into a phone interview not feeling mostly prepared.

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