Phone pre-screens: what you need to know

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While on your morning coffee run, an unknown number flashes across your screen. After hesitantly answering, it quickly becomes apparent that this is the moment – it's a recruiter from that job you applied to last week. And they have questions.

Are you ready for an impromptu phone pre-screening?


Your palms begin to sweat, your heart starts beating at an unimaginable rate, and your focus is no longer on the road or a simple coffee run.

Your chest constricts, and words jumble in your mouth.

Stressed is an understatement; so what do you do?

The conventional interviewing rules go out the window, and

you're put to the ultimate test of impressing a recruiter with little notice. 

Spontaneously receiving a phone pre-screening can feel hectic, but recruiters take note of how you respond under stress.  With proper preparation, you don't have to stress when you get that call. 

KP Staffing’s team of highly trained professionals understand how you feel and are here to help eliminate some of the interviewing tension. Here are some tips to knock a phone pre-screening out of the park. 

Let the recruiter know if you’re in an unconventional interviewing space.

A phone pre-screen is essentially a quick interview consisting of questions geared to help recruiters slim down the applicant pool. This process is already anxiety-inducing enough, so having one sprung on you while at the grocery store, or on your morning jog is unsettling, to say the least.

It’s best to be upfront about your whereabouts, just in case there are unexpected background noises or elements out of your control.

Simply saying, "I'm in the car right now, so if I seem distracted or you can't hear me that's why!" helps the recruiter understand if you have long pauses or don't sound like you're paying attention.

They might even offer an alternative time to contact you, allowing you the chance to mentally prepare.

Stay on top of which jobs you applied for.

A recruiter can call at any moment; to appear interested and qualified for the position, know the job description and a few details about the company.

Have a clear understanding of what the employer is looking for, so you can best apply your experience and qualifications to their expectations.

You don’t have to be an expert but it’s impressive to appear knowledgeable, especially when the interview is unexpected.

If you can list one thing you remember about the company, your odds of landing an interview skyrocket.

For example, if you looked through our current openings and applied for a cook position for a candy manufacturer, remember that that's the one you were interested in. 

Have a personal 30 second elevator pitch prepared at all times.


The ability to highlight key points about yourself and your capabilities in 30 seconds or less is a quick way to impress your potential employer and set yourself apart.

Having a go-to series of statements prepared is one less thing you have to stress about, plus demonstrates confidence and a readiness to thrive under pressure.

Think about what you would want to hear about a person if you were a recruiter – an overview of your experience and what you've learned.

Instead of saying, "I'm detail-oriented," try to think of a role in a previous job in which you needed to be detail-oriented and point out that role.

For example: "When I worked for Amazon, it was really important that we pay close attention to the details so customers got the correct order; that job really helped me develop greater attention to detail."

When constructing your pitch, consider using phrases tailored to the job itself. For example, if the job description involves customer service or sales, mention sales figures from your previous job.

The point is to convey why the company needs to hire you in a few brief words.

Take your time and allow yourself to process the questions.

Recruiters get it; being put on the spot is terrifying. Suddenly, small pods of sweat start gathering on your forehead and a nervous stutter begins to attach itself to every word – the interviewing jitters have officially kicked in. 

Acknowledge these feelings instead of letting them fester. Being taken off guard is never fun, but you can't allow the anxiety of a spontaneous phone pre-screening to hinder your chances of landing the job. 


Pause for a moment, thoroughly assess the question, and then answer with purpose.

The interviewer will understand the anxiety; they just want to get a read on your personality and an overview of your experience.

If you need a second to think of your answer, acknowledge the question before your pause.

For example, if the recruiter asks what your strengths and weaknesses are and you go blank you might say:

"My strengths and weaknesses. Let me think for a second."

This lets the recruiter know you heard the question, rather than going silent and making them wonder if they need to repeat themselves.

Don't stress it.

A pre-screen is simply a chance for the recruiter to get a glimpse of who you are as a person and to spot any apparent red flags. While they are trying to find the best fit for the job, they aren’t aiming to scrutinize you for not knowing exactly what to say.

The objective is for them to see how you cope under pressure and whether or not you can adapt to particular work environments.

So, relax a bit. Focus on your voice and how friendly you sound.

Make the recruiter feel confident that, at the very least, they won't regret inviting you in to talk more in person about your skills and experience.

At KP Staffing, recruiters and call center associates contact applicants all throughout the day – the key is to always be prepared.

Whether you're on the way to lunch or frantically gathering your children's belongings before school, you need to know what it will take to impress potential employers at the drop of a hat.

We’re here to help you interview like a pro, even when you're taken off guard. For more tips and tricks, or questions, contact an expert recruiter. 

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