What’s Getting You Weeded Out During The Phone Screen?

What’s Getting You Weeded Out During The Phone Screen?

By Jeff Altman,  The Big Game Hunter


You are sitting at your desk at work or at home when the phone rings. It’s a recruiter. They want to talk with you about a job. Being the nice person that you are, you stop what you’re doing to accommodate them. After all, it is about a job, it’s important, they are important, I want to please them.

This first call from a recruiter is really about screening you.

What is screening?

Imagine for a moment you are in California during the gold rush. There is golden the river and you have to find it. You take off your shoes and socks and walk into the river. You have a pan with a screen on top. You reach into the water with the pan and screen. The crud and silt will go through the screen and the gold will remain on top.

That’s what they are there to do. They are the screen and they are trying to get rid of the crud and silt. Your job is to make it easy for them to know that your gold.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t do a good enough job of that and are rejected at this stage of the hiring process.

People make a number of predictable mistakes at this stage of the process.


You take the call when you aren’t ready.

People are often too casual or accommodating when a call comes in. “It’s only a recruiter,” or “it’s only a screener,” they think to themselves. “It’s no big deal.”

Unfortunately, this attitude causes them to be unprepared for the call. After all, it is an interview and you can be rejected.

Always be mentally ready to take the call. If you aren’t, if you are preoccupied when this initial out of the blue phone screen comes in, it is better to say, “I with a few people now,” or, “I’m about to start a zoom call. Can we speak at . . . ,” And suggest another time.

You think you know what the job is

Even if you have a job description or have seen an ad, job descriptions and ads are about 80% accurate. By the time the job opens up until you speak with someone, and may have evolved in in the hiring manager’s mind to something significantly different or slightly different than what you understand the job to be.

It’s always better to clarify the position with the screener BEFORE you start having a conversation with them about your background so that you can talk about what you’ve done that matters to them and not just talk about what you’ve done.

After all, you may be emphasizing something different than what they now want.


You think you can wing it.

Even if you can get through the phone screen to the next step, the screener can be an advocate for you during financial conversations.

Great athletes all practice. Great entertainers all rehearse. Job hunters do interviews where the words are coming out of the mouth the first time and they wonder why they make mistakes and aren’t invited back for subsequent conversations.

If you’re in the job market, you need to be practicing for interviews including those with screeners before you get the first phone call.


You let them set the agenda about compensation.

Every question about salary and compensation with a screener is about negotiating. They’re not asking these questions in order to collect data. They are negotiating the price.

“What would you say the rock-bottom base salary is exclusive of bonus you’d find acceptable to join the staff of a firm?”

“Could you be a little bit flexible?”

“We have people internally making less than that.”

“That’s above the midpoint.”


These are all examples of a company negotiating your price downward before you know anything about the job, your  potential future boss, or the team.

Always deflect these conversations until after you’ve met with real decision-makers . . . But don’t be rude about it.


You forget to sound excited . . . Or analytical if this is a quantitative role

Every company has a hiring bias about personality types. In US culture, this is reflected in the bias toward hiring people who seem passionate about what they’re doing. For many of these jobs, introverts are at a disadvantage.

However, many of these extroverts are equally disadvantaged when interviewing for roles involving extensive quantitative are analytical expertise.

Appropriate personality for the role should be exhibited during the interview. Failure to do so can leave the screener questioning and put you on “the back burner.”

“The back burner” is a metaphor for stalling, letting something simmer to see if something better comes along. People rarely get off the back burner to be hired. Like the pot that’s left to simmer, all the liquid eventually evaporates, just like your candidacy.


Mistakes like these can be problematic for you and your candidacy for new roles. Even if you aren’t actively looking for something and you are contacted by a recruiter, whether corporate or third-party, always leave them with a great impression of you and your capabilities.


You don’t know where you’ll run into them again and the bad impression can prove costly to you . . . And you’ll never know it.

They may see your profile a later date on LinkedIn or whatever the job site is of the day in the future and decide not to contact you.

They may mutter a word of criticism to a hiring manager based upon the recollection of you from 10 years previously.

It may be financially costly based upon their unwillingness to advocate for you at offer time.


These are among the reasons you’re being weeded out. They all add up to your playing the game like an amateur, not as a professional.

Always be a pro at this and other aspects of job search and career management, not an amateur.


© Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter  Asheville, North Carolina 2021



JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2100 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

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What’s Getting You Weeded Out During The Phone Screen?

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