Preparing for an initial screen with a recruiter

So you’ve applied to a job online (or been referred, whatever the situation may be!) and a recruiter or HR representative at the company contacts you for an initial call. Depending on the role, this is usually around 30 minutes and can be a phone or video call. In this blog post I cover how you can best prepare for this interview and common questions you may get asked. I’m excited to share my perspective from being a recruiter, but also from having interviewed for many jobs myself and what I’ve been asked. If you prefer to watch this in a video format, check out my 15 minute IGTV here!

Someone reached out to me on Instagram saying they were contacted about this initial recruiter call for a role they had applied to – yay! The recruiter (she) mentioned it would be 30 minutes, she wanted to review the applicant’s background and answer any questions they may have.

Based on my experience, here are some questions you can expect and prepare for that will help you feel confident and ready going into the call.

Tell me a little about yourself

I would say keep this between 1-3 minutes. Introduce yourself, what you’re doing currently, what you’re looking to do, where you’re currently located and anything else noteworthy you want to get out there right away. This could be an elevator pitch or mini bio of sorts. Commit this to memory so you can jump right in confidently and start the call on a high energy note.

What drew you to apply for this role / what is your motivation for applying for this role?

Prepare to talk about what in the job posting resonated with you and why and mention a few key skills you have that they’re looking for. You’ll likely be asked to expand on that further or give examples. When a recruiter asks what was your motivation to apply, they’re usually looking for your “why” which is why it’s important to mention something specific about the posting that interested you. Or maybe you noticed on the company website that they offer professional development opportunities, have employee resource groups, some sort of unique benefits offering – whatever it may be. They are usually looking for why you are interested and if you have a specific answer.

Tell me about your current or most recent position / what does a typical day look like?

A recruiter has likely read the bullets on your resume, but will still ask because they want to hear you talk through it. (So don’t say – it’s on my resume lol) My biggest piece of advice here is to mention notable projects or accomplishments related to the role you are interviewing for, and also to make sure you know every single bullet on your resume and can speak to it in more detail. It happens quite often that I ask someone about a specific bullet on their resume that interested me and they say “Oh, I didn’t know that was on there.” Or “That was so long ago, I don’t really remember.”

Similar to the above question – tell me about the previous position listed on your resume

I don’t typically ask candidates to take me through their entire resume, but I do usually ask about current/most recent role, and the role before that to make sure I get a good understanding of what they were doing hands on. Some recruiters will go through your resume position by position so just be ready to speak to all of them.

Why are you looking to leave your current role / what were your reasons for leaving past roles?

You may have already addressed this in your motivations for looking for a new role. Although I don’t love this question, people do want to know. My best advice is to be truthful but make sure to keep the focus on you. For example, reiterating why this role is a good fit for you moving forward because it offers career growth, development or whatever those things are that you are looking for. I would keep it focused on what you want in a new role (for example a strong leader to learn from) vs. saying that you’re looking to leave your current role because you don’t like your boss. Of course do what feels most authentic to you!

What are your strengths / weaknesses?

I only ask candidates about strengths, and if I do ask about weaknesses I phrase it as what are some areas of development you would have based on this role? I think it’s important we are self-aware because we likely don’t meet every single qualification on the job posting. Which is okay! All roles I’ve obtained in my career I did not meet everything on the job posting and when asked, was honest about what areas are my strengths vs. areas I would need to develop and grow into. To answer the strengths question, of course share your specific strengths but also have an example ready of why that is a strength of yours. You could also mention what you’re known for and what previous coworkers and managers liked about working with you.

What are your salary expectations?

 Sometimes the salary range is listed on the job posting, OR you’ve already filled out your expectations on the job application, but the recruiter will still want to confirm with you before proceeding further in the process. You can let the recruiter know if the posted range is acceptable to you or not, and ask questions about vacation time, annual bonus target, or other things that are important to you in order to move forward. If you aren’t sure of the range and they won’t share it – here’s what I have done personally as a candidate. I come prepared with a base salary number in mind that I wouldn’t want to go below based on my current situation and needs. For example I can’t take a cut from where I currently am (some people can and are fine with that!) the commute time, etc. So when asked my salary expectations, I confidently state that number that I’d be happy with based on what I know about the role right now. If I was told that my salary expectations weren’t in line with what they were looking to pay and they want to pass on me as a candidate, I can sleep at night and no hard feelings because I know it just wasn’t something that would work for me. I’d hate to get all the way to the end of an interview process and be offered something that I wouldn’t feel valued at.

What is your highest level of education completed / do you have any certifications / what do you like to do for professional development?

Depending on the responsibilities of the role, you may get asked a question such as “What do you like to do or what resources do you use to stay on top of the latest HR law changes and HR trends?” If this role is expected to stay on top of the changing legal landscape (or whatever is listed in the job posting) I would come prepared with a resource / example of how you do this. Recruiters are also usually looking to confirm highest level education completed whether that’s high school, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, etc.

Job specific questions – tell me about a time you did XYZ?

You can probably predict from the job posting what these questions will be. If the job requires you have experience handling employee relations matters or investigations, you’ll likely be asked: tell me about a time an employee brought a claim to you that required an investigation. What steps did you take? Think of examples ahead of time related to the job posting responsibilities. If you don’t have have an example because you don’t have experience, think of (or do some research on) how you would handle that situation and be able to explain that.

What questions do you have for me?

I would come prepared with at least 3 questions. Be sure to get any housekeeping questions answered if you haven’t already – what are the hours, who does this role report to, etc. Any important things that you need to know in order to feel comfortable moving forward with the role. Ask some meaningful questions as well to demonstrate a deeper understanding of how the role connects to the organization’s bigger picture. Depending on the company and what you know about them, you may have questions about their products or services as well. In my experience, the questions I’ve asked at the end have helped me stand out in an interview even more than the answers I gave to their questions, because it demonstrates interest and critical thinking skills. (I have gotten this feedback.) Don’t say you have no questions!

I hope this was helpful and gives you some things to think about as you prepare for your initial screen with the recruiter. You got this!

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