I’m not that old, but I still remember days when you simply had an interview. Interview you went to, talked to one or two managers, answered some questions. And at the end of it, or within 48 hours, they let you know whether or not you got the job. Just like with everything else in the world, however, hiring has become much more sophisticated, and complicated. It isn’t uncommon nowadays to go through four or five interviews, before you finally learn whether you got the job. And sometimes they don’t even let you know :). Online interview, Hirevue, Zoom, Chime, Skype, screening interview, phone interview, face to face, group interview, role play, and so on, and so forth. In this post we will look at the screening interview, and what’s the purpose of it.

Before diving into details, let me explain the basics. Goal of a screening interview, as its name suggests, is to screen out a certain percentage of applicants. It can be 50%, 75%, or even 95%, depending on the number of applications the company received for the given job opening. Remember, the aim is to screen out people at this stage, and not choose the winner, the one who gets the job. That’s the purpose of later interview stages (final interview in particular). Company can also organize a series of screening interviews, especially if they got loads of applications, and need to filter them out.

Now you know the basics, and what the purpose of the screening interview is. To sum it up, getting an invitation for a screening interview is great, but even if you pass it, you will still be quite far away from a coveted job contract. Let’s have a look at some details now, so you know how to prepare better and eventually succeed.


Typical format of a screening interview – phone, video, and AI

If you hoped to benefit from your good looks, or personal charisma in this interview, I have to disappoint you. In 99% of cases, you won’t meet anybody in the screening stage of the interviews face to face. After all, the purpose of the screening interview is to save time, and make sure that the busy hiring managers meet only people it is worth meeting in their view.

Screening interviews typically take place on the phone, or, which is even more popular today, they take place online. But you don’t speak to a recruiter or HR generalist sitting in front of their computer screen. You either speak to a robot, or you simply speak to the camera on your phone or laptop, recording your answers that someone else will watch later on. Or maybe they won’t watch them, if artificial intelligence decides who proceeds to the next round. Sounds like science fiction to you? Well, you would be surprised to know how many HR tasks are already “outsourced” to technology….

The only person you compete with in screening interview is yourself

If you think that your personal purpose in a screening interview is doing better than other job candidates, I have to disappoint you again. It is certainly your goal for later stages of the hiring process. In screening interview, however, you “compete” only with the criteria. The personality, experience, character criteria, the intelligence criteria, communication skills criteria, or anything else they observe while watching/listening to your answers.

It doesn’t really matter what other candidates say or do, since each one is considered individually. Either you score enough points (meeting the threshold they set for the given round of screening interviews), or you don’t, and won’t proceed to the next stage of the interview process.


What questions can you expect in the screening interview?

Things has changed a lot here as well. Historically, screening interview was more about getting a feel of the applicant. How they communicate, what their motivation is, whether they meet the basic job requirements. To get to know such things you do not need to come up with some tricky interview questions. Tell me about yourself, why do you want this job, or what are your strengths were the common questions. However, things have changed a lot in the recent years.

Nowadays, you can expect any question in a screening interview, including both simple and difficult behavioral interview questions. As a rule of a thumb, the more prestigious the job, the more behavioral questions you will face right in the screening stages of the hiring process. It should not discourage you though. Try to prepare for all questions you may possible face, considering the job and the company you interview with. Maybe you eventually won’t face the tough questions in the screening interview, but you will face them later on, and the preparation won’t end up a waste…


Final thoughts on what’s the purpose of the screening interview

At the end of the day, screening interview is just a label. It is hard to make any exact definitions, expect of that the main purpose is to screen out a certain percentage of applicants for the job. But for one company a screening interview can be a short 5 minute phone call to each job applicant, with just two basic questions asked. For another company it can be 30 minutes long video interview, with 10 questions or more. On the top of that, in some cases you may actually have to pass more rounds of screening interviews, before you eventually get a chance to talk to someone from the company in person. I hope this article helps you to understand the nuances of this stage of the hiring process, and how to prepare for it. If you are not sure yet, I suggest you to check our interview preparation guide, or the 15 most common interview questions & answers. Thank you for reading, and good luck in the interviews!


Matthew Chulaw
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