5 Tips For Making it Past the Phone Screen

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to be part of the recruiting process for hiring Business Analysts for a few companies I’ve worked for. Most recently, I have spent the last 3-4 weeks up to my eyebrows trying to find senior BAs to join our quickly growing team. Having screened what feels like hundreds of resumes, and conducting the initial phone screen for dozens of candidates, I’ve gotten better at quickly determining whether or not to pass the candidate through the for additional interviews.

So, here are my top 5 tips for making it past the initial phone screen.

*I should start off by saying – all of the below assumes that you actually have the right qualifications for the job. No matter how well you address the following, you will not make it through if you don’t have the experience a company is looking for.

1. Know What the Company Does

I’ve been amazed at how many candidates I’ve interviewed that barely know what we do, other than what the recruiter may have told them. The really sad part is that it is SO easy to do.

  • Check out the company website. Read their press releases. Learn about their product. You don’t have to be an expert, but at least be aware what industry the company is in.
  • Google search the company. In addition to the company’s own site, see who else is talking about them.
  • See if you know anyone who has worked with/for them. LinkedIn is a great way to do this!

2. Fine-Tune Your Resume

Your resume is your very first deliverable to a prospective employer. It is a reflection of your written communication skills, and we all know that business analysts tend to write a lot.

  • Please check for spelling and grammar.
  • Tell me what I need to know without drowning me in words. Be clear, concise and specific. If I have to go to page 2 to see your actual skills, I’m probably not going to waste my time; and I’m going to be deathly afraid of what your requirements and specification documents will look like.
  • Customize your resume to the job you’re applying for. Every company defines the role of the BA slightly differently. If you have seen a job description, tailor your resume to the job description as best as you can. This takes extra time – but if the job description is the requirements…could you trace your experience back to match up with whether you meet those requirements or not?

3. Build a Relationship

Phone screens can typically last 15 minutes to an hour depending on who you’re talking to and whether this is your first, second, or third interview. But a good business analyst needs to quickly build relationships with their clients. If you can’t build a rapport with the interviewer in the first 5 minutes, how are you going to win over the client I need to put you in front of? Don’t overdo it. I mean, be yourself. But if all I can get out of you is one-word answers, and you don’t come across as “likeable”, you probably won’t make it through.

4. Be Prepared to Give Specifics

Be prepared to give very specific answers to the questions being asked of you, especially when they are related to the tasks that you’re attempting to prove you are knowledgeable about. If you can’t explain the information that will go in the Requirements or Specification documents to me, how are you going to help your stakeholders understand the information you’re trying to get. And how do I REALLY know that you know your stuff. Just because I am also a BA, please don’t give me answers like “you know”. Yes, I do know. But I’m trying to figure if YOU do.

5. Have Questions

Business analysts, by their nature, are inquisitive. It’s our job to ask questions and want to know more, right? So, please have questions prepared to ask during the interview. I always allot time for questions at the end – and tell candidates that right up front – so when I get to the end and I ask “What questions do you have?”, please have some. Why do I care?

I want to know that you care about your next job. How do you know if this is the right fit for you if you’re not asking any questions to better understand it. Ask me about the work environment. Ask me about the challenges. Ask me what my favorite part is. Just please ask me something that lets me know you’ve been around the block a little and you know what you like and don’t like, and that you’re looking for a place that’s a right fit for you.

I also want to know that you don’t just take the information handed to you, and that you can think of questions on your feet. You’re going to need to do this a lot in your day-to-day job, and if you took all the information as it was presented to you and didn’t ask any clarifying questions, how will you know you have the whole picture.

What else would you recommend to your fellow BA’s on the job-hunt? Have you peer-interviewed BAs? What do you look for?

I’m also working on a post about the Top 10 Things Never to Say (or Do) to the Person Interviewing You. I’m honestly amazed at some of the things I’ve heard. I’m trying to get to a place where it can be some comic relief before I share though – right now I’m too close to the pain and disappointment of hearing them that it would just come out as a rant. LOL

© 2010-2011 Real World BA, LLC. All rights reserved.
10 Responses to 5 Tips For Making it Past the Phone Screen
  1. Susie Turpin
    October 3, 2011 | 3:59 pm

    As a BA candidate re-entering the job/hiring market, this is VERY helpful. Great tips!

    • Real World BA
      October 3, 2011 | 5:04 pm

      So glad to hear it, Susie! Because I’ve been so involved in recruiting lately, I’m planning on a few posts related to that. Let me know what questions you have and I’ll look to address them in future posts. If you’ve got questions, I’m sure others do too. And good luck!

  2. Yaaqub Mohamed(Yamo)
    October 8, 2011 | 8:06 pm

    Hey Karie, this is a fantastic post. I couldn’t agree more with building the rapport part of this post. Time and again we tend to forget that the person conducting the phone interview is also a human.

    On your last tip, I think its also important to ask questions depending on the type of the phone interview. If its just a cursory initial screening call, then I wouldn’t go overboard with questions. If however its a detailed phone interview, then the progression of the questions that you are suggesting can deem fit. Do you have any additional thoughts on this?

    One additional tip I would like to add to this is to “Stand Up” and talk. This is an effective technique to speak confidently. I have experienced a higher sense of control, and positive energy flow when I stand up and talk. Just my two cents.

    Looking forward to you ’10 Things Never to Say or Do’ post.

    • Real World BA
      October 9, 2011 | 8:57 am

      Hi Yamo – thanks so much for your thoughts! I love the tip for standing up while you’re talking. Whatever gives you a boost to be on your game – when you’re on the phone it’s sometimes harder to feel as engaged with the interviewer. Another similar tip is to watch yourself in a mirror – to help you remember to smile. It’s amazing how much a smile changes your voice and how you come across.

      Regarding what kinds of questions to ask in the phone screen. I agree that you should tailor the questions to the appropriateness of the situation. However, don’t hold back on that initial phone screen too much – this might be your one and only chance to make a great impression. Unless you know in advance that the process will absolutely require multiple interview steps, you have a chance to wow your interviewer enough to put you through quickly.

      Also, tailor your questions to the role of the person you are talking to. Interviewing with another BA? This is a potential peer. Ask questions that show your team work, and your interest in the work environment. Interviewing with a Project Manager? Ask questions that show you can step up and lead while partnering with them to deliver for the client.

      Keep those additional ideas coming!

      • Yaaqub Mohamed(Yamo)
        October 9, 2011 | 5:48 pm

        Yeah, you are right. Sometimes holding back may deter a potentially useful exposure of your skill or experience. Asking role-based questions is a great tip too.

        Smiling is absolutely important. :) It is often said that a smile can flow in the words a person says over the phone(and create a positive tone). While being interviewed, it can be very useful to have a positive tone in your voice.

  3. Olga
    October 9, 2011 | 11:46 am

    These are great tips, thank you for posting! I have been on phone interviews in the past and I’m amazed at how much the interviewer can discern about the person and actually “hear” what is unsaid over the phone. Nonverbal communication is so important even over the phone. The tips for looking in the mirror and standing up are very helpful. I can’t wait to read your next post regarding the top 10 things never to say in an interview!

  4. Dayna Nickle
    December 4, 2011 | 3:43 am

    I think its also important to ask questions depending on the type of the phone interview. If its just a cursory initial screening call, then I wouldn’t go overboard with questions, thanks for the post, keep up the good work.
    Dayna Nickle recently posted..Forex

    • Real World BA
      December 4, 2011 | 6:49 pm

      Great point, Dayna! You definitely want to tailor your questions to be appropriate for the stage of the interview process. From my experience interviewing many candidates though, I will tell you that it makes a great impression on me when a BA candidate has great questions to ask. All about balance. :-)

  5. Mark Steward
    December 12, 2011 | 11:31 am

    I’m amazed at how much the interviewer can discern about the person and actually “hear” what is unsaid over the phone. Nonverbal communication is so important even over the phone, thanks for such a useful post.
    Mark Steward recently posted..Learn forex live

  6. Albert Bernard
    December 30, 2011 | 2:15 am

    Good job, keep it up. I have been on phone interviews in the past and I’m amazed at how much the interviewer can discern about the person and actually “hear” what is unsaid over the phone. Nonverbal communication is so important even over the phone.
    Albert Bernard recently posted..Learn forex live

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