Trick or Treat

Trick or TreatWe are a week away from Halloween so let’s talk about a part of the job search process that reminds me of going Trick or Treating: the Screening Interview.

As most of you know from personal experience, interviewing is the most difficult and stressful part of the job search process and it requires lots of research and preparation whether you are looking for a professional job at a blue blood Wall Street law firm or your first job as a stockroom clerk at Wal-Mart.

In the job search process the screening interview is usually the first contact between an employer and a candidate, and screening interviewers are quite often the toughest ‘people’ you will meet, and I use the word ‘people’ loosely.

And what is it about a screening interview that makes me think about Trick or Treating. Well in both cases you leave your home not knowing what to expect from the people you meet, you need to be constantly on guard, and one false move can be the difference between coming home empty handed or ecstatic.


So you ask, what is a screening interview and what is its purpose? Companies that conduct screening interviews do so to pre-determine if a candidate meets the basic criteria for a job, and should be passed along to HR or line decision maker. You noticed I said to take the word ‘people’ loosely. This was not meant to disparage people who conduct screening interviews; quite the contrary.

Today in many large and midsize, and even in small companies, the initial interview screening process is automated, and every resume is scanned and parsed into ATS software systems and the screener inputs keywords and other criteria so the data base can spit out compatible candidates who meet minimum standards for the position.

It is for this reason that a large percentage of highly qualified candidates are left out of the game before they can even get in it. They are the candidates who submitted resumes that got lost in cyber space and never get eyeballed by a human being.

To avoid this happening to you I suggest you have a specially constructed, computer friendly, ASCII formatted digital or electronic resume in your portfolio that is expertly written and covers all the bases.

Now if you were lucky enough to get called in for a screening interview, what do you need to know?

First off the people who conduct a screening interview are less prone to be professionally trained interviewers, and in many instances they act as gatekeepers. In addition their task is not so much to look for reasons to open the door for you to walk through and meet the decision maker on the other side, but to find reasons to show you the front door and ask you to shut it on your way out.

Screening interviewers do not ask questions with the intention of determining if you have the best skills, experience, and intangible assets for the position. This is the job of the next level interviewer. When conducting a screening interview they act more like farmers at the beginning of planting season and try to dig up all of the dirt about you and use this against you.

They will scrutinize your resume and delve into the negatives such as gaps in your work history, and grill you on specific dates in your employment, “I see here that you worked for ABC from 2006 to 2007. Was that 2 years 1/06 to 12/07, or was it 2 months or 2 weeks 12/20/07 to1/4/07 that you worked there.” Then they will grill you as if you were trying to pull the wool over their eyes and mislead them. You need to anticipate this line and manner of interrogation and remain cool, calm and collected when answering to defuse them. I worked there for 12 months, from June 06 to June 07 and I listed it this ways in order to keep continuity with the rest of the dates on my resume” The way you answer the question is just as telling to them as the response itself, and more so if poor communication skills is a trait they are looking to screen out.

They will also scrutinize the statements and adjectives you used on your resume, and ask questions like, “I see from your resume that you have expert level ability in both Excel and PowerPoint.” Then you reply, “Well not quite expert level but I am really good at both.”

When I asked screening interviewers they told me two things that turn them off on a candidate are people who overstate their value and worth on paper, and candidates whose resumes say they have a level of competency that excites them, and then let them down by not living up to their PR in the live interview.

This is one reason I stress you use accurate, descriptive adjectives on your resume and don’t try to oversell yourself by overinflating your worth and ability. Because poor use of language can turn around and nip you in the butt…

Next week I’ll continue on the topic and discuss other types of interviews and interviewers you are bound to encounter.


Perry Newman, CPC CSMS is a nationally recognized executive resume writer, career coach, AIPC certified recruiter and SMMU certified social media strategist known for his ability to help his clients get results. You can view his sample resumes at, and email him your resume at for FREE resume critique.

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