Ace Your Phone Screen By Telling Your Story, Pt. 2

Ace your phone screen by telling your story

In Part 1 of this series, you learned how to craft a Story that will resonate with recruiters. Now we’ll talk about exactly how to tell the recruiter your Story during your phone screen.

So you’ve prepared your Story and practiced it a few times. You’ve got your next phone screen scheduled. Now you just need to wow the recruiter!

Be ready

When it’s time for the phone screen, be ready at the agreed-upon time. The recruiter may call a few minutes late, and you shouldn’t take this personally, but on your end you should be 100% ready. Make sure that you’re in a quiet spot and that your phone is fully charged! While this might seem obvious, every recruiter can tell you stories about candidates who took the phone call on the subway, or in a too-loud coffee shop, or… Well, you get the picture. Somewhere other than a quiet, calm place with no background interference that might make it hard for the recruiter to concentrate on what you’re saying. And give yourself a little padding at the end of the scheduled time. If the phone screen is going well and runs a little long, you don’t want to have to cut it short because you have another appointment.

You want to have enough time to finish up this conversation!

Tell your Story

Recruiters will often lead with an open ended question like “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” The purpose of this is two-fold: they want to put you at ease, and they want to get a sense of who you are and what you’re about. The recruiter likely has your resume and your LinkedIn profile in front of them while you’re talking, so don’t just start reciting bullet points. Instead, this is when you’re going to tell the recruiter your Story. At this point, keep the narrative at a high level (think generalities, not specifics). You can dive into the details later if they’re relevant and will drive your Story forward.

Let’s discuss

Your Story isn’t a monologue. Instead, it’s an invitation for the recruiter to ask questions! If you find that you get lost when the recruiter asks a question, it can be worthwhile to keep a list of the high points on hand during the phone screen so that you don’t miss entire portions of your personal narrative.

Talking tech

Even though recruiters tend not to be very technical, as the gatekeepers of the interview process they need to hear that you’re technically competent enough to get to the next round. Be prepared to talk about languages, frameworks, etc. so that they can get a sense of your proficiency level. Part of your Story should be a quantification of how well you know the tools that you have listed on your resume and LinkedIn. Be honest about this stuff! “Familiar but rusty” isn’t going to disqualify you in most cases, and it’s going to come out sooner rather than later if you’ve overstated your skills.

Context, context, context

Never forget why you’re talking to the recruiter – you are interested in a particular position! This context will help you tailor your Story to the specific role and company in question. For instance, if you’re interviewing for a role at a startup, discuss projects or anecdotes that highlight your flexibility, agility, and sense of urgency. Or, if you’re interviewing for a role at a larger company, highlight your commitment to iteration, optimization, and process. Think about why you’re excited about the role or company, and this will come through in your answers.

Stay positive

Never trash talk employers, even when it’s deserved! Keep things positive and professional at all times. Negativity is a big red flag for recruiters.

Check in

While most recruiter phone screens tend to take between 30 minutes to an hour, sometimes they can seem to last forever. Talking about yourself for that long can be hard! It’s okay to check in with the recruiter if you feel like you’ve been talking too much. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask if there’s anything else they want to know about.

Question everything

Always be prepared with some questions! Be sure to do some preliminary homework on the company. Google them to find some recent articles, and spend some time on their website. This will definitely guide a few specific questions. A few good generic ones:

  • “What will role be immediately responsible for/what would I be working on first?”
  • “Is this role new? If so, how is <company> building out the team?”
  • “Can you tell me about professional development at <company>?”
  • “What does the career path/growth for <role> look like?”
  • “What are you most excited about for <company> this year? What brought you there? What keeps you there?”

And finally, never ask about money first. If that’s what you lead with, that’s what you seem to care about most.

Finish strong

The end of your conversation with the recruiter is the perfect opportunity to seal the deal! Tie elements of your Story into specifics about the role and company: “After chatting with you, I’m really excited about x,y,z because it fits in with a,b,c that I’m bringing to the table.” Emphasize that you’re really interested. Now’s not the time to play it cool!

Do you want that job?
The recruiter should already be able to tell you want the job. Don’t make them ask.

And always ask about what the next steps are and what you can do to prepare for them. This shows that you’re proactive, and it’s always a great signal to recruiters.


You made it past the recruiter gatekeeper! You’re not out of the interview labyrinth – heck, you really just got started – but you’re one step closer to getting that job offer. Put the time and effort into crafting a cohesive, compelling Story before you start off into the interview labyrinth. It’s going to pay off. Not only will you be able to use it in in phone screens, as we’ve discussed in this article, but you’ll be able to use large parts of it in the actual interview as well.

You’re reading an article about how to ace recruiter phone screens, so my spidey senses tell me you might be looking for a job! Did you know that CodeSignal can connect you with hundreds of tech companies that are actively seeking qualified engineers – all with only one application? Head to and start finding that dream job today!  

Tell us…

Do you have any tried-and-true tips for doing well on recruiter phone screens? Tell us over on the CodeSignal forum!

Ace Your Phone Screen By Telling Your Story, Pt. 1

Ace your phone screen by crafting your story

Sometimes getting through the interview process can feel like trying to find your way through a maze. Scratch that, a labyrinth. One with a bunch of traps and scary parts. (It’s not a perfect metaphor, but work with me here.) There are almost always some predictable stages in the process, though, and one of these is the recruiter phone screen. This is where the recruiter gets a sense of who you are as a candidate and whether you’re worth moving along to the next step. So you can think of the recruiter as the gatekeeper to the labyrinth. You need to get past them in order to get further into the maze, so that you can find your way through, so that you can get to the end, which is of course the amazing job offer. 

Sometimes the end of the labyrinth seems really far away.

Your Story 

To get past this recruiter gatekeeper, you need to have a Story. Not just a story, but a Story. Your Story must be a cohesive narrative that describes your professional path. Your Story will be personal to you, of course, because it’s yours, but the recruiter will be looking for certain cues in your Story that indicate to them whether you’d be a good fit for the role and for the company. If the recruiter doesn’t hear what they need to hear, chances are you won’t be making it to the next, more technical parts of the interview process. So while it’s tempting to dismiss the recruiter phone screen as a mere formality, in reality it’s hugely important. Because without it, you’re done.

The interview process is like a labyrinth
The recruiter probably doesn’t have hair like this, but you can’t tell since it’s a phone screen.

Make it cohesive

Create a narrative that helps recruiters understand your professional path. In a lot of ways, this narrative is similar to your personal elevator pitch – just with a lot more detail. Most people aren’t great with coming up with this sort of thing on the fly, which is why it’s important to prepare your Story ahead of time.

Cover your bases

Your Story should cover your education, your professional history, any personal history that might impact your professional history, and your professional skills. (What do I mean by personal history that impacts your professional history? Think things like: A cross-country move for a partner that resulted in a few months where you were looking for work.) You want the recruiter to get a really good sense of who you are professionally – where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you’d like to go. It’s fine to sprinkle in a few personal details like your hobbies, but keep these brief.

Frame it

Your career path, including any pit stops and pivots, needs to make sense to the recruiter. Even if something isn’t part of a plan, you will be able to work it into the narrative. Framing is everything. For example, if you got laid off from your sales job and then decided to switch careers and become a developer, you can frame that layoff as the best thing that ever happened to you because it gave you the chance to pursue your real passion. It would also be a great chance to talk about any sales skills that make you a strong developer (great communicator, good at working in distributed teams, etc.) List out your work history. If a piece of it doesn’t flow naturally with the rest, work on framing it so that it makes sense in context.  

Explain yourself

Be prepared to explain any gaps in your employment, because the recruiter will ask about them. In general, these gaps aren’t worrisome as long as you have a good explanation for them! (A big exception to this is quitting a job without having anything else lined up. The recruiter might take this as a signal that you have trouble sticking with a company.) Taking a sabbatical is fine – just make sure you have a great reason for it. This is another case in which having your Story prepared is key.

Focus on action and impact

Part of crafting your Story is having some stock anecdotes that you can refer to in pretty much any phone screen. Be prepared with a few projects or stories that you can walk the recruiter through. Recruiters want to hear that you can break things down into manageable chunks and explain them. In these anecdotes, focus on action and impact rather than on what your job duties are/were. State of what your impact was, followed by an explanation of the problem you solved and the specific actions you took.

Practice makes perfect

You might feel silly doing it, but it’s absolutely worthwhile to get some help while you’re crafting your Story. Practice in front of friends. They’ll be able to help you clarify your Story or tighten the narrative. It’s also useful to have them pretend to be a recruiter and ask you some questions.

Sometimes it will take a few tries to get your Story right. You should prepare it beforehand, of course, but you may also find that it evolves over the course of a few phone screens into a Story that resonates with recruiters.

phone screen
You’re so ready for this.

You’re reading an article about how to ace recruiter phone screens, so my spidey senses tell me you might be looking for a job. Did you know that CodeSignal can connect you with hundreds of tech companies that are actively seeking qualified engineers – all with only one application? Head to and start finding that dream job today!

Stay tuned!

Now that you’ve put some serious time and effort into crafting your personal Story, it’s time to put it into action! In Part 2, we talk about how to effectively tell your Story to a recruiter.

Tell us…

How do you prepare for recruiter phone screens? Tell us over on the CodeSignal forum!