Job Interviews for Dummies — Part 3

By Scot Herrick | Book Reviews

Feb 20

If you read the news, you’d think every company on the planet was laying people off. Certainly, we’ve seen a lot more people heading out for job interviews — and getting shocked at the Interview Gauntlet.

So I asked Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of Job Interviews For Dummies, 3rd Edition, published in January of this year, for a little interview advice. Today’s question:

Cube Rules: A recruiter or someone in Human Resources doing a screening interview, is different than an in-person selection interview. What does the book describe as the defining characteristics of the screening and the selection interview that you need to know?

Joyce Lain Kennedy:

Interviewing is a two-stage process in large organizations. The two stages are screening and selection. Screening precedes selection.

Screening Interview

The purpose of screening — or first-cut interviews — is to weed out all applicants except the best qualified.

Interviewers increasingly rely on technology — such as telephones and Webcams — to screen applicants. They use the technology as cost-cutting moves to help assure that candidates aren’t underskilled and overpriced.

The screener, if not an employee of the company inside the human resource department or an administrative assistant in another department, is a contractor working for a vendor — a third-party (independent) recruiter.

A screener quizzes all comers and passes the survivors to a person who makes the final selection, the hiring authority. That person is usually the department manager or the boss to whom the victorious candidate will report.

When screening takes place at a professional level (rather than leaving the task to an untrained receptionist or office assistant), the screeners are experts at finding out what’s wrong with you — exactly why you should be kept out of an employer’s workforce.

Screeners determine only whether you have the minimum qualifications for the position. They don’t decide whether you’re the best candidate. Typical subjects for the screening interview include:

  • Questions about your job history
  • Questions about your salary history or requirements
  • Questions about your crossover skills — ability to do the job
    Inquiries about inconsistencies on your resume, such as work history gaps
  • Probes designed to reveal lies in your resume
  • Questions to reveal what kind of person you are — reliable, trustworthy, team-oriented

Screeners usually aren’t concerned with evaluating your personality or thought processes.

Screeners want the facts, just the facts. They have one basic responsibility before putting you on the approved list and waving you up to the next interviewing level: to be sure that you qualify. They do so by validating your experience, education, skills, and track record.

Stay on skills message: Keep your answers straightforward and save most of your dynamo-drama moves for the selection interview.

As long as you’re qualified and don’t volunteer reasons for the screener to send you away, expect to be passed to the decision-maker — who assumes that you can do the job or you wouldn’t be showing up in the “approved” interview pool of candidates.

Selection Interview

Unlike screening interviewers, selection interviewers are rarely pros at interviewing and often just go with their gut, hoping the task will be over as quickly as possible so that they can hurry back to their “real” work

Even if the questioner seems like the kind of person you’d share a beer with, don’t relax and just shoot the breeze. Remember, your interviewer is trying to decide which candidate is the best investment for the company; a wrong choice could cost the company thousands of dollars in training time, correcting mistakes, and firing to hire again. Too many bad hires can cost the selection interviewer his or her job.

Selection interviewers are looking for:

  • Strong presentation of personality — how you will blend with other employees, as well as your general likeability and motivation to work
  • Specific details of your competencies and skills — how your qualifications allow you to do the job better than other candidates
  • Specific details of your job experience or education — how you’ve not only done — or been trained for — a similar job, but how you’ll apply that background to the new job
  • How you handle specific job scenarios — how you think under variable or stressful conditions and solve challenges

The selection interview is where you move from neutral behavior into high gear. You become more open, revealing the best of your personality.



An additional theme to be aware of in the selection interview concerns “fit.” How well will the candidate (YOU) fit into the current team? How well will you mesh with your manager? Business is still a social event and people want to work with people they like.

Joyce has some very good answers here — well worth understanding the different answers to questions and sales pitch needed for the screening interview compared to the selection interview. Spot on!


Joyce Lain Kennedy is the nation’s first syndicated careers columnist. Her work, Careers Now, is distributed by Tribune Media Services and appears in more than 100 newspapers and Web sites.

Job Interviews For Dummies, 3rd Edition is an authoritative theatrically-themed guide that takes readers’ problems seriously but not itself. Richly complete with both fresh and timeless interviewing solutions for job seekers at all levels and size of employer. Special attention is focused on new graduates, career changers, and prime-timers over 50.

The 3rd edition is loaded with scripts and tips to use in a reinvented world of eye-popping technology, workplaces without borders, and a changing generational mix.

Chapters 1,2,3,4, 15,16 & 17 (68 pages) are totally new with game-changing topics. Additionally, the 3rd edition is chock-full of updates and revisions throughout, reflecting important changes in job interviewing practices and tools over the last 8 years. (this is a serious update — Scot)