What is a preliminary interview? (With tips to succeed)

Updated 1 June 2023

When you apply for a job, you may expect to go through several rounds of interviews before an organisation offers you a position. To begin this process, employers may start by inviting you to preliminary, or screening interviews. Learning about the purpose of these preliminary meetings and reviewing useful tips may increase your chances of advancing to subsequent rounds. In this article, we explain what a preliminary interview is, discuss its purpose and share tips to help you succeed at such a meeting.

What is a preliminary interview?

A preliminary interview, also known as a screening interview or culture-fit interview, is usually the first interview that you're likely to attend if recruiters think you're potentially a good fit for a role. A screening interview is typically shorter than a standard interview and may last between 15 and 20 minutes. For this reason, recruiters frequently decide to conduct them over the phone or via video call. In most cases, they're one-on-one interviews during which a recruiter focuses on asking you factual questions about your career situation, background and goals.

Related: The stages of the recruitment process and how to prepare for them

What's the purpose of a preliminary interview?

A screening interview is typically the first time a recruiter contacts candidates and talks to them about their qualifications and the job for which they've applied. The main purpose is to determine which candidates meet the employer's requirements. Recruiters use these preliminary meetings to gain basic information about potential hires, including their goals and their interest in working for the organisation.

In addition, talking to candidates for the first time can help recruiters get a general idea of a candidate's personality and values to determine if they're a good fit for the existing team and the organisation's culture. For example, they may want to see if a candidate is likely to show dedication and continue improving their skills to benefit the employer. That's why some people refer to screening interviews as culture-fit interviews.

Related: Why is recruitment important for human resource management?

Tips for succeeding in a preliminary interview

Because screening interviews are typically shorter than standard interviews, it's beneficial for you to know how to present yourself to make a good first impression on interviewers. Here are some useful tips you may consider to prepare for a successful preliminary meeting:

Research the organisation thoroughly

Researching the organisation is a crucial step to take before the initial phase of recruitment. As you're preparing for your screening interview, make sure to not only learn about the employer's history but also to research current affairs that may impact the organisation. This may include current industry trends or any notable projects the organisation has completed. Having done this research, you can decide how you want to articulate your interest in the position and the organisation, as the recruiter is likely to ask you about this.

Related: Complete guide: how to research a company for an interview

Research the interviewer

If you know who handles screening interviews on behalf of the organisation, ensure you research them. For example, you can visit their profiles on professional networking websites to learn how long they've worked for that employer. By doing so, you may find it easier to make a connection with them during the interview and ask questions that are relevant to their situation as recruiters.

Reflect on your experience and qualifications

During a screening interview, interviewers rarely ask complex situational or behavioural questions. Instead, they tend to focus on factual information and may ask detailed questions about your qualifications. For example, a recruiter might request that you talk about how many years of experience you have in operating a specific software. To ensure you're ready to answer factual questions of this sort, spend time before the interview reflecting on your background and experience. It's also helpful to have your CV nearby to refer to during the interview if necessary.

Wait for the interviewer to call you

As you're waiting for the interview to begin, allow the interviewer to call you. If they're a few minutes late, it might be because of a technical issue or scheduling conflict. If they're more than 15 minutes late, it's appropriate for you to send them a chat message. In addition, make sure to have your email inbox open, as the interviewer may send you a message explaining the situation or asking to reschedule.

Plan how to introduce yourself

Interviewers may begin screening interviews by introducing themselves and asking you to do the same. To make a lasting first impression via phone or video call, prepare a quick introduction, also known as an elevator pitch. By introducing yourself in under 30 seconds, you can give the employer enough information to ask follow-up questions. You may present yourself using storytelling and conclude with an interesting fact, for example, by briefly recounting how you came across the job posting or learnt about the organisation.

Read more: 3 elevator pitch examples (plus how to structure your pitch)

Draft answers to common questions

It's difficult to predict all the questions for a screening interview, but there are some frequently asked questions for which you can prepare. By analysing these and drafting your answers, you can improve your interview performance and imagine how the actual interview may proceed. Here are some questions you may hear during a screening interview:

  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?

  • How did you learn about this position?

  • Why are you looking for a new job?

  • Why have you decided to pursue a career in this industry?

  • What interests you about this role?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • Describe yourself in three words.

Related: Top job interview questions and answers: examples and tips

Provide concise answers

When answering a recruiter's questions and engaging in a discussion about the role, remember to make your answers concise and direct, especially when the employer asks you to provide information about your specific skills or places where you've worked. This shows you're mindful of the interviewer's time. At the same time, avoid quick 'Yes' or 'No' answers if possible, as it's important you convey your enthusiasm for the job.

Related: Smart answers to interview questions (with examples)

Prepare questions to ask

A successful screening interview is usually a conversation, during which the recruiter gives you an opportunity to voice your opinion or make comments. At the end, they're also likely to dedicate a few minutes to answering any questions you may have about the job or organisation. If you ask meaningful questions, it shows you're serious about the opportunity and that you've prepared well. Here are examples of questions you can ask at the end of a preliminary job interview:

  • What are some challenges the organisation currently faces?

  • Where do you see the organisation in the next 10 years?

  • How would you describe the work environment within the team I might join?

  • What's a typical workday like in this role?

  • What are the next steps in the recruitment process?

  • At this stage, do you have any hesitations about my qualifications or interview performance?

Related: Asking questions after an interview: an example guide

Prepare your surroundings

If the organisation expects you to attend your preliminary job interview via video call, make sure you prepare your surroundings. Choose a neutral background, such as a blank wall, that's not distracting to the interviewer, and make sure the room is well-lit. If possible, attend the interview from a quiet area to avoid distractions and make yourself feel more comfortable. In advance of the interview, you might schedule a test video call with a friend to check your computer, camera and microphone are working properly.

Related: Video interview tips: how to prepare for a video interview

Remember to thank the interviewer

Within 24 hours of your screening interview, send the interviewer a thank you email. Restate your interest in the role to show your enthusiasm. It's also good to mention something interesting you learnt from the recruiter and to thank them for their information and time. You may also reconfirm your availability if you discussed this during the screening meeting.

Explore more articles

  • How To Write an Interior Designer CV (Template and Example)
  • How To Write an Office Administrator Cover Letter (With Examples)
  • How to write a customer service CV (With example)
  • How to write a business administrator CV (with a template)
  • How To Include Core Competencies on Your CV With Examples
  • How to write an HR coordinator CV (template and example)
  • 8 additional information application examples (With tips)
  • How To Write a Retail Cover Letter (With Examples)
  • Guide for how to write a banker CV (with template)
  • How to write an executive assistant CV (with template)
  • Bad CV Examples and How To Fix Them (With Tips to Draft a Good CV)
  • How to write a private equity cover letter (with example)