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March 17, 2022

8 Ways to Crush a Pre-screening Interview

8 Ways to Crush a Pre-screening Interview

What is a pre-screening interview?

Businesses, or in our case, a post-graduate program like a residency or industry fellowship will try and narrow down the applicant pool when they are flooded with qualified applicants and only want to bring the best fits in for a face-to-face or onsite interview.  They accomplish this through pre-screening interviews which are short, 15-30 minute interviews with one or more representatives from the program.  The interview format can be a simple phone call or done through video conferencing software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or GoToMeeting.  

How are pre-screening interviews different than regular interviews?

Pre-screening interviews are all about the program trying to limit the number of applicants and therefore they are all about getting to know the applicant.  There typically is no room for candidate questions to see if the program is a good fit for them.  That being said, you should still have a few good questions prepared just in-case!  Expect to be asked a lot of rapid fire questions that determine if you carry the qualities they are looking for in the position description. 

Also, unlike a normal interview which is made up of several small interviews with different representatives and even the program director, this will be a one-and-done.  You have to treat these pre-screening interviews as seriously as an onsite interview, if not more seriously as they are the gate-keepers to your proverbial foot-in-the-door.  

Here are 10 ways you can crush pre-screening interviews:

      1. Choose an interview space
      2. Get functional audio and visual
      3. Consider your lighting and aesthetics
      4. Practice your "tell me about yourself" elevator pitch
      5. Review commonly asked questions
      6. Record yourself 
      7. Practice a mock pre-screening interview with preceptor or mentor
      8. Know your interviewer or anticipate your interviewer

1) Choose an interview space

Since most pre-screening interviews are conducted virtually or over-the-phone, you control the space.  Choose a space that is quiet, clean, and void of distractions.  Make sure people will not be walking through, even off camera, where they can distract you from the interview.  It's very tempting to sit on your couch or bed for the interview as this may be where you attend class and it is comfortable; however, in these situations the camera will be down facing up, which is usually not as flattering as having the camera at eye level. 

Check for everything that could possibly go wrong in your space.  Remove pets that may jump or bark.  We know you love your fur-baby but they could make or break the interview if they distract you too much.  Replace fire-alarm batteries or other things that could possibly go off at the most inopportune time.  Make sure there is a strong internet connection by turning off devices that use wifi and asking friends and family to stay off wifi during your interview.  

You can always borrow or rent a space.  A faculty member or mentor may allow you to use their office for a pre-screening interview especially during times they are in clinic.  You may also be able to reserve a space at your school. 

2) Get functional audio and visual equipment

Let face it, you HAVE to look and sound excellent for a virtual interview.  There is nothing more distracting than choppy, difficult to hear audio.  Having quality audio and visual came make you standout.  If your laptop built-in camera or your current webcam is just not producing quality audio and video, consider investing in a new one.  This Logitech C920x HD Pro Webcam below is only $60 and may be worth it if you want to leave a quality lasting impression.

You should record yourself on your current system to see what the quality is and decide if you need the upgrade.  

You always want to have a back-up readily available.  You cannot control for all noises, and your neighbor may decide this is the time to pull out their loudest lea blower to clean off their driveway.  Having a headset set aside that you can plug in if needed could be life-saving.  Making a quick transition to a new microphone will show that you can handle situations well (but only use if needed!)

3) Consider your lighting and aesthetics

Give the space some color and character.  Put a plant behind your or next to you.  Have something decorative but not distracting hanging on the wall behind you.  These create an inviting space.  Consider putting something unique, but not out of place in view of the camera like a hobby of yours.  An example would be a guitar on a wall-rack if you enjoy playing guitar which will give the interviewer something to remember you by and may serve as a conversation piece "Oh I see you have a guitar, do you play often?" 

You want to be bright and visible during the interview.  Natural light is great, but even natural light sometimes is not enough depending on quality of webcam you have.  Investing in a ring light, like this clip on one for $20, may significantly boost your appearance. 

4) Practice your "tell me about yourself" elevator pitch

Pre-screener interviews are much shorter than normal interviews.  You need to be able to get your point across clearly and concisely.  This begins with the dreaded "Tell me about yourself" question.  If your answer to this is long, you should consider transforming into an elevator pitch.  What's an elevator pitch you ask?  Well, it's what entrepreneurs use to discuss their business plan to someone in a very short amount of time.  Or, if you can imagine, you get a quick elevator ride with the CEO of the company and you have the time it takes for the elevator to stop to get your point across.  

Generally, an elevator pitch is around 30 seconds, but it you may need about 60 seconds to really get to the meat of the question.  Practice giving that succinct overview of yourself in this time-frame.  Consider this formula to answering the "Tell me about yourself" question:

  1. Talk about your PRESENT, where you are now, what you are doing
  2. Talk about your PAST, how you got where you are today
  3. Finish with your FUTURE, where you see yourself going

5) Review commonly asked questions

The questions a program will ask during a pre-screener interview will usually be the same as the ones they ask during a regular interview.  It may even be the same amount of questions if you consider the fact that they will no longer leave time for you to ask them questions.  Check out a list of commonly asked questions like THIS ONE from ASHP and make sure you practice the situational questions. 

Situational questions, which tend to be the hardest to answer, can be answered using the S.T.A.R. or formula:

Situation: Describe the situation you were in or task you need to accomplish

Task: The goal you are working towards

Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation. Keep the focus on YOU. What did YOU do, what steps did YOU take. Use "I" and not "we" if possible

Result/Resolution: Describe the outcome of your actions and take credit if credit is due.

Can also do S.T.A.R.T. with the last T meaning Take-away: What did you get form the situation and how to apply it to future situations.

6) Record yourself

We mentioned this before because it is that important!  Record yourself answering interview questions that a friend or family member asks you or that you just ask yourself. Record video and audio, and then do THREE things.  

1. Watch the entire thing (We know... IT IS CRINGE INDUCING!) and get a general sense of your performance.  It's best to have someone watch it with you and so they can point out things you may miss.  

2. MUTE THE VIDEO and just watch your non-verbal movements.  Look for ticks or repetitive movements that distract you.  It's ok to talk with your hands, but making the same motion over and over and over may be distracting to the interviewer. 

3. TURN OFF THE VIDEO (or minimize it) and just LISTEN.  Listen for verbal ticks or filler words.  Things you may not even have realized were fillers may be your fillers.  We all are familiar with "um" and "like," but some people do not consider are "you know" and using "soooooo" to fill gaps or spaces.  If you are not sure if a word is a filler word, just remove it from the sentence and see if it still makes perfect sense.  Free software like Audacity can let you edit your mp3 file for free and see what you sound like with and without filler words used.  

7) Practice a mock pre-screening interview with preceptor or mentor

If you want to accomplish two things at once, just record this mock interview and review it.  We suggest a preceptor or mentor, especially one who conducts interviews for the school or for a post-graduate training program because they will be familiar with how to do this.  

If you are in college still, then reach out to Career Services or a similar department at your school and see if they offer free mock interviews.  These folks are trained on helping  you improve.

General tips for improving your verbal interview skills:

  • Spaces and pauses are ok, they are better than filler words
  • Think through questions, I know it's tempted to answer immediately, especially in a pre-screener interview, but take your time and think through more difficult questions
  • Look at the camera more or move the video of the person on your screen as close to the camera as you can to simulate you looking at the camera. 

8) Know your interviewer or anticipate your interviewer

Yes it is a pre-screener interview.  Yes the focus is on you. BUT!  You still need to know who is interviewing you.  If you do know who it will be ahead of time, then you need to do some research on this person or group of people.  Think about how you can modify your questions to stand out to this person.  

For example, say you have several situations you could discuss that all highlight a time in which you had to deal with a difficult colleague or co-worker.  If one of the situations is in a topic area, or place similar to who is interviewing you, that could make you stand out that much more! 

You also have to consider that you may get asked if you have questions and if you ask questions that are completely out of this individuals wheelhouse, then you may not leave a good impression. 


Pre-screening interviews are both exciting and stressful.  Keep in mind that you were noticed, and the program IS interested in you.  They want to get to know you better.  Be enthusiastic, be collegial, and leave that positive impression!