The Dynamics of Telephone Interviews
More and more companies, especially in major urban centers, are commencing their hiring interviews with preliminary telephone conversations. Such calls are routine when companies are considering relocating candidates from where they currently reside. And at PrintLink they constitute a daily feature of our industry-specific staffing services, since we operate out of headquarters in New York and Ontario to place candidates in jobs all over North America. Our insider’s knowledge of the industry we serve and our wide geographic reach have made us adept at managing the prescreening process effectively by phone.
Accordingly, this article addresses how employers can conduct telephone interviews proficiently and how phone interviewing differs in practice and outcome from face-to-face interviews. Of course, the main distinguishing feature of the telephone interview is that it normally serves only as an initial screening tool for identifying candidates who afterwards will be invited to attend face-to-face interviews with the employer.
Scrutinize Work History to Determine Fit
Even before picking up the phone, you can gain key insights from a candidate’s resume alone. To evaluate the candidate’s potential fit with your corporate culture, take particular heed of the companies the candidate has worked for previously and for how long. Then try to compare the “personalities” of the candidate’s former companies to the “personality ”of your own business.
To evaluate the candidate’s potential fit with your corporate culture, take particular heed of the companies the candidate has worked for previously and for how long.It is sometimes said that, for a big industry, printing is a small one—meaning a closely aligned community where most of the players possess at least some familiarity with each other’s companies. But even if you lack a professional acquaintance with a candidate’s past employers, their Web sites can offer insight into their corporate profiles, as well as some indication of the constitution of their customer base. And customer base is one of the sure-fire indicators of what the people who service them are like. Someone with blue hair and a nose ring, for example, is probably not working for a company whose customers comprise major financial institutions or other high-profile, conservative corporations.
To simplify questions about a candidate’s fit even further, some resumes are starting to include the candidate’s photograph. However, we feel that this practice is at best unnecessary and at worst may restrict a candidate’s prospects based on superficial factors alone.
Phone at Mutually Convenient Time
It is imperative for interviewers to realize that hiring isn’t anyone’s core activity during business hours (except for PrintLink’s!) For this reason, whenever we call candidates, we always ask them whether now is a good time to talk. If not, we reschedule the conversation for another mutually convenient time. Any alternative practice diminishes the depth of the conversation and wastes everybody’s time.
Incredibly, some companies make a habit of surprise telephone interviews. Their rationale is that the job they’re trying to fill presents regular surprises in the form of incoming contact from customers or internal situations that will require the candidate to respond spontaneously. Proponents of surprise calling justify their unscheduled phone interviews because they allow the interviewer to witness firsthand how well the candidate responds on the spur of the moment.
Unfortunately, this premise can prove inconsequential, since there are many equally or more effective ways to assess a candidate’s impromptu responses that, unlike surprise calls, don’t violate professional standards. Behavior-based interviewing and reference checks are two routine alternatives, while profile testing provides the ultimate tool in personality assessment. The main point here is that no magic plug-in solution—least of all surprise calling—exists to give a telephone interviewer the instant upper hand and ensure an effective interview. Rather, all aspects of the conversation require care, situational flexibility, and mutual participation by interviewer and interviewee in order to yield optimal results.
It is imperative for interviewers to realize that hiring isn’t anyone’s core activity during business hoursAfter all, to be effective a hiring decision must be reached mutually by both the employer and the candidate. But equally important, hiring managers must maintain appropriate professionalism and courtesy by demonstrating respect for the applicant’s current circumstances. Scheduling telephone-interview time just as you would a face-to-face meeting enables candidates to be in an appropriate location--and ideally on a land line--where they can speak uninterrupted and unguardedly, without risk of jeopardizing either confidentiality or their responsibilities to their current employer. Candidates speaking from home should have an advance opportunity to situate themselves in a quiet spot where they are uninterrupted by family, pets, or household occurrences.
Follow a List of Basic Questions
Prepare an outline of basic questions to ask each candidate that will determine whether or not a candidate’s skills and background meet your needs. Be sure to ask each candidate more or less the same set of questions to facilitate comparisons later. You may even want to ask some of the same questions during both the telephone and subsequent face-to-face interview to compare answers. But at the same time, avoid rigidly scripted interviews, since to be most effective, your interviewing behavior should adapt to the candidate’s responses.
Milk the Advantages of Calling
Not only does prescreening via phone economize on time and travel for both employers and candidates, but it also offers more subtle advantages. For one, interviewing candidates by telephone is liberating because it frees the interviewer from prejudices arising from visual first impressions. Another benefit for telephone interviewers is that people are often a little less guarded on the phone. They tend to be more frank and open, perhaps because they feel safer at arm’s length, or because they are not reading your body language, or are not physically ensconced in a formal setting. So we recommend that interviewers adjust their style and tone to encourage candidates to be even more relaxed and candid.
Observe Warning Signals & Probe for Explanations
Although in telephone interviews you can’t observe visible warning signs--things like abrupt changes in body language that reveal a candidate’s sudden discomfort--you can still spot plenty of indicators when you touch on a sore point. Such signals may include significant changes in the interviewee’s pace, pauses, volume, voice pitch, vocabulary, or degree of formality. Inappropriate humor, expressions of rigid beliefs, or excessive emotionality may also alert you to a candidate’s shortcomings.
All such warning signs require you to probe for additional information with follow-up questions such as: “Could you give me a specific example of what you’re talking about” or “Could you tell me a little more about it?” If it’s still early in the interview, avoid compromising rapport too quickly by noting down touchy topics and returning to them later.
Emphasize Recent Past Behavior
Although it’s important to delve into a candidate’s background, owing to time constraints the best opportunity for this line of questioning usually arises during the face-to-face meeting following the phone interview. The topic deserves ample time and attention because people’s success and failure patterns both have inertia. So when reviewing candidates’ histories, give their recent behavior the most weight. For instance, if they goofed off after college, but have demonstrated professional commitment in the last five years, you can usually discount their earlier immaturity. On the other hand, be wary if they have demonstrated discipline and attained significant goals earlier in their career, but have lately lapsed into an unstable pattern of too-frequent job changes.
To aid your hiring decision later, we suggest taking notes during all interviews. You may even want to compile a form for this purpose in advance (we use one), listing the standard questions you intend to ask each candidate, with additional space for recording their responses and your comments.
PrintLink encourages employers to build an “A team” by choosing strong candidates over weaker ones who can dilute the strength of your workforce.Another helpful memory aid is a checklist of qualitative factors you want to assess, such as the candidate’s friendliness, enthusiasm, professionalism, humor, or the types of questions they ask you.
Write a Report
As a further aid to decision-making, compile a report from your notes. To do so, we suggest reviewing your raw data three times. The first review occurs immediately after an interview to decipher your scribbles and ensure your written record is complete. If you discover that you need additional answers, you can always call the candidate back for a second conversation. Review your notes a second time to formulate a preliminary rating of the candidate, then make a third pass typically after a break of hours or days to reconfirm or revise your initial rating.
Weigh Positives and Negatives
Another helpful summary is a list of each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Assessing both is vital to hiring decisions. PrintLink encourages employers to build an “A team” by choosing strong candidates over weaker ones who can dilute the strength of your workforce. And while hiring excellent candidates who are a good fit for your organization helps but won’t necessarily ensure success, inferior or incompatible candidates can definitely spell failure. So it is just as important to weed out candidates who fail to meet your standards as it is to identify strong contenders.
And although the preceding steps for successful telephone interviewing can never replace all-important face-to-face meetings with selected candidates, they will certainly help you identify both the least suitable applicants and the most viable front-runners by phone. And if carefully followed, they will take you a long way toward your ultimate goal of a successful and strategic hire.