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Phone Interviews: Do’s and Don’ts

As a recruiter, a large part of my daily schedule is spent interviewing candidates by phone. Phone screens are generally 30 minutes and are used to  collect specific baseline information from candidates (What’s your work authorization status? Is there anything that might be returned in a criminal background check that could prevent you from being considered?), understand their apply motivators (Were you referred by a current employee? What’s going on at your current job?), and dive into their relevant career experience.

Three possible outcomes: Move the candidate forward to next step (usually present to hiring manager); Hold to see if there are stronger candidates; Decline due to poor phone screen/red flag presented.

Today, nearly all of these conversations are being done with candidates who are on mobile phones. As in my prior post about communicating via email with recruiters/hiring managers on your mobile device, I have a few tips on phone screens:

  • Ensure you block out enough time. I’ll give you available times at least 24 hours in advance, and I will usually give you two available windows of time. When you choose one, make sure you actually block off at least 45 minutes–not just 30. Why? You need time to get away from your desk to somewhere you can talk; to mentally shift gears and review the job description and your notes/questions; and to leave overrun time if the phone screen goes a bit long.
  • Have a quiet, distraction-free location selected before the call begins. It’s not uncommon for people to have barking dogs, crying/nagging children, loud environmental noise (street noise, construction, people) or other such distractions in the background. If I’m struggling to understand you, or you’re asking me to repeat my questions? It’s not going to be a productive conversation and I may ask to reschedule.
  • Make 125% sure you are in a location with strong cell signal. If not? Have a Plan B. A major annoyance is when a phone screen gets disconnected 2-3 times during a 30 minute conversation. And it happens more often than you might think.  Test your phone in that stairwell/hallway/etc; if it doesn’t have 4/4 bars, book a conference room or empty office.
  • Prepare to answer the typical questions: Some examples: Where did you hear about the position? Why are you looking for a new role now? What compensation are you seeking? When would you be available to start? Walk me through your relevant work history and share with me the key experience, skills, projects, etc that make you highly qualified for our role?
  • Have a question or two to ask the interviewer about the company, products, team, or position specifics. This demonstrates your level of interest through your preparation.
  • However, DO NOT ask questions like…“What benefits would I get–and when would they start?  When do I start accruing vacation? How much would this pay?” or, “What’s a typical day like in this role?” The last one, in particular, drives recruiters nuts. They don’t do this job. And honestly, in many professional positions where the employee is expected to work in a self-directed manner, YOU decide what a ‘typical day’ looks like.

Remember: The recruiter is both the gatekeeper to the next step in the process as well as a potential advocate for you in getting to that next step. Ensuring you have a disruption-free space, sufficient time, and thoughtful planning for a phone screen can lead to a recruiter becoming your advocate by the end of the call.

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