TELEPHONE SCREENING INTERVIEWS
Telephone interviews are screening interviews. Local calls are often no longer than twenty minutes—sometimes much shorter. The interviewer can quickly gather all the information necessary to determine whether an in-person interview is warranted. Today, however, some companies spend up to an hour on a telephone screening interview. Ask in advance how much time you should expect your interview to take.
Employers calling from out of state are likely to spend more time on screening by telephone and may talk to you for at least half an hour. Those they choose to interview in person will be flown in, so everything possible must be done first to determine that the person is a solid candidate.
While this process may seem unfair, in that it may screen you out before you’ve had a chance to demonstrate your worth, the telephone screening interview is heavily used. So determine to sell yourself. Make the interviewer want to meet you. Let your enthusiasm sparkle. Sell your expertise, your related experience, and your potential. Tell the person you are interested in the position and would like an in-person interview.
Anticipating Telephone Interviews
Keep a log of jobs you’ve applied for, and keep it handy. It might contain the name of the company, job title, key duties, and the contact person’s name if it is available. Most telephone screening interviews are prearranged, but sometimes you’ll be caught by surprise. When you answer the phone, the person calling may state his or her name and the name of the organization, but it is often difficult to pick it all up. Feel comfortable asking the person to repeat his name; it is very important for you to know who you are speaking to. Even though you keep a log, also ask which job the person is calling you about. If the person is calling to set up a time to talk further, arrange the time, and if it feels comfortable, ask for more details about the job and the expectations of the successful candidate. Anything you can learn about the job that others don’t know gives you a significant advantage.
Lots of situations can cause us to not be at our best at the moment the phone rings. If you just brought ten sacks of groceries in, you’re probably not ready to jump into an interview. If you just had an altercation with your teenager, you’re not able to instantly move into sales mode. Don’t hesitate to tell the person that you’d like a few minutes to get yourself ready. Then offer to call the person back within five or ten minutes. Immediately check your log, reread the data you’ve accumulated on that employer, and prepare to sell yourself.
If you were just about to run out the door for an appointment, explain the situation and ask when you can call back. If the recruiter insists on calling you back, don’t argue about who will call whom; just agree on a good time to speak.
If a phone interview is expected to be short, you must plan how you will pack the most information into so little time. You’ll need to give shorter answers to questions. Your answer to a question like “tell me about yourself” might normally run three or four minutes in a full interview, but should be kept to about two minutes in a shortened interview. Still, it must cover critical points that you have learned from the job description or research you’ve done. Practice with a friend or support group member who has the experience or ability to conduct a solid phone interview. Provide a list of questions that you think are likely to be asked, but also encourage the person to ask other questions in order to keep you on your toes.
Do your best to predict the questions. List your key points on note cards, put them on your desk, or tape them to the wall so you can recall them at a glance. Also list your key stories and experiences with four or five key skills for each one.
During A Telephone Interview
Dress as you would for an in-person interview. We tend to feel and act more professional when we are dressed professionally.
Refer to your notes, but don’t read from them, and don’t memorize your answers. It is important to come across spontaneously. Since the interviewer cannot see your enthusiasm in your face or your body language, it must come through in your voice. On the phone, many people speak in a monotone, with little enthusiasm coming through. Those who stand during a telephone interview report that they are sharper and their enthusiasm comes through more clearly. Try it.
Take notes during the interview, especially as the person describes the job and their expectations of the successful candidate.
When you are asked whether you have any questions, you know the interview is drawing to a close. Ask a question or two to clarify the duties and after getting the answer, close with, “It sounds like a very interesting position and one where I could definitely contribute. I guess my only other question is when can I meet with you?”
Tips To Help You Ace The Telephone Interview
• Create a professional-sounding message for your voice mail or answering machine. Sound enthusiastic and friendly. Listen to it and ask yourself what a caller would gather about you from listening to it. Avoid long messages and those silly messages you hear sometimes.
• Train those in your household to answer the phone and take messages. Children should be taught to answer the phone in a friendly manner and to take accurate messages.
• Teach your family how to let you know the call is for you. Children should be taught never to shout for you. Instead they should set the phone down; find you; and quietly tell you the call is for you, who is calling, and with which organization. Train them to ask, “Who is calling?”
• I’ve had clients who had their spouse answer the phone in the manner of a receptionist. A professional-sounding phone answerer can make an excellent first impression on the recruiter.
• Remind those who answer the phone that even from a distance of 20 feet, the person on the other end can hear conversations. I’ve heard some amazing conversations while waiting for someone to come to the phone; many people do not realize how sensitive their phone receivers are.
• Crying or yelling children make it hard for you to be your best and can ruin an interview. Even though recruiters understand that people have children, and children can be uncooperative, you’ll score more points if there are few background sounds.
• Use a phone that has a hold (or flash) button. In the event of a commotion with your children, you could put the recruiter on hold while you deal with the situation. Be as short as possible and apologize for the disruption. In some situations you might even need to offer to call back in a few minutes.
• Keep your resume in front of you.
Phone Interview Etiquette
The best article I’ve seen on telephone interviews was written by Maureen Hentz, who writes for Quintessential Careers (quintcareers.com). One of her roles in HR consulting includes recruiting. Some of Maureen’s tips on planning for phone interviews:
• Make sure your resume and cover letter make it easy for recruiters to contact you. On both your resume and cover letter, provide your phone number and email address.
• If you include your email address, make sure you check your email frequently and respond quickly. Be aware that, legally, all email you send or receive at work belongs to the company, therefore they can review email if they wish. If possible, use a personal email account that you can access from work.
• Include your work telephone number if you are willing to receive calls at work. If you include your cell phone number, plan to keep the phone turned on most of the time throughout the day.
• If you cannot be contacted at work, you might say, “Although I prefer to receive messages at my home number, I check messages frequently throughout the day and can usually return calls during breaks.”
• If you are going on vacation or on a business trip, indicate in your cover letter the periods when you’ll be gone. If there is a telephone or cell phone number where you can be reached while you’re away, provide it. If you are unavailable by phone but can check your email, suggest that people contact you by email.
• If you are going to be moving soon, indicate that you are available at your current address and phone until a certain date. Then provide the address and phone number you’ll be available at after moving and provide the date. If you know the address you’ll be moving to, the phone company can often supply you with your new number several weeks in advance.
• When you get a call from a recruiter, return it as soon as possible. Don’t play hard to get. Since the recruiter may have made numerous calls since calling you, introduce yourself by first and last name and state the position you are applying for.
• If a recruiter calls during the day and you don’t get the message until evening, return the call and leave a message on the recruiter’s voicemail. Speak with enthusiasm and indicate times you can be reached, or indicate you will call again the following day.
(Source: Maureen Crawford Hentz. “Phone Interview Etiquette Can Propel You to the Next Step in the Hiring Process.” www.quintcareers.com/phone_interview_etiquette.html)
As a recruiter, Maureen has seen and heard it all. Her goal is to help the candidate in any way possible and to maintain a high level of courtesy. She recommends something like this for recruiters: “Hi Betsy, this is Sandra from Bender Industries. I’m calling regarding the project manager position and wanted to spend about ten minutes on the phone with you to cover some initial questions. Is this a good time to talk or should we arrange another time?” Most recruiters want to ensure that it is a suitable time and understand that you may be in the middle of an important project, whether at home or work, and it is simply not a convenient time to talk. Others, however, do not want to get involved in calling again and actually want to talk to you when you are not prepared. These recruiters want to see how you handle such situations. If it is really not a good time, ask for a time when you can call back.
If you must leave or do something in a few minutes, ask to reschedule the call or determine if the call can be completed in the time you have. If you are worried about getting to your destination on time you won’t sell yourself well. Try, “Thanks for calling. It’s an interesting position. I do have to leave for an appointment in ten minutes. Is that enough time or should I call you back this afternoon?” When you say you have an appointment you do not need to specify that you are getting a child to soccer, meeting a friend for coffee, or have a doctor’s appointment.
When preparing for a scheduled telephone interview, ensure there will be no interruptions. If you have preschool children, take them to a neighbor for the short time you’ll be on the phone. After all, if you were going for a face-to-face interview, you would find childcare. This interview is just as important and you need to be able to focus entirely on the interview.
For Individuals With Hearing Loss/deafness
Maureen Hentz also has extensive experience working with those who are deaf or hearing impaired. For those in this category, the following advice is especially helpful:
Phone interviews for the deaf or hearing impaired are not an impossibility. Many recruiters are quite accustomed to interviewing via relay service or TTY. Certainly, all companies should be prepared for and facile in communicating in these ways. Too often, however, they are not. For recruiters who are not, as unfair as it may be, the candidate may have to suggest alternatives to the speaking-and-hearing phone interview. A hard-of-hearing candidate may want to send a note to the recruiter before the interview indicating some basic TTY vocabulary. It is up to you whether or not you want to educate the recruiter about communicating via TTY or relay. In my opinion, the single most important vocabulary non-TTY users need to know is “GA,” which is a way for both parties to indicate that they are finished with their answer/question/comment. GA means go ahead, as in go ahead it’s your turn to talk.
In the computer age, another suggestion may be a real-time conversation via chat technology. Companies may have specific areas on the website where employees can meet in real time from different locations. Such a site would be an ideal venue in which candidates and recruiters can interview.
(Source: Maureen Crawford Hentz. “Phone Interview Etiquette Can Propel You to the Next Step in the Hiring Process” www.quintcareers.com/phone_interview_ etiquette.html)
If the company is large enough to have a human resources department, the first interview will often be conducted by a personnel specialist, recruiter, or interviewer. These people interview frequently and often have extensive training in interviewing techniques. Their interviews will generally be planned in advance, and applicants will typically be asked the same questions. The screening interview is generally short; its purpose is to eliminate those applicants who are obviously not qualified. The problem is that the screener seldom has a full understanding of what the job entails. This can be particularly frustrating for applicants who have lots of potential but not much direct experience, since they are usually screened out after the screening interview. There are numerous things you can do, however, to make it past the screening stage.
It helps to understand the motivation of the screener. A screener will never be criticized for screening out someone who has potential but lacks the desired background. If someone slips through who a manager feels was completely unqualified, the screener is going to hear about it. That screener will not take such a chance a second time. With this in mind, your challenge is to show that you meet or exceed the minimum qualifications. Your only goal is to be passed on to the hiring manager.
A screening interview will consist primarily of probing questions designed to determine your technical competence. The screener may even have a checklist which will be gone through quickly to determine how much experience you have in each area. Questions will also be asked to reveal inconsistencies. These screeners will also be the ones most likely to check out your references. While the emphasis is on technical competence, they will also screen out those whose personalities clearly would not fit in the corporate culture. Don’t be concerned if the screener seems rather impersonal—you may be the twentieth person interviewed that day. Simply do everything you can to gain the screener’s seal of approval.
INTERVIEWS WITH HEADHUNTERS AND EMPLOYMENT AGENCY COUNSELORS
Whether it is a telephone or face-to-face interview with a headhunter, or a face-to-face interview with an employment agency counselor, you’ve got to sell yourself. Once the decision has been made to refer you to the client for an interview, the headhunter will help you land the position, but until then it is strictly sell, sell, sell.
Most interviews with headhunters will be by telephone since they will often be calling from out of town. Even if they are local, they will seldom bring you in for an interview until they are convinced you are a strong candidate. Many will do all their interviewing with you by phone. Accept that fact and then use the telephone to market yourself. The interview should be treated very much like any telephone interview.
Headhunters often call people asking for leads on qualified candidates. They will describe a position and then ask if you know anyone who would be a good fit. If the job seems interesting, respond by saying, “Well, it sounds like a job designed for me. Tell me more about it.” If you don’t want to commit so early, simply ask for more information. Then if you’re still interested, sell yourself. In many cases you were the person the headhunter wanted anyway, but they often use this indirect way to get you to listen to their proposal.
Interviews with employment agency counselors will generally be face to face since that is the way they prefer to operate. View this type of interview as a screening interview. Your main goal is to demonstrate that you more than meet the minimum qualifications and that you have a great deal of potential.