The Initial Phone Interview, Never a Gimme!

Think that initial phone interview is an easy layup or a gimme slam dunk…well, its not! The phone interview is actually a vital part of an employer’s screening process and should never be taken lightly! Over my 20+ years in the search business, I’ve witnessed even the best-qualified candidates blow their phone interviews, and be eliminated from further consideration.

Phone interviews are actually interviewing process screens, intended to blow out unsuitable candidates and pull-in the most highly suitable candidates. More often than not, candidates will “talk” their way out of a face-to-face interview by either talking too much or NOT talking about the specific facts sought by the interviewer / screener. No matter if you are phone interviewing with human resources or an actual hiring manager, one rule applies that is universal: you, the candidate, are going to be evaluated not only by how you answer their questions but also by the questions that you ask. So there are two simple rules to follow when conducting a phone interview:

1) Know your interviewer and ask specifically targeted questions. If your interviewer is in human resources, then focus your questions on defining the job, responsibilities, goals and objectives, background and experience they seek. Remember, depending on the type of HR person you are speaking with, they may either have a clear-cut understanding or only a cursory knowledge of the role. So ask focused questions but not so functionally detailed that they cannot answer them. If your interviewer is the hiring manager, focus your questions (see Preparing for Successful Interviews on this website) on the genesis of the role, goals and objectives, and background they are specifically targeting for the role. Never, bring up compensation and benefits in an initial phone interview…. those should be asked and answered later on in the interviewing process (which we will discuss in future blogs).

2) Keep your answers straight, short, simple and to-the-point. An initial phone interview is a quick get-to-know-you and screening (in or out) to evaluate if you are their right “fit and feel”. So don’t stray from their questions and stay away from long diatribes on personal philosophies or hobbies. Focus your thoughts on specific answers. Use appropriate and concise examples when explaining yourself and always remain positive. Negativity, lack of energy, and verboseness are usually the death knell of a phone interview. Before your phone interview make sure you review the position description and company website. Conciseness, enthusiasm for the position, and insights you can derive from the interviewer will usually propel you to the next step of the interview process.

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