A phone interview (or phone screen) is a useful first step in getting to know a candidate. It’s a convenient way to determine which applicants that passed an initial eye test are worth bringing in for in-person interviews and which should be avoided. However, the way that you prepare and conduct a phone screen is a major factor in how useful it will ultimately end up being.
Where better to look for those best practices than from folk icons Simon & Garfunkel? Okay, that’s a bad transition. But there is a connection between four of the duo’s biggest hits and how to conduct the perfect phone interview. Here are four key tips from the singer-songwriter team to improve your phone interviews:
The first step of conducting a phone interview is scheduling. Occasionally, when I’m scheduling a time by phone, a candidate I call will ask if we can complete the phone interview right then and there. After all, you have them on the phone and it may be convenient for both of you to just get it out of the way. I almost always turn these offers down though, because I find scheduling a time later to talk is better for a few reasons.
First, by giving candidates time to prepare and look over the position they applied for again, phone screens tend to be more organized, professional, and productive. Second, by actually having an appointment and setting a time to speak, you’re making sure that the candidate has the ability to follow-up on their commitments.
“Mrs. Robinson” – Plan Your Phone Interview Questions and Have Them Ready
We’d like to know
A little bit about you
For our files
Yes, I’m cherry-picking this lyric a bit, but it fits! Defining what you want to know from a candidate before the interview is important. By either writing down or typing some questions you want to ask during the interview, the phone screen will go much more smoothly. And while it’s OK and even a good idea to break script and ask follow-up questions, having questions in front of you will help make sure you get to everything you wanted to. It’s also a great way to make sure you take notes on a candidate’s answers.
“The Sound of Silence” – Don’t be Afraid of Silence
In conversation, extended periods of silence can be awkward and uncomfortable. During phone interviews, however, silence can be a valuable tool in prompting the candidate to reveal aspects of themselves. It’s sometimes difficult for phone interviewers to let a question sit and breathe. That’s particularly true if it is a difficult question. It’s natural to want to give someone an easy out by asking another question or skipping over the question. However, I would recommend letting the silence linger for a moment, partially because it allows the candidate to formulate an answer and partially because candidates are afraid of silence, and by not letting them off the hook, you can gain some interesting insight when the candidate is forced to answer. That insight is what we’re looking for when we decide to do phone interviews in the first place. We want to get to know them.
“Bridge over Troubled Water” – Ask Revealing Behavior Questions in a Phone Interview
Candidates can’t get a job because of a phone screen, but they certainly can lose out on one. By asking questions that get after candidates’ work behaviors and employment history, you can gain a better understanding of the type of employee they are potentially going to be. To use an analogy, some people tend to be a like a calm, tranquil lake – easy to get along with and relaxed. Other candidate personalities are closer to choppy rapids – they can be abrasive and can draw conflict and arguments. A question such as “tell me about a conflict you’ve had in the past and how you worked to resolve it” will allow you to start to assess what type of candidate you’re speaking with.
Additionally, asking questions about a candidate’s work history and why they left certain positions can also be enlightening. Badmouthing previous employers can be a bad sign, particularly if it is a trend. If a candidate had a poor employer, it’s unfortunate. If they’ve had 3 or 4 bad employers, there’s a common denominator there: the candidate.
By integrating these four tips into how you perform phone interviews, you’ll see an improvement in the helpfulness of the call and the information received.