What did hiring managers do before telephone interviews? After all, CVs often only tell half the story, and, once upon a time you would have had to find out the other half of this story by conducting a face-to-face interview, which can be time consuming, to say the least. Not so much of an issue if the candidate turns out to be a great fit for the role, but what about when the candidate is highly unsuitable? That’s a wasted journey for the candidate and hours of preparation and planning on both sides, gone to waste.
It’s safe to say that telephone interviews are a time and cost efficient way to build a shortlist of only the strongest and most interested candidates to invite for a face-to-face interview. Not only this, but telephone interviews are a great way to get a good initial idea of the strength of their communication skills, clarity of thought and ability to build a rapport. That is, when you conduct them properly. So how can you master your telephone interview technique in order to find the best talent?
Ask the right questions
It can be tricky deciding which questions to ask during a telephone interview. Some managers make the error of either not asking enough questions, or at least not enough of the right questions, and consequently hanging up the phone with no clear idea as to whether this candidate is right for a face-to-face interview. Other hiring managers, on the other hand, make the mistake of asking too many questions and going so in depth, that there is nothing left to ask during the face-to-face interview.
Remember, the telephone interview should be the stage at which you decide whether the candidate has the core essentials needed to be able to do this job, and whether these are enough to justify having a face-to-face interview, where you will have the chance to find out more.
Before the interview, identify your “must have” criteria which must be met in order to be invited to a face-to-face interview, and limit yourself to questions which look for these “must-haves”. You should also consider which of these “must-haves” are better off assessed face-to-face rather than over the telephone. For example, the candidate has to be at a certain level of competency when it comes to data analysis, otherwise they simply aren’t equipped to do the job and you have wasted both of your time. Focus your telephone interview questions on determining whether or not the candidate meets this criteria.
Build a rapport with the candidate
Yes, as I said, the telephone interview stage is mainly about finding out about whether the candidate has the key requisites for the role. But that’s not to say that the process should take the form of a sterile, quick-fire questioning session.
After all, if you adopt a warmer, personable approach, you are more likely to make the candidate feel relaxed and able to answer your questions, giving you all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Of course, getting to know the candidate and building a rapport is mainly what the face-to-face interviews are for, but that’s not to say you can’t have an engaging conversation and create a positive first stage interview experience during the telephone interview.
Make sure you are fully present
Speaking of the candidate’s interview experience – they won’t have a positive one if you are distracted (and they will be able to tell, trust me). So don’t conduct your telephone interview on the go, for instance when you are driving or having your lunch. Whilst you’re on the call, don’t multitask, check your work emails or worse, answer other calls, and make sure you are interviewing in a quiet area where you won’t be interrupted.
If you aren’t fully present, not only will this deter the candidate – you won’t be able to get the information you need, and the time saving element of the telephone interview stage becomes a false economy.
Weed out any disinterested candidates
Telephone interviews are also a good chance to separate the candidates who are really keen on this opportunity, and those who could take or leave it.
Did the candidate answer the phone promptly and professionally, and make the effort to have the call in a quiet place? Did they appear to have done their research, demonstrating some level of pre-existing knowledge about the company? Did they have questions for you about this position? If not, this could indicate that they aren’t taking this opportunity seriously enough to prepare for the first stage of interviewing, and aren’t enthusiastic enough to warrant a face-to-face interview.
Make sure the telephone interview is well organised and well-structured
I suggest that you set 40 minutes aside for the telephone interview, but try and keep it to 30 and stick to a structure. This way, you will get the most out of the time you have on the phone, without feeling like you are rushing the candidate or are rushed yourself.
I would personally recommend following this framework:
- 5 minutes introducing yourself, the team, the role and how it fits in with the company
- 20 minutes for questions and answers
- 5 minutes at the end to allow for their questions and to wrap up the telephone call
- 10 minutes leeway
I would also advise that you take notes throughout each telephone interview that you conduct, ask every candidate the same set of questions, and run all of your telephone interviews in quick succession so that you can draw a fair comparison.
As you wrap up the interview, be completely clear on the next steps of the process. If you think you might be keen to see them for a face-to-face interview, let them know when the next stage of the interview process is taking place, and that you’ll be in touch. If you definitely want them to come in, ask them if they are still interested in having a face-to-face interview – this will indicate to them that you are keen to meet.
After the telephone interview, give feedback to your recruiter as soon as possible, and if you want to meet this candidate for a face-to-face interview, try to lock down a date as soon as possible – it’s important to strike while the iron’s hot, especially if this candidate is in demand.
As I said, telephone interviews are a time-effective way to put the initial feelers out for a candidate’s suitability, whilst allowing them to check whether this opportunity is right for them. That is, provided that you plan ahead in order to make the time you have both informative and inquisitive in equal measures. By following my advice, you will be equipped to only shortlist the most suitable candidates for a face-to-face interview, bringing you one step closer to placing your perfect hire.