Don't Underestimate the Phone Interview
It’s 9 PM, you’ve had one too many coffees, and you’re staring at the computer hoping you’ve convinced one or more of the 20 companies that received your application that you’re qualified for an interview. We’ve all been there! Looking for a job can be extremely stressful and time consuming. Applications can go into a black hole and in some cases, it’s a hyper-competitive, saturated job market. In many sectors there are few jobs, and lots of people looking to fill them. In 2015, “only four provinces registered job gains” (Kirby, Macleans, 2016) and even those gains weren’t all that impressive. For the job seeker, that means first impressions count more than ever.
People put tons of energy into crafting the perfect job application, and rightfully so. What you may not always consider is just how fierce the competition is right from the get-go. As a recruiter, I can often receive upwards of 300 applications for a single vacancy. With that in mind, it’s important to optimize your chances at every stage of a company’s recruitment process.
If your resume is indeed “screened in” for the job, the likelihood is that you’re moving onto a telephone interview first and foremost. Most companies require a “phone screen” or prequalification stage before you’re invited to meet a hiring manager in person. Some companies even require video interviews before moving to a face-to-face interview.
In order to get to that all-important in-person interview you have to “pass” the phone screen, an often underestimated part of the process. We find that people often don’t take as much time or put as much emphasis on their preparation for this stage of the recruitment lifecycle. This can be a costly mistake.
The candidate pool may be smaller once you’ve made it to a phone interview, but it’s still a tight race at the top of the candidate pipeline. According to a recent article by Peter Harris for Workopolis (2015), “98% of job seekers are eliminated at the initial resume screening and only the ‘top 2%’ of candidates make it to the interview”.
As a recruitment partner for companies both local and abroad, my days revolve around conducting and assessing phone interviews. Peter’s statistics are bang on. Though I may schedule 10 phone interviews any given week for any given role, only 2-3 candidates may be submitted as a result. In other words, a solid resume does not guarantee a home run or in-person interview.
Here are some ways in which you can improve your chances to move from the phone interview to the next interview round:
- Be on time: Much like an in-person job interview, recruiters place a lot of value on a candidate being on time for the conversation scheduled. It shows respect and says a lot about what it’s like to work with you. If you’re going to be late, be sure to send an e-mail ahead of time to and explain why you may not make it on time. To that end, try to avoid this scenario altogether by not scheduling back-to-back meetings or other important calls before or after.
- Study your resume: Knowing your resume backwards and forwards may seem obvious, but many candidates often confuse items listed there. If it’s on your resume you should be prepared to answer questions about it. It’s the recruiter’s job to validate the information presented and/or uncover gaps in your employment history. Even if it’s simple forgetfulness, being unable to address previous jobs on your resume, and why you may have left certain roles, will not come across well and may cost you the next round.
- Know the role: And more importantly, know why you’re the right person for it. Prepare yourself to answer the question: Why this job, and why this company? If you can’t articulate why this job will make you jump out of bed in the morning, then the recruiter may question how much you know about the company or how you will impact the organization.
- Exude energy: What you hear is what you get in a phone interview. Unfortunately we can’t meet everyone in person. Be sure to stay alert, energetic, and enthusiastic over the phone at all times. Companies today are looking for passion and purpose. If you’re not excited about the opportunity, then that may be the difference between you moving forward over your competition.
- Answer questions succinctly: It’s a red flag for any interviewer when a candidate can’t stay on topic. This may suggest to the interviewer that you’re not actually listening or that you are, but choose to talk about something else anyways, which is just as problematic. Phone interviews are opportunities to showcase not only your listening skills but your ability to be succinct. It’s not always just your answer to the question that is being assessed. Stay on point.
While phone interviews may appear to limit candidates, in some ways they are an innate part of the recruitment process. As recruiters and the companies we work for, we take this part of the process seriously and so should you. This means you may need to work that much harder to demonstrate why you’re a fit. Don’t take a phone interview for granted, and you may just see better results.