Effective Phone Screens: Tips for Hiring Managers

By Michael Paradise, CEO, Sysazzle, Inc.

MichaelPhone screens offer a speed-dating opportunity for both the candidate and the hiring manager to gauge whether or not they are a good fit for each other. They are an efficient and popular way to check out an eligible candidate, eliminate one, or put one on hold. However, if not conducted correctly, they could trick you into a bad match, ultimately wasting your time and hurting the reputation of your business.

Goals of a Phone Screen:

The most obvious goal of a phone screen is to get an understanding of the candidate’s technical and functional capabilities. You should gauge the depth and breadth of the candidate’s core skill set, industry, and job function. And, like any good speed-date, you should also pay attention to your intuition—how does this candidate come across? A baseline assessment of the candidate’s behavior and attitude are essential for determining whether this is a person your company wants to court.

One other key area to explore is the candidate’s ability to communicate effectively – a vital component in any good relationship. How does your candidate’s oral communication skills rank?
**Does the person speak with confidence?
**Does the person express himself/herself in an intelligent and thoughtful manner?
**Does the person focus on the question concisely and then offer to go deeper or address the more thoroughly?
**Does the person have the capacity to communicate on a lateral level, to his/her superiors, and at all levels of an organization?

By focusing on these areas you can create metrics to rank a candidate’s technical and functional capabilities, and communication skills.

Six Steps  to Get Ready for Your Phone Screen:

Before you dial, take a bit of time to learn about your candidate.
1. Read the candidate’s resume word for word. Highlight key areas that offer opportunities for growth, as well as areas that might be of concern to you.
2. Calculate the duration for each project in the resume’s margins next to the dates or years of employment.
3. Thoroughly research the candidate’s current company and their industry. This will enable you to ask informed, relevant questions during the call.
4. Google each company the person worked for.
5. Study the candidate’s LinkedIn profile.
6. Google the candidate’s name to see what may pop up…but be sure you are looking at the same person!

Now that you are properly prepared, settle into an environment free of distractions and focus on your call. Keep the following tips in mind as you chat:
**Be inquisitive. You’ve done your due diligence, so put it to use.
**Speak in a way that builds rapport with the candidate.
**Make sure the candidate has at least 70-85% of the technical requirements for the job.
**Establish and understand which former positions were contracts and which were employee positions for an end client or end company.
**Identify the person’s capacity to learn and grow.
**Identify the person’s capacity to work well with others and bring others along also.

Ask the Important Questions:

Sure, you both may root for the same sports team and share an alma mater, but that isn’t going to ensure compatibility where it counts. Remember, a phone screen is not like a leisurely dinner and a movie, so reduce the amount of small talk and get the important questions answered.

**How long was the candidate in their current/last position?
**Why did they leave the last position and/or why are they looking for a new one?
**Who did the person report to in terms of title at the company?
**Who were the types of colleagues that they worked with regularly?
**What were the candidate’s key successes? Ask for examples, challenges faced, and how they overcame those challenges. What results were achieved, and how did it impact progress, the bottom line, the organization and their teammates?

Don’t forget – document all of the information you gather, and store it for future review and sharing with others!

5 Steps to Analyze Your Data

You’ve completed the phone screen and have some thoughts fresh in your mind—now what?
1. Using the metrics you created, score each interviewee in some capacity.

2. Use symbols at the top of the resume or documentation that visually gives you the overall picture of the person for a quick future reference. One client felt it was important that a person was ranked by “Heart, Mind and Hands”. So they used a stick figure and filled in Mind, Heart and Hands where they truly felt the person had the level of “Mind” (intelligence), “Heart” (care in their work and a passion for what they do), and “Hands” (belief that they have the experience needed and are willing to do the job). The client needed the candidate to possess all three characteristics at the level required for the position at hand. So a stick figure with a brain, a heart and hands was the client’s visual and if a person didn’t have all 3 they would not move forward.

3. Document key positive and negative findings at the top of the page.

4. If the person is a solid candidate don’t delay in scheduling the next step. You’ll need to sell to the better candidates on the position and your company as they typically have multiple opportunities.

5. Provide immediate feedback to your recruiter.

By following this process, you can use phone screens to quickly and effectively vet your potential suitors. This type of courtship done properly will present you with a closer match and get you closer to hiring that “perfect fit” candidate.


Tips to Get Ready for Your Next Phone Interview

By Michael Paradise, CEO, Sysazzle

When was the last time you had a phone interview and didn’t cover all that you wanted to and then realized it after you hung up on the phone?
Today, a phone interview is as important as an in-person interview. Businesses use technology like videoconferencing and Skype to make final hiring decisions. The best way to prepare yourself is to use a “War Room” strategy.
Clear your room of pets, children, and anything else that can create background noise or distract you from the call. If it is a Skype interview, make sure that the location looks professional—your backyard, bathroom, kitchen, or a messy room will draw negative attention and take the focus off of where you want it…YOU.
Plaster your “War Room” walls with large butcher paper and fill them with key points. Make cheat sheets of commonly asked questions and answers, such as strengths and weaknesses, how you would describe yourself, and what interests you about the job you are applying for. This will allow you to instantaneously respond to the interviewer’s questions.

However, do not get caught in the trap of simply reading your background and skills from a piece of paper. The person at the other end will easily sense what you are doing, and most likely already has that information on your resume.

Below are some more tactics for your “War Room” strategy:

  • Make sure that the tone of your voice is positive, cheerful and confident.
  • Stand up and smile while talking over the phone. Science has proven that the simple of act of smiling can improve your mood and lower stress, which will convey in your voice.
  • Follow the thread of conversation and ask questions based on the information provided. Take notes of important points to refer back to later.
  • Have a glass of water near you.
  • If there are multiple individuals interviewing you, try to address them by their names to create a personal connection.
  • Keep your answers short and to the point. Do not blabber, exaggerate, or veer away from the point.
  • Pause briefly before answering a question to give yourself a chance to compose an intelligent and thoughtful response. Use fillers like “That’s a great question”, “Let me consider that for a moment”, or simply re-state the question to buy yourself extra time.
  • Be curious. Research the company prior to the interview. This shows both initiative and an eagerness to join their team. Do not oversell yourself. Your interviewer will determine if you are the right fit, not you.
  • Look for ways to connect your experience and interests with those of the company and/or its employees. For instance, if you read on the company’s website that it wants to expand into making shark cages in the next five years, and you happen to dive with sharks as a hobby, find a way to share that with your interviewer.
  • Ask questions clearly and try not to interrupt. The key to a successful phone interview is listening, asking great questions and not droning on and on. Ask your interviewer if they would like you to speak further to the topic. “Check in” with your interviewer throughout the call. Your interviewer is searching for a co-worker as much as a competent employee.
  • Once the interview is over, be sure to say thank-you and follow up promptly with a handwritten note. Never email a thank-you note.
    Finally, with your “War Room” prepped and research completed, ask a friend to call you for a practice interview—you may even want to provide her with a few questions to ask. This will reveal any weaknesses in your strategy.
    Remember, the more you prepare and practice, the more confident you will become, and that is the one quality found in every good warrior.