Monday Mornings with Madison



Over the last few weeks, we’ve examined the best way to handle hiring staff in today’s job market. Just as it is a buyer’s market in real estate, it is also an employer’s market in the work world. With unemployment remaining stubbornly high, most job postings garner lots of interest. Except for extremely high-skill jobs, most open positions today have many applicants. Even high-skill positions get loads of applicants, many of whom are under-qualified or just plain unqualified for the job. It is then the task of the HR or department manager to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Conducting a face-to-face interview with hundreds of applicants is clearly out of the question. The goal is to separate applicants from candidates. Applicants are those who throw their hat in the ring for consideration. This includes many who know (deep down) that they don’t possess the skills, training or experience for the job… but apply anyway. Candidates, on the other hand, are those who meet all or most of the qualifications for the position and can be considered seriously. Figuring out which is which is the challenge. Last week, we discussed the first step in that process: the paper interview.

Once a job rubric (see last week’s sample) or some other objective method is used to evaluate and sort the clearly unqualified applicants from those with potential, the next step is to sort further. Even if the applicant pool has been reduced from 150 to 15, no manager should conduct 15 in-person interviews for one opening. Instead, the applicant pool should be reduced further with brief phone interviews.

The phone interview is a time-saving strategy for applicants and interviewers alike, yet one that both groups loathe. Why? For the applicant, a phone interview is impersonal. It is difficult to build a rapport or be charming during a phone interview. For the employer, phone interviews can feel awkward and stilted. After several interviews, without visual cues to differentiate people, applicants may all start to sound the same.

However, if conducted properly, phone interviews reveal which applicants are able to communicate clearly, succinctly and eloquently. They save managers from wasting time meeting with applicants who look good on paper because they had someone else prepare their resume and cover letter. Ultimately, this strategy can reduce a double-digit pool of applicants to a single digit group of truly qualified candidates.

Here are the steps for conducting a good phone interview.

  1. Let each applicant know via email that you will be conducting a phone interview. Advise who will be part of the interview and communicate the date and time of the phone interview. 
  2. Each phone interview should last a set amount of time to ensure the process is fair for everyone. Each applicant should be told in advance how much time they will have to answer all the questions. If the applicant runs out of time before answering all the questions, do not allocate more time. That shows an inability to manage time well.
  3. Make a list of questions and points about the job. Include questions about the applicant’s skill base, work history, future plans, personal situation, knowledge about the company and any other pertinent details.  This list keeps the interview moving and insures you get the information you need.
  4. Organize your information before you make each call. Review each applicant’s resume, references and the description of the job in question.
  5. Provide each applicant with the phone interview questions a set amount of time in advance of the call (perhaps 1-2 hours). Not everyone is able to formulate answers to complex questions at a moment’s notice. Providing the questions in advance allows each applicant to consider their answers and respond thoughtfully.
  6. Call each applicant at their scheduled time. Have the preset questions, pen and paper ready. Also include any other people relevant to hiring for the position. Place the resume of the applicant in front of you during the call. This allows you to clarify any information and to refer to their experience.
  7. Explain the company’s hiring process and what is expected of the applicant during the phone interview.
  8. Avoid long breaks in the conversation. This makes an employer look unprepared. Some silence forces a response from the applicant, but too much silence makes the employer seem disorganized.
  9. Evaluate the applicant’s skills and work experience. Ask how their skills will convert to and improve business.
  10. Assess how serious the applicant is about the position. This helps know if it is worth scheduling a face-to-face interview.
  11. Let the applicant know the timeframe and process for how applicants will be notified if they will be invited for a face-to-face interview.

Join us next week as we wrap up our Staffing Up series with the nuts and bolts of face-to-face interviews.

“The best interviews like the best biographies should sing the strangeness and variety of the human race.” Lynn Barber

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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