Telephone Screening Interviews: Formats and Follow-Ups for Swift Information Gathering

TELEPHONE SCREENING INTERVIEWS can be a practical defense to the sheer numbers of people applying for jobs these days. Telephone introductions attempt to determine candidate suitability in shorter time frames (roughly ten to fifteen minutes) with less commitment on your part (no courteous small talk or paying for candidate parking). Telephone interviewing skills, in addition, are absolutely essential when setting up interviews across the country. With little time in faraway hotels to meet with potential staff for a remote office location, your initial candidate choices become critical. Hence, telephone profiling techniques will help you determine the optimal applicants to select for off-site interviews before you fly out of town.

Your strategy for handling telephone interviews, similar to in-person meetings, is twofold: First, employ the matrix at the end of this chapter to gather adequate data regarding a candidate's suitability; second, once you've completed your initial questioning strategies, prepare to sell your company to the candidate. That typically includes forwarding all scheduled candidates an annual report or other company data (or at least pointing out to them a location online or in the library where they can research your organization) so that they can familiarize themselves with your company before the meeting.

The ease of the candidate telephone evaluation will usually be determined by the scope and depth of a person's resume. The more details, the easier the selection (at least from a technical standpoint). Still, not all candidates are masters at resume writing, and you obviously don't want to screen out potential high performers because they happened to read an outdated book on resume development. After all, most job candidates only briefly describe their primary job responsibilities without relating them to the achievements they gained for the company while having carried out those basic duties. Furthermore, most people don't describe their companies' market niches or size as well as their own straight- and dotted-line reporting relationships. That information would obviously make the matching process a lot easier for you, so you'll have to cull it yourself.

There are three major segments of the candidate telephone screen:

1. Company and job specifics

2. Candidate's success profile

3. Assessment of candidate's needs

All three are critical because any one area could knock a candidate out of contention. Furthermore, the information you develop in advance will go a long way toward further preparing for the in-person meeting still to come. Therefore, simply make copies of the matrix and attach it to the resumes (if available) of prospective telephone interviewees. Once you've completed a full round of telephone interviews and gained critical insights into individuals' success profiles and career needs, you'll be better positioned to call back finalists and set up in-person meetings. Note that many of the condensed questions to follow are already profiled elsewhere in the book, so return to the source if you need more detailed explanations for using each question.

Company and Job Information

Information regarding a candidate's job responsibilities, technical orientation, achievement profile, and company market niche will help you quickly determine whether the individual's experience matches your company's brand of doing business. The closer the match between a candidate's present employer (the company's demographics and market specialty) and your company's operations, the better the chances of a successful hire. The questions in this initial section are more technical and mechanical in nature. As such, they will help you determine a candidate's aptitudes (the ''can do'' factors) and knowledge (the ''know how'' factors). Combined with the candidate's emotional needs and motives (the ''will do'' factors) that follow in the next two sections of the matrix, this telephone questionnaire will provide you with ample information to select qualified individuals for face-to-face interviews.

Company demographics are essential: Question the size of the company in

terms of the number of employees and amount of annual revenue; distinguish among corporations, partnerships, and sole practitioners; find out how long the company has been in business and where its corporate headquarters are located; distinguish between the number of employees at the candidate' s location versus the number of branch offices worldwide; in addition, question the candidate about her branch location s (or division s) ranking compared to other locations. After all, a mediocre performer in the top sales branch in the nation may appeal to you more than a top producer at a branch about to be closed for poor profitability.

Company niche refers to the organization' s particular line of business and primary product markets within its industry. For example, all mortgage banking firms sell and service loans. Many, however, specialize in certain areas of the mortgage loan business. Therefore, you might question a candidate over the telephone like this: ''I can't tell from your resume exactly where your company made its market.'' You may ask:

''What percentage of your loans were conventional, A loans for borrowers with perfect credit?''

''What percentage of your loans were for credit-impaired borrowers with sub par histories who required B through D grade paper?''

''What percentage of your loans were for home purchases versus refinances?''

How would you break down your retail from wholesale business operations in terms of revenue production?''

''How did you develop your business leads? Were you expected to cold-call real estate brokers for their referrals, or were most of the leads incoming from the radio ads you ran?''

Obviously, companies have different ways of carrying on their business operations, and learning about the company s market niche reveals a lot about the expectations that the company had for its employees.

The progression indicator (see Question 21 in Chapter 5) asks ''Describe how you've progressed through the ranks and landed in your current position at ABC Company.'' It provides insights into a candidate' s assumption of responsibilities beyond the written job description. It is especially useful when evaluating candidates with lots of tenure at a given company who may have made a number of promotional or lateral moves over time. Again, if a candidate has not vertically promoted up the ladder (''Well, Paul, I've been there for six years and have been a programmer analyst the whole time ), then add the follow-up query: ''Even though you've held the same position for six years, how have you had to reinvent or redefine your job to meet your company' s changing needs?'' (see Question 23 in Chapter 5). This way, you'll gain some quick insights into candidates penchants for adding value to their companies and motivating themselves.

Salary progression looks for positive earnings progression over time. In today s competitive business environment and corporate America s constantly shifting priorities, it is not uncommon for workers to retool and learn new trades as former skills lose market value. Salary cuts typically go hand in hand with such skill shifts. On the other hand, negative salary progression (meaning that the candidate has made less money each time with the past three or so job changes) could be a warning sign that the individual is incapable of assuming, or unwilling to assume, greater responsibilities. That s because salary and responsibility are inextricably linked. A candidate willing to accept less money often ends up accepting less responsibility, and that could definitely spell career burnout. Proceed with caution and keep questioning until you re comfortable with the individual s explanations for the negative earnings progression.

Direct supervisor(s) and direct report(s) clearly distinguish between straight-and dotted-line reporting relationships. Be sure to clarify both the numbers and titles of subordinates. It s not enough to note that the facilities manager you re speaking with oversees a staff of four people: You've got to identify the roles those subordinates play in the company. For example, supervising two building maintenance technicians and two facilities engineers is different from overseeing four office support clerks.

Technical systems refers to the candidate' s software environment. This is essential for information technology professionals in terms of their operating systems experience, software platforms, fourth-generation programming languages, and the like. It is an issue as well for secretaries, staff accountants, and other administrative support staff members.

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