The Phone Interview

As in most of my blogs, I claim no panaceas for interviewing or final incontrovertible wisdom.  All I have is a lot of experience in the war zone.  I do not believe anyone can give another person a foolproof strategy for finding employment.  If my experience helps someone, I am glad of it. I do recommend reading and practicing sample answers and questions readily available on the Internet.

Being invited to a phone interview always pleased me — often more so than a personal, physical meeting.  The phone interview is a warm up for the real thing. The phone opportunity provides anonymity that can be advantageous.  One point is that the interviewer  has limited the evaluation to one of the senses, i.e. hearing.  The interviewee is free to prop her legs up on the footstool and sip a little iced tea.  You’re even free to walk around a little. The interviewer cannot see fidgeting, shuffling feet or drifting, insecure eyes.  However, the voice can also reflect any of these weaknesses too.  I don’t recommend smoking at a phone interview.  Even for a phone interview I did not wear grubbies or skip combing my hair or shaving.  Why?  I felt better. I never, however, wore a tie for a phone interview unless it happened to be during time stolen from my work day.

I liked phone interviews because I have had a lot of experience conducting business on the phone.  The telephone gives me a sense of objectivity, a distance.  I, too, in a positive way was forced to use one medium; then, too, a number of people had complimented me on my telephone manner.  I am like most disc jockeys, rather introverted.  The phone gave me an impersonal situation I could use to my advantage.  The challenge lay in maintaining that confidence and “presence” in a personal interview later.

At the same time I assumed that the phone interview is used when the number of interesting applicants is rather high. Phone interviews are screens, most likely designed to eliminate candidates.  On the phone one interviews for another interview, not a position.  My whole objective was to get a physical interview, but not to be too eager. Sometimes I might answer a question briefly and then add, “This seems to me to be an important question for both of us.  I hope I will have an opportunity to provide more details in person.  I have a written proposal I once gave on the subject. ”

I tried as hard as I could to match voices with names, but rather than address the wrong person, I did not hesitate to say, “I think that was Roger, right?” The interviewer or team will be helpful. I wrote names down during the introduction. If possible. I tried to catch the company name.  No harm in asking, “Now, tell me where youwork again?”

Do not jump to conclusions about anything based on tone of voice.  Do not react negatively to what sounds patronizing or sanctimonious.  That person may not even be on the second interview team.

A telephone is a great medium for being one’s self, for being forthright and candid, but not familiar.

If necessary ask for the question to be repeated for clarity — that buys a little time for thought.

Speak clearly and to the point.  Do not go on and on.  The telephone invites informality and directness — sometimes too much.  Use the medium for what is.  “I could say more on this favorite topic, but I know we haven’t the time.”

If you notice a thread, say  “Well, to you and Roger, I would say . . .”

At some point ask, “Does this position entail significant telephone communication?”  If it is a sales or PR position say, “I know that the position requires excellent telephone skills.  In my past work I . . . ”

On the telephone one can close his eyes even and imagine a receptive person on the other end.  Speak to that positive person you visualize — maybe it is your friend, parent, or favorite uncle you are imaging.

Having a friend or spouse in the room might be a help or a hindrance.  If silent companionship helps, hold hands, but don’t get palsy walsy.  Got a  cat or laid back dog for your lap or at your feet.   A pet may do something to make you smile.  That smile will relax you.  You can do no wrong in the estimation of a pet. Besides, in my experience animals have a way of putting things in perspective.  There will be more interviews.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

 

 

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INTERVIEW QUESTION: How Are You Selecting Companies?

Well, sir, without any facetious intent whatsoever, I can tell you, it’s a jungle out there.  In a perfect world I assume that employers like you would like to feel that an applicant like me has done a lot of research and narrowed his search through the sights of a rifle and not a shotgun.  I have done my utmost to match what I want and what I know about myself to carefully select employers.  At the same time I’ve tried to be realistic.   I may not find exactly what I would prefer, but I am a resourceful person with a variety of skills and abilities.  I might even discover an opportunity I had not anticipated — so there are some good things about the tight market.  It requires me to be open to the unexpected.  I want to be productively employed. I never thought of working in your industry until very recently and I think I have found something challenging here at APEX, LLC.  What I would find challenging is . . .

Comment.  In this answer the applicant is acknowledging what everyone knows.  The job market is for the seller these days and he/she is banking on the idea that the kind of employer sought knows this and further, wants commitment and attitude over perfect match of experience and skill.  After I had mentioned the challenge of APEX, I would cease in the hope that the next question would be related to a subject I had anticipated.  The ball would be in my court.  If not I have only been realistic about an employment market that sucks.  What is important is that a significant portion of target companies have been researched in detail. One must use a shotgun in the interest of survival and chance.

The risk here as with all honesty is that it may be too honest.  The employer may fear that this applicant is dishing bull and that he will always be looking for what he really wants.  This, of course, may be what the employer does in his own interest, but he really may want to hear only that APEX represents the be all and the end all of the applicant’s dreams.  If this is the case the employer is naive.

If the employer is sensitive to to the market, it doesn’t matter.  The situation affects all concerned so the employer may as well be as exacting and demanding as he wishes.  Again, the rule is the interviewer is looking for reasons not to hire rather why to hire.  He’s got a pile to work through.

Here’s another possible answer if you’re a data person.  “I look at a company first for the challenge it offers and the opportunities to grow as a professional.  Uni-Ply has had at least 3 three to 4 per cent growth in the last ten years. That is respectable in these times.  Your bond rating is above average and from what I’ve read you really research your markets before you enter them.  I like that kind of thoughtful conservatism.  Bottom line, a company that is not breaking new territory is not for me.  I want the opportunities which growth brings like the chance to head up a new division or at least be part of new division startup team.  It all takes time.  I know that.”

Steadfast and cautious,

 

The Tortoise

 

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INTERVIEW QUESTION: Where Do You Want to Be in Five Years?

Interview Question: Where do you want to be in five years?

I usually responded, “At the end of five years I want to be working for you here at Utopia, Inc. I anticipate that over five years I will have mastered my tasks and responsibilities and perhaps have been promoted to a position with greater responsibility.”

In a more realistic way I would rather have said, “Well, assuming that I have performed with excellence and Utopia has not been purchased by the French and I have not been right-sized, I would hope to see myself in a long-term situation. On the other hand, if I had an opportunity to go to France, I might take it.” That would have been too cynical or too cheeky, however realistic, for “realistic” business people.

Would you have hired me? Probably not. “This guy’s just out for himself and thinks that in five years France would be more alluring than a future in Keokuk. He might up and go to France in two years. Besides, he may be a closet socialist. We don’t need a socialist. He’s probably looking over there right now.” Remember, in a seller’s market, the seller is looking for a reason not to hire a given applicant — especially since there are 199 waiting in the hallway. Also, would it be smart or stupid in relation to this question to say, “If I am satisfied with my choice and opportunities in five years and things have gone well for both of us I would like to count on a long-term relationship.” Question is, do employers really want to have employees thinking long-term. Employees get expensive over time and employers like the employees also like to keep options open.

I always chose to answer the question in a way that would exhibit diligence, dedication and a desire to find a good situation. I always wanted, after I had been asked the question to ask my own, e.g. “Where would Utopia like to see me in five years?” But I never did. I wanted to tell them what I thought they wanted to hear, so I answered the question and waited for the next. Would a rejoinder have impressed the interviewer(s) with an ability to take control of the interview? Who knows?

Both sides are hoping something. The potential employer whose brain is full of names and faces hopes “this one” will be the last one and will so blow away the competition that he/she hasn’t a doubt in the world about her choice. Yeah, right.

You see, hope is the problem. It was given to us by the gods. Prometheus stole it and gave it to man because even he didn’t want to give lowly creatures the god-like power of foresight.

Steadfast and cautious,

 

The Tortoise

 

 

 

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