Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why is a phone interview required and how do I get to the in person interview?

Today this question is far more relevant than in years past. In the past phone interviews were only used if extensive travel was required for an interview. If somebody in New York applied for a job in Los Angeles he was going to have to get through a phone interview. With a few exceptions that was about the only time it was used. Now hiring authorities phone interview everybody even those just across town. This is not a good trend. Phone interviews are never as productive as meeting a candidate in person and during my career I have seen many of the highest caliber candidates be rejected because they did not interview as well by phone and the interviewer was not able to evaluate as well by phone as in person.
One of the biggest problems with a phone interview is that unlike the face to face interview the employer is looking for reasons NOT to bring in the candidate. Think about that. In an in person interview they are looking for reasons to hire. In a phone interview they are looking for reasons to not even bring a candidate in for a real interview, let alone hire him.

As a recruiter I was insulted when a company wanted to phone interview a candidate because there was only one reason for it. The employer did not trust me as an extension of their hiring team. They did not believe that I could evaluate a candidate as well as they could. They did not believe that I understood their needs as well as they did. This usually indicated a trust issue that went well beyond the phone interview. For this reason I did not accept assignments from employers who insisted on a phone interview before scheduling a candidate. If a client was not going to trust my judgment as to who they would interview I would win the trust or walk away from the assignment.

If phone interviews are so flawed why are they being used more than ever before? There are lots of reasons.
Employers do not believe resumes. Many candidates desperate to find work are "exaggerating" the facts and details of their resumes in order to appear a stronger candidate. It has been estimated that in good times 50%of resumes contained misleading content (lies) so imagine what it is in the worst of times. Employers cannot decide to interview a candidate based on the resume if they do not believe what they are reading. To these people the phone interview is a fact checking session.

Human resource departments are under intense pressure to reduce expenses. They are a non revenue generating function so in hard times they are always one of the first to feel the pressure. Interview travel cost are a big expense item so phone interviews are a tool to make sure they are spending wisely. In many cases multiple phone interviews are conducted.


In the past quarter century of self employed consulting, I have been placed by various headhunters into about 1/4 of my projects. Working with them, I had one interview in person and maybe a couple what I would consider to be telephone interviews.

All other phone calls with them consisted solely of them dispensing additional job related details, followed by my own evaluation of both the positives and the negatives, in terms of the overall fit. However, none of them felt like [telephone] interviews.

Therefore, do not be too harsh on your corporate prospects just because too many headhunters have created an impression that most recruiting outfits are nothing more than resume re-faxing services.


You make some great points, but I guess it comes down to what you use a phone interview for. I have three years exp as a recruiter and was taught that a phone interview was not to eliminate candidates. You confirm that they meet minimum requirements - Then give them a better understanding of the company, position and culture. Finally you prepare them for the in person interview coming by telling them about the hiring manager, the selection process, salary range and benefits. I was always told I am the candidates advocate and acting as such I will create win win scenarios. We get candidates that fit our needs and culture and candidates perform better in interviews. Resumes are used to screen candidates and eliminate non qualified applicants not phone screens. As for working with thrid party recruiter I think it is a question of culture, my job was to present the hiring manager with the best possible candidates period. who cares where they came from I always worked well with thrid party recruiters and I would say that 1/2 the time I encourage them to participate in the pre interview phone screen. which they did and the results where a stronger more prepared candidate.


One of the key reasons for phone interviews is that the team members are scattered to the four winds.

I generally agree that in person is much better, but lacking it, which I suspect will become more and more common, shouldn't be a hindrance if you have done your homework on the company and the division you are interview for.

I actually have a funny story about phone interviews. In this case the subject matter is highly technical and very few recruiters would have the knowledge to know what depth the candidates have or whether they were being led up the garden path or not. So I don't fault the recruiter for doing not much more than a quick review of the resume and letting the hiring manager handle the details.

Usually I don't expect much; however, I was interviewed for a contract a short while ago and was told they would get back to me in a week to ten days as they were interviewing a number of candidates. Okay, I thought, thanked them and put it out of my mind except to tickle file it for follow up. The interview ended at 4:30 pm and covered general knowledge with a bit about how the team worked. The team manager was not on the call. Plus they are all scattered across five offices in three time zones. Was I surprised when the next morning, sixteen hours and fifteen minutes later, I was offered the contract!

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