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Making the Most Out of First Round Phone Interviews – From the CHRO’s Desk

MW_newbackgroundIt’s a new year and, along with getting healthier and reading more (the latter being on my list for 2015), a lot of people aspire to find that perfect job. Some job seekers may be new grads starting their careers, while others are experienced workers ready for their next chapter or to find more work/life balance.

Regardless of where you fit in on the job seeker spectrum, once your application has been submitted and selected, the first step in the interview process is usually a phone screen with a recruiter. Hanover’s recruiters conducted almost 1,800 phone screens in 2014, yet I am always baffled by why so many candidates did not leverage this conversation more effectively. This is an opportunity to demonstrate — to the person who decides whether your interview process continues or stalls — that you have the right mixture of education, work experience, and cultural fit for the position.  After so many first round phone interviews, here are three simple suggestions to make the most out of that conversation:

1. Do your homework.

Too many candidates at all levels approach the initial phone screen interview without sufficient preparation. Recruiters have to make a decision about whether a candidate is the right fit for a role based on a 30 minute phone interview, so be as prepared and polished as possible. Read the company’s website so that you understand what their business model is and how they make money. Read the job description carefully. Prepare questions that you cannot easily find the answers to on the company website. If you have the time and the connections, speak to someone at the company (ideally doing the job you are applying for) before the interview to get a better understanding of the day-to-day expectations of the role.

2. Try to stay relaxed and calm on the phone.

Interviewing on the phone can be challenging for a variety of reasons — for example, not being able to read visual cues to know when the other person is about to stop speaking. On top of the anxiety of an interview, the impersonal nature of the phone can make the experience feel more nerve-racking than it really is. Good recruiters usually spend the first few minutes of the call trying to break the ice by talking about the weather or something in the news, or otherwise trying to set a more relaxed tone. Go along with the pace of the recruiter. Try to speak slowly, clearly, and at an even tempo. This will help control and mask the nervousness a bit.

3. Accept rejection gracefully.

The job market is still very competitive. It gets even more competitive as we approach the spring graduation season, when thousands of new graduates flood the job market, often applying for every posting they might or might not be qualified for, just to find some form of employment before they have to start paying back their student loans. With this type of volume, it is inevitable that you will receive a rejection email at some point.

Recruiters often bear the brunt of the disappointment and bitterness of a challenging job search. We get nasty emails, nasty phone calls, and, sometimes, nasty people showing up in person demanding to be told why they didn’t get a specific position. The honest answer is that it’s not personal, but just a byproduct of a high volume of applications for a limited number of positions.  Hanover receives thousands of applications each year and is able to hire only a fraction of those applicants.

However, recruiters always remember the candidates who were personable, friendly, and gracious, regardless of the outcome of the process. This position might be filled by someone else, but if you make a positive impression, you are more likely to receive an email or call in a few months if there are similar openings or a new opportunity. This is probably the most difficult piece of advice for us all to internalize, but I think is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned, both as a job seeker and a recruiter. How someone responds after any type of rejection is the most accurate reflection of who they are.  Aspire to be gracious by thanking the recruiter and company for their time and, in so doing, keep the potential for future dialogue open. The rejection will still be disappointing, but this will help you close the chapter without closing any future opportunities.

Marcelle Wood
Chief Human Resources Officer

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