Phone screen

Practice your answers a specific way and you will nail the phone screen

The phone Screen

To most candidates, phone screens are the great unknowns in the job interview process and most of us consider this the hardest step in the interview process to prepare for. I disagree. I believe the phone interview is the easiest interview to prepare for and the intent of this post will shed some light on why and change your attitude towards the phone interview.

The reason most people think the phone screen is the hardest interview to prepare for is because most candidates go into the phone screen not knowing what to expect. Most candidates believe that the phone screen is the black hole of uncertainty because we don’t really have any context for what to expect. If you have a great phone screen / interview and land the coveted in person interview, you at least have an idea of what to expect based on what was discussed during the phone conversation. In addition to this, the recruiter who called you will often give you some insight into what to expect in the next steps or will talk with you about who you are going to meet in subsequent interviews. If not, we as a candidate can always ask the recruiter. Yes, you can ask the recruiter what to expect from the process.

If you are having a tough time making it past the phone screen stage, then this post is for you.

Phone screen insight

The recruiter’s tone during the phone screen will give us some indication as to what to expect in subsequent interviews. If the recruiter is excited on the phone, we leave the conversation with the impression that Acme Publishing is a great place to work. They wouldn’t be excited about their job or selling the job opening if it were not a great place to work. On the other hand, if the recruiter is rude, short or sounds like they are just going through the motions, we fear the worst. The info may be a false positive but based on the tone, we are mentally preparing for what to expect at the next level.

I believe that being scared of the phone interview, is the wrong mentality. We should be going into the phone screen with confidence for a number of reasons, and hopefully this post will make you a believer so you are well prepared for your next phone screen.

Why you shouldn’t fear the phone screen

First and foremost, the number reason we need to be positive about the phone interview is that thinking about failure will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Preparing well is the best way to have confidence and the next two points will give you confidence.

The main reason you should not be fearful of the phone interview is because you are one of the chosen ones. For most jobs out there, the recruiter or hiring manager has a LOT of resumes to pick from and they picked yours. Yes, for once, you are the hot girl at the dance. Where I work, we just posted a job description for an HR generalist here in Seattle and the HR group had a pool to guess how many candidates we would receive over the weekend. The guesses ranged from 86 to 240 and this was only for the first weekend. We posted the position on Friday afternoon and will take a count on Monday at 9:00 AM.

The fact of the matter is whether we have 86 or 240 resumes; there are a lot of choices for the hiring manager. (Remember, this is only the first weekend) Someone in the department will sort through the resumes and then we will call 3-4 qualified candidates for the phone interview.

If you landed a phone interview then the hiring manager feels you are qualified. 

If there is no one who is qualified, we will change the headline on the job description, we may tweak the content of the job description, but we will NOT call candidates who are not qualified. We won’t waste anyone’s time, specifically ours.

So, don’t fret. You are not just in the ball-park, you are on base. The hiring manager is not just interested in you as a candidate, they are hopeful you are the one. Your odds just went from 86 to one to 4 to 1. Play your cards right Gomer because you can win this pot.

How to prepare for the phone interview:

The best way to prepare for a phone interview is to practice. I have conducted a lot of phone interviews over the years and for most candidates that I talk to, this is the weakest link. It is surprising to me how many candidates do not have a grasp on the message they want to deliver. I would say that 90% of the candidates I talk to are qualified, but then weed themselves out of the process because of the way they present themselves over the phone.

In most cases, a phone screen is only 30 to 45 minutes long. What this means for most recruiters is that they only have time to ask about 10 questions of the candidate. Remember, recruiters also need to make introductions, conduct a little bit of chit-chat to take the edge of nervousness off the candidate and then give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions. This only leaves time for 10 questions, maybe a few more, but with only 10 questions coming, we should know what is coming.

What are the 10 questions asked during a phone screen?

Any quick Google search for top phone screen questions or “top phone interview question for Customer Service Rep or Product Manager” will give you a number of lists and they will all be very similar. Remember, with only 10 questions, we are not going to be asking you about your favorite music, favorite food or for you to tell us about your childhood experiences. This is not a session on the couch with your counselor. This is speed dating and we need to make an impression quickly.

Here is what I want to know, and not necessarily in this order. You should absolutely have prepared answers for these questions.

  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you know about Acme Publishing?
  • What is your weakness?
  • What did you like about your last manager?
  • How much do you want to make?
  • What is your long-term / 3 year / 5 year plan?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why did you leave your last job? Why are you considering a new job?

If you are like most candidates, you read through the list and felt good about your ability to answer the questions. If you read the first question and in your mind formulated the first sentence to your answer (or came up with a general concept for an answer) and then moved onto question number 2, you are probably going to present poorly during the phone interview.

If you came up with short one sentence answers and moved to the next question, the interview process will probably end after the phone screen. I hear a lot of great first sentences to interview answers in a phone screen but then most candidates stumble. They have a general concept of what they want to say, but they are not able to articulate the answer.

One of the best ways to prepare for a phone interview is to write out a complete answer to the interview questions and then tape record what we sound like when we answer the questions. I think that you will be surprised with what you hear.

Common problems with phone screen answers:

The most common problem is that the candidate doesn’t sound articulate. At least not articulate enough to pay them $50K or their desired salary. There is obviously an idea of what the candidate wants to say, but there is a lot of stumbling and a lack of well formulated thoughts.

Writing out the answers in their entirety, and then practicing the entire answer out loud will make a big difference in how we present over the phone. When we have a script, we don’t miss points we want to make and the answer has the opportunity to flow. We can literally tell a story with each answer.

The other thing that listening to your phone screen answers will do is help ensure that we are answering the questions. Having a pre planned answer and then listening to what our answer sounds like via a recording ensures we are giving the interviewer what they want.

A good percentage of candidates that fail the phone screen have one thing in common. The candidates are asked an interview question and then the candidate gives a long explanation and background before actually answering the question. We are losing the interest of the person on the other end of the phone when we give background explanations before answering the actual question. We want to make sure we answer the question first and then provide any necessary background information. Listening to your answer will make this painfully obvious.

If you have a phone interview coming up, prepare well thought out and complete answers and then record your answers to ensure that you are presenting your best self. The sighs, the heavy breathing and the “well you know” or over use of the word “like” will disappear quickly.

For insight into why this recruiter thinks phone interviews go badly,, read the prior post here.

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable, subscribe to weekly updates here, “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below. Thank you!

Diversity starts with leadership

Posted: by HRNasty in Company Culture, Strategic HR

The Voice. Where the interviewers are choosing their candidates based on the skills needed for the job and not the image.

Diversity starts with leadership

Every company says they promote diversity and every company says that employees are their most important assets. 

I just went through the job search process and I wanted to share my recent diversity experiences. Diversity doesn’t always come across the way you think it is and it surprised me in my recent search. What I encountered as it relates to diversity was a first. 

As I reported in the last post, I recently joined a mid-sized technology company leading an HR department. 

My initial contact with the company was with the CEO and it was a lot more of a relaxed conversation over coffee, than it was an interview. He explained the company, the technology, the role, and of course the company culture. I really appreciated that this was a 2-way conversation and not a “job interview”. We both had questions, we both had answers, and the CEO set a tone for two colleagues vs. adversaries writing salaries expectations on slips of paper and passing them back and forth. If you were sitting in the restaurant and saw us, you would have thought it was a business meeting between equals vs. an interview where there was a senior and a junior. The CEO is comfortable in his skin and he didn’t have to prove it by making sure I knew I was the junior. Needless to say, I liked his style and I liked the atmosphere that was created. I took the tone of that initial meeting as good indicator on the company culture that he had created. 

So where does diversity come into the blog post? 

There were a number of skills and experiences the CEO was looking for from the position. International HR experience, experience with both fast growth technology companies and larger corporate entities, experience managing a team, etc. He also mentioned that he wanted to “bring company awareness to the community”. My initial thought was that he was looking for someone with marketing experience but when I probed a little further, it turned out that he wanted to increase the companies visibility within the local community in an effort to attract candidates of diversity. In Seattle, we have a very diverse population but within the technology sector, the workforce does not always reflect the community. This is a common challenge that many technology companies of all sizes in the local face. 

Larger companies in the area are not immune to the challenge of hiring for a diverse workplace. Microsoft, one of the largest employers in the state released a report earlier this year on their diversity within the workplace. The stats on their EEO1 report is here: 

  • 76% of the workforce is male
  • 5% of the workforce is Hispanic /Latino
  • 3% of the workforce is black 

There is a great narrative and info graphic in Fortune magazine here. 

The report describes low numbers to be sure, but as a minority that falls into two protected classes, I don’t fault Microsoft one bit. The resources that MSFT is throwing into their initiative to recruit diversity is herculean in my opinion and I respect them for it. The bottom-line is that although there is a lot of diversity in the Seattle area, it has only been in recent years that technology has had a chance to be impacted by a pool of diverse candidates. This is because it is only in the last few years that technology has begun to reach younger demographics in diverse groups. Of course this number will increase over time, and not just for MSFT but for the US as well. Exposure and accessibility to technology at a younger age will impact our future generations interest and proficiency at a later age. This early exposure will translate to increased diversity numbers within technology in the near future. 

I believe there is a similar reason we don’t see a lot of diversity in professional golf and tennis. To make it to the professional level athletes need to have not just access and exposure to the facilities where these sports are played but role models to emulate. It is the same for technology. If you do not have access to a golf course or a swimming pool for 10 hours a week when you are younger, you probably are not going to have the hours needed make it to the professional level. We are now seeing role models in golf like Tiger Woods and Michael Chang in tennis. These were sports that didn’t traditionally see much diversity. In a similar fashion, more access, earlier exposure and role models in technology will increase future numbers. 

As our initial meeting came to a close, the CEO explained next steps and took a few minute to set expectations for the rest of the process: 

  1. He wanted to set up a second meeting to give me debrief on the leadership team. I explained that I wanted the team to meet me, as I am. I did not want them to hire something I am trying to be. They will either appreciate my style of HR or they won’t and I know I am not for everyone. If they hire someone who I am trying to be in the interview, neither of us would be happy in the long run.
  1. Although this is a mid-sized company, it is owned by a Fortune 100 company and because of the parent companies size and company initiatives, he needed to talk to at least three candidates and one of them had to be a minority. 

Now, this is where the blog becomes a slippery slope. Some readers will be outraged that the CEO is required to talk with at least one minority. Some readers will wonder why he even has to mention this (He is transparent and I appreciate the style). Fair or not, right or not, I know there are minorities that appreciate the opportunity to interview where they may have been otherwise passed over for an initial interview. I also know there are minorities like myself that want to be hired on our own merits and want to be treated exactly like the other candidates. 

My initial response to the CEO’s comment about 3 candidates and the requirement for a minority was, and I quote: “Yo dude, what am I? I am a minority and fall into 2 protected classes”. I would never say this in an interview with anyone I just met, but this CEO is a friend and we have history. 

I was lured into Bro mode and my defenses were down during the interview. 

Over the next three quarters of a second, I literally had all of the following thoughts run through my head. 

Paranoid HRNasty: “SHIT! What did I just say? Even if it is only jokingly in Bro mode, the last thing I want to do as a minority candidate is bring up the “D” (diversity) word during an interview. I don’t want to scare any hiring company off with the fear that I am going to use the minority card to gain leverage or sue. HRNasty you are a dumbass. HRNasty, you are a dumbass!!! Why did you use the “D” word? 

Cynical HRNasty: “Ahhh, I see why he is talking with me. He wants a minority in this role so he can hopefully recruit more minorities. What he really needs is a woman minority. I actually know a woman for him.” 

Sad HRNasty: I had a flashback to my days back in corporate America where an office of 12,000 employees held a Diversity fair and assembled 100 minority employees to work the room that night and make candidates of diversity feel comfortable. We got a lot of candidates, but a total of 2 candidates of color showed up. 

Pragmatic HRNasty: “There really are not that many minorities working in technology. The colleges do not have high percentages of female computer science majors “yet”. This is going to take time and it is going to be a claw.” 

The CEO’s response: 

“But you aren’t a minority. Well, I guess you are. I never thought of you as a minority.” 

Optimistic HRNasty: I know I am a glass half full kind of a guy, but I was flattered. I do make an effort to be mainstream and have always tried to make an effort to fit into “corporate”. I am not trying to hide my ethnicity and I am not embarrassed of my background. But I like to think my look will fit into corporate America. Make no mistake, I encourage the mainstream white guys to adopt a corporate look as well. If we want to play in the leadership sandbox, we need to be accepted and “fit in”. We need to dress and act a couple of levels above our current position if we want to be seen in a larger role. 

I was seriously stoked! I wasn’t being interviewed as a candidate of color. I wasn’t being interviewed as a candidate in a protected class. I was being interviewed as simply, “a candidate”. He was going to make a decision based on my skills and experiences and not on my look. This is even better than the singing competition television show, The Voice. The Voice, for those of you not familiar has 4 stages of completion. The first stage is a round of blind auditions where the judges listen to the talent with their backs to the stage. They are not able to see the talent. They are only able to make a decision on whether the contestant should move forward based on what they hear. Decisions are based on the skill being judged. Isn’t this what all of us want? Isn’t this what Dr. Martin Luther King wanted? To be judged by the content of our mind and not the color of our skin? 

Diversity isn’t just about attracting candidates from all walks of life. Diversity is also the ability to look at all candidates for who they are and not what we think they appear to be. We can attract all the candidates of diversity we want, but if they feel they are being treated differently, it is all for naught. This mentality will attract candidates from all walks of life including the mainstream. 

See you at the after party, 


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable, subscribe to weekly updates here, “like” us on Facebook, and leave your comments below. Thank you!