In hiring, the first test is the initial conversation you have with the candidate on the phone—before asking them to come in for a face-to-face interview. This step is very important and should not be ignored. Although you don’t have to handle this yourself, it is critical that someone in your office does an initial phone screening of each candidate prior to setting up an interview. Although the candidate may have a lot of questions for you, it’s much more important for you or your designee to get information from them.
Unfortunately, what I often see is a fast phone call to get a little bit of information, followed by setting an appointment. Just like you, I want to get a lot of candidates in the door, but I’m not interested in wasting my time—or yours, for that matter. By doing a thorough phone screening, you may have fewer candidates to interview, but those you do have will be more qualified.
It’s always best to ask open-ended questions to get a feel for the person and their experience. The following are some questions to help you to pre-screen:
- Tell me about yourself, and why you are looking for a job at this time.
- Why did you leave (or are you leaving) your last job?
- What do you like most about your current (or last) position?
- What do you like least about your current (or last) position?
As surprising as this may seem, potential candidates will often tell you a lot. Some of my clients have reported that they have had candidates go on and on about how terrible their current or former boss was. If you have someone tell you all about how horrible a past job was, that is the red flag that tells you to move on.
If the candidate seems like a good fit, this is an excellent time to tell them a little about your company and the position. If at this point you both agree that this is a potentially good fit, then you schedule the face-to-face interview. Before you hang up, make sure to tell the candidate your Website address so they can prepare.
Key to all interviewing—whether it is the phone screening or personal interview—is good communication. Here it is critical that you ask the right questions to get the candidate to talk. To end up with the right employee, you first want to find out a little about the person. Always ask open-ended questions (not those requiring a yes or no answer), and then listen while they answer.
Many of the questions to ask at the personal interview can be the same or similar to those you ask on the phone. Other questions may include the following:
- Tell me about yourself, and why you would like this job.
- Tell me about your strengths.
- Tell me about your weaknesses.
- Where do you see yourself in three or five years?
- What obstacles do you see in being able to work here?
Listen carefully to what they are saying and pull the string on anything that sounds even a little strange or confusing. A simple “tell me a little more about that’ should be enough to get them to continue talking about a questionable area.
In getting the candidate to open up, it’s best to ask about positive things before asking about negatives. The positive aspect will usually get them to open up and start talking about themselves.
Watch out for complainers who blame everything on others (especially their last boss). Someone who sees themselves as a “victim,” someone to whom everything is always happening, is probably too troublesome (or mistake-prone) to make a good employee.
I have found that most interviewers want to sell the candidate by telling them all about the company, the job, etc. By doing all the talking, you are not learning anything, and you are feeding the candidate the answers to your questions. All I can say about this is, don’t do it. If it’s too difficult for you, then find someone else to do the interviewing.
Although it’s necessary to get someone with the right credentials to fill your position, it is more important to find someone with the right attitude. The right attitude can be determined by looking at the person’s emotional tone level. In his writings on understanding people and management, author L Ron Hubbard wrote, “The tone scale … is a scale which shows the successive emotional tones a person can experience. By ‘tone’ is meant the momentary or continuing emotional state of a person. Emotions such as fear, anger, grief, enthusiasm and others which people experience are shown on this graduated scale. Skillful use of this scale enables one to both predict and understand human behavior in all its manifestations.”
To find a person’s tone, it’s important to observe them while listening. For instance, an interested person will be engaged and ask appropriate questions of you. They will make eye contact. On the other hand, a fearful person will not be able to look at you. A person in a tone of fear will also have difficulties making decisions in most aspects of the job. The ideal candidate will make eye contact, seem confident—without being overly so—will speak confidently, but will also be interested in you, your company and the position.
Remember, it doesn’t matter how skilled the employee is if they are irresponsible or have a bad attitude regarding you, your business or your clients.—Lorraine Hart
Lorraine Hart is the president of Ideal Consulting Services, a business consulting firm. Lorraine is a past president of the NYC/LI Chapter of NARI. Lorraine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.