Friday, April 29, 2016

Tips for a 30 Minute Phone Screen



Congratulations! Your resume got you an interview. That is the good news.

Unfortunately, the "interview" is a 30 minute phone call.

What does the great comedian Robin Williams know about this that you don't?  Read on and learn.

It is a lot easier to blow a 30 minute phone interview than almost any other format.  This is especially true if you are interviewing with more than one person on the line.

Most of the time to win, you have to play to win.  Sometimes however, to win, you have to play not to lose.  When faced with the high stakes of a 30 minute phone interview, a win means getting a follow on interview.  Not losing means getting a follow on interview.  So, your offense has to be as good as your defense in this situation.

You aren't going to get a job offer based solely on a 30 minute phone interview, so put that off the table.  You want to impress the interviewer(s) that you have enough breadth and depth of relevant experience and accomplishments that it is worth their time to schedule a longer interview with you.

You won't achieve this objective by indulging in verbal diarrhea, gushing out your self-praise into the ears of the interviewers.  You need precision, and control, and above all, a good listening ear.

A typical 30 minute phone screen (that's right, on the other end they call it screening) has the following elements: 


  1. Introductions
  2. Position context setting or project overview
  3. Opportunity for you to talk about your background
  4. Interviewer(s) asking you questions
  5. You asking questions
  6. Next steps

It may sound strange to say, but the easiest way to blow a short interview is to talk too much.  The second easiest way is to talk too little.  Perhaps now you are getting the feeling that these are tough balancing acts?

Let me break it down for you using the agenda above and taking each part of the interview separately.

First, as I mention in my book "Tips for Effective Interviews" the interview begins before you ever get on the phone.

Before you get on the phone, do your homework.
  1. Confirm the phone numbers to be used for the call and the time of the call.  If different time zones are involved get clear what time you need to be on the call.  You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and if you miss the call or are late because of a snafu with the connection, it will reflect poorly on you - no matter whose fault it is.
  2. If possible find out who will interview you and look them up on LinkedIn and Google. Chances are that if you can find them on the internet, you may be able to learn from their internet presence more about the work you are being considered for, and the company doing the work.
  3. Research the company and if it is a project, see if you can find out any information about the project itself.
    • Whomever referred you for this job should be your first source of information on all the points above.
    • After you get all you can from the person who referred you, then use the internet and dig as deep as you can.
  4. Be on time.  Call in a minute or two early.
Now, to the actual interview.

Introductions should be very short and take no more than 2 or 3 minutes in total.

Position Context - Usually the interviewer will ask what you know about the work and the role.  If you know nothing - say so.  If you think you know a lot, summarize your understanding in less than 2 minutes.  Then, listen.

Chances are very good that in spite of your diligence, you will have a lot of bad or irrelevant information about the role and the work.  Listen closely to what the interviewer tells you about it.  Make notes of key items to guide your responses later.

If there is some part of the background that relates to your prospective role, ask clarifying questions, but be sure they are focused narrowly on the role you are interviewing for.  If you spend more than five minutes clarifying, you are losing the interview.

Your Background - If the interviewer asks you to go over your background, a common practice, this is your first chance to blow the interview.

Right away ask if all the interviewers have a copy of your most recent resume.  To confirm, mention the most recent employer and employment dates.  If they don't have it, offer to send it to them and offer to reschedule the interview after they have had time to look at the updated resume.  In most cases they won't but it is a nice gesture on your part and indicates that you feel your experience is important.

If they have a current copy of your resume, then make your self-introduction last no more than 5 minutes.  Two minutes is even better.  And refer to your resume. 

Here is how I would do it with my resume.
As you can see from my resume, I have a background as a programmer for the US Marine Corps.  While in the Corps I earned my BS CS.  
Then, I went into defense contracting for several years, essentially working as a systems analyst.  
From there I moved into banking where I ran a shop of programmer/analysts.  When the bank I was working for got bought I went back into a Programmer/Analyst role for several years.  
Then, I made a move out of IT and into the business side where I became a Project Manager, eventually rising to the level of a Senior Enterprise Project Manager for a major national bank.  
When that bank was bought, I retired to pursue other interests for several years, running my own real estate business.  
I discovered that I am a much better project manager than I am a landlord and so I have gone back into PM work in the banking world.
I am pretty sure, that even if you read that paragraph above pretty slowly, you will get through it in well under two minutes, and FYI you have just covered more than 30 years of experience.

I could have mentioned the names of the companies I worked for and how long. I didn't because they have that on my resume in front of them.  I could have mentioned some of my accomplishments in those roles.  I didn't, because those are also on my resume and if they want to know more about a particular one, they will ask. Or, I will bring it out later as a response to one of their questions about my abilities.

The point here is that you don't want to flood them irrelevant information.  Give them the bare facts and let them ask for details where they are interested.  

I cannot remember how many job candidates blew it in this phase because they were so effusive in telling me all about their background that they didn't give me any time to ask about the parts of it that I really wanted to know more about.  They were so busy showing me that they were the answer to all my problems that they failed to find out what my problem actually was that I was trying to solve with a hire.

Conclude your self-intro with the double question, "Does that help, or is there something specific in my background you would like to know more about?"

This signals that you are ready to start answering their questions and opens the door for background or other questions. If you have done a good job, you still have about 20 minutes of interview time left at this point.

Asking You Questions - I am not going into detail here about how you should answer their questions, it would simply be a repeat of a chapter from "Tips for Effective Interviews."  I will say this though, if you don't know what the STAR approach is and how to use it, then you better learn it and master it before your next interview.  If you don't, you won't nail it.

You Asking Questions - After you have finished answering their questions usually they will give you a chance to ask questions.  You probably won't have more than 5 minutes left here, so you need to make it count.

If you have any lingering questions from the context part of the interview, ask them now.  You may even want to state what you understand they want from this position and ask if you understand correctly.  Then you can point out any relevant experience in your background which they may not have brought up, which you feel could be a selling point for hiring you.

Knowing whether or not you want to work in the environment of this company is an important consideration for you.  But, it is not relevant at this point in the interview process.  If you ask questions about benefits, pay, and the work environment, you will come off as self-serving and shallow.

If there is some aspect of the work expected from the role you are interviewing that concerns you, making you unsure if you are truly a good fit for this work, then ask about it.

Next Steps - If all you have is 60 seconds, then tell them you are definitely interested in the role and believe you can add value to their team.  Then ask, "when will you be letting me know about our next steps?"  In any case, you should conclude with this.

After the interview, send an email to the interviewers thanking them for their time and consideration.  Reiterate your interest in the role and your belief that you can add value.  Let them know that you are looking forward to your next conversation with them.

I cannot guarantee that you will nail the interview.  But if you pay attention and do what I am telling you, you are unlikely to blow it.

Your job search is no laughing matter but, like the great comedians of the world (hence the pic of Robin Williams at the top of this post), when you end the interview, leave them wanting to hear more from you.

PS: If you need help on your resume or job search, drop a line to me at Info@ResumesByTom.com.  I will be happy to help you.  The first consultation is free.

Tom Sheppard has helped hundreds of people to get and keep the job they want.  If you would like personal help from Tom in your job search needs go to http://www.resumesbytom.com/p/products-and-services.html





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