What created the need for telephone interviews? After all, everything was running just fine without them. Or was it? How is it different from a traditional job interview process? Professionals understand that a job interview is a process of evaluating a prospective job candidate by the recruiter with the intention of exploring whether the candidate is suitable for the job in their organization or not. Now, it would be easy to assume that this interview process, when it happens via telephone, would be known as a telephone interview; this is only partially correct. A telephone interview never replaces a face-to-face interview, but is in fact a preliminary step to qualify the applicant for a detailed face-to-face interview.
As an experienced recruiter, I have seen the status of the telephone interview undergo a transition over the past ten years. It started with the candidates demanding a telephone interview because they wanted to make sure that they were being called for the right role, and not just to fill in the recruiters' monthly interview targets. It used to be a tug of war where the candidate wanted a telephone interview, while the recruiter wanted to interview the candidate face to face. Things changed over time and now the recruiter prefers to interview a candidate by telephone for the first round. The tug of war ended and candidates were no longer complaining. Yet, I observed that in most cases, telephone interviews were still strictly limited to the evaluation of basic communication skills and role suitability of the candidate.
The recession in 2008 altered the scenario entirely. The telephone interview gained prime preference for the recruiter as well as the interview candidate. Telephone interviews were no longer merely a means of basic screening. On parsing the interview data of 60 clients associated with my firm for the financial year 2010-2011, I can say that telephone interviews became a deciding factor in more than 80 percent of interview cases.
In this chapter, we will analyze how times have changed in the last ten years and the impact of these changes on candidates' attitudes and on recruiters' hiring strategies. We will also explore the key advantages a telephone interview delivers to a firm, as well as the candidate. A good telephone-interview process saves time, effort, and money for both parties.
This chapter highlights the reasons to develop prospective talent resources for organizations in the light of changing times, and demonstrates how to make telephone interviews an instrumental process in accomplishing this goal. You'll learn when, how, and why telephone interview gained the importance it enjoys today, and why that's important for your own hiring strategy.
The economic slump of 2008 changed many existing management theories, beliefs, concepts, and practices. My classification of past and present times could just as well be termed "pre-2008" and "post-2008". Let's review how recruitment scenarios changed before and after 2008.
"Before 2008, I used to get a large number of interview invitations from different hardware development companies for various positions available. But nothing really caught my interest," recalls P. Harihar, a senior engineer at UK-based global IT hardware organization ARM. "But it was in 2010, when my present employer ARM UK offered me something that I was really looking for, and I shifted my base from Bangalore, India, to Cambridge, UK." Harihar's story, shared with me after he had been interviewed for his new role first by phone, then twice in person, is far from unique. The change from blanket interviews to a specific, targeted process of matching Harihar's skills and needs and those of his company in the wake of the recession was conspicuous. And it made all the difference.
Let's assume that "Company A" has targeted a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 35 percent for the next three years. In order to achieve this, an additional 200 professionals must be hired per quarter. The interview to hire ratio is 8:1, which means that 1600 candidates must be interviewed in a quarter to achieve the hiring target of 200 employees. Imagine that the number of working days in a quarter are 66, this would call for approximately 26 face-to-face interviews a day.
For some sectors such as IT/ITES, real estate, telecoms, banking, financial services, and insurance, the number of interviews organized per day increased five fold during the peak of their hiring before 2008, and companies seldom if ever held preliminary telephone interviews.
There were several reasons behind such gigantic hiring targets:
The economic boom had provided a great opportunity for profit-oriented organizations to boost their businesses tremendously
These organizations' prime focus was on enhancing business by adding a large number of customers to the existing portfolio, which in turn meant deploying larger staff
Companies had the resources to plough into large hiring budgets
Management was often more focused on quantity over quality
As hiring was not an issue, firing was not a problem either, and high employee turnover was of little concern
Since the job market offered ample opportunities, candidates were open to experimentation
The job applicant's main attention was on a better compensation package, at least in the majority of cases
The results of all of this defined the hiring environment:
No preliminary screening process existed, except resume vetting
Interviews were more a case of trial and error rather than a well-defined process with a result-oriented approach, except for top leadership positions
Essentially, in profit-oriented industries, corporate recruiters' primary concern was to arrange interview candidates to fill their targets, even if that meant compromising on the quality of the candidate, and agency recruiters complied with their clients' demands
Most candidates never gave weight to role clarity; even if some did, they were convinced by the recruiters or the agents to attend the face-to-face interview
There was a very low stick ratio; with job hopping being a common trend, the company that offered more money got the candidate, even if that meant resigning from the previous job in just six months
That was a common picture of recruitment for the majority of industries globally. However, many from both sides of the process began to understand that recruitment and job change respectively were the kind of decisions that must be taken more consciously. Those were the people who highlighted the need for telephone interviews.
Initially, telephone interviews were seen simply as an initial screening process. This had its own drawbacks:
Recruiters did it primarily to carry out the initial screening of the candidate, which included verifying the facts given on the resume and evaluating their basic communication skills. This still left everything but the most basic evaluation to the face-to-face interview.
Candidates primarily used it as a tool for assessing the kind of money offered in the role. Though some also used it to glean whether the role really suited them, or if recruiters were merely lining up candidates in order to meet their targets, the information exchanged remained cursory.
Undoubtedly, these screening interviews cut down on time and effort for the recruiter while improving the quality of candidates coming in, but only marginally. It turned out to be productive for the candidates as well, as now they had to attend fewer interviews in a job market full of prospects. Still, no one realized the true potential a telephone interview could offer.
Then, in 2008, the bubble burst and the recession changed everything.
The year 2008 began with global economic meltdown, critically affecting even the strongest of nations and organizations. Forget competition, companies were merely trying to keep themselves afloat in such turbulent waters. Even the most stable and employee-driven organizations were forced to issue pink slips to their most loyal employees. Worse were the humiliating ways in which such layoffs were carried out within the organizations that completely crushed the loyalty and feelings of security amongst those who stayed. During the hiring freeze (which lasted almost until 2010), organizations had ample time to redefine their processes. It was a time for introspection and learning. Every strategic move must now navigate the new waters of cost cutting, effectiveness, and productivity, leading to the scrutiny of each and every business process to achieve these goals. It also gave time to candidates to develop a holistic approach towards the process of a job search.
Some major changes emerged in organizational strategies and goals:
The biggest challenge for companies became business retention
Value business was given priority over numbers, which created the need for smaller teams of highly-effective performers
Employers had faced the losses of bad hires, as well as the hammering of their face value in the employment market due to layoffs; hence, many became extremely vigilant of the recruitment process
Cost efficiency became the prime target of every process, which created the need for stringent hiring methods
Talent management and talent retention became the core focus of human resource strategies
Perhaps the biggest mutation was the way in which job opportunities were perceived by the applicants. Candidates were no longer interested in jobs that offered only monetary compensation. They demanded more—more job relatability, more training initiatives, more all-inclusive career growth, and thus more perceived security. They wanted to critically appraise the company's vision, market sensibilities, human-resource policies and strategies, growth opportunities, long term strategies towards learning and development, and past and present performance.
Three major developments took place that needed immediate attention and a single quick solution:
The job market progressed from local to global as employers were now ready to hire the best talent available without any geographical constraint, while candidates were also more open to international relocation. At the same time, minimizing the hiring cost and the risk of a bad hire was vital.
Interviews could no longer be a one-sided selection process. Hiring now had to be blended with sales to make it a mutual process to entice the best candidates.
Candidates as well as companies wanted to ensure that the relationship would be based on long-term mutual trust and benefit.
The best solution to all of these issues: the telephone interview.
A question naturally appeared in the minds of recruiters—as interviews consume a great amount of time, effort, and money, could the telephone interview be an effective solution? Could it be more than just an additional step in an already cumbersome process?
The two following flowcharts show the typical interview processes with and without telephonic rounds respectively. In this case, we assume that the telephone interview in question is not merely a pre-screening, but a well-conducted, detailed interview—the way it should ideally be and as it will be described in detail in the following chapters. The flowcharts clearly illustrate all the stages (based on high probability situations) in both types of processes, and also point out the steps at which resource wastage happens—the wastage points are noted by asterisks.
Two important observations can be made even from just a momentary glance at the two flowcharts:
The telephone interview greatly reduces the number of steps in the recruitment process, ensuring faster recruitment for the open position.
Chances of resource wastage are more probable in the traditional interview system
The following table presents the analysis of the wastage points shown in both the methods:
Traditional interview without telephonic round (Flowchart 1.1)
Telephone-interview-based process (Flowchart 1.2)
Arranging face-to-face interviews for 20 or more candidates is a big drain on resources.
Scheduling telephone interviews takes less time, as candidates can be available at any time during the day.
The probability of process failure is much higher in direct face-to-face interviews because of undisclosed expectations of both employer as well as employee.
Candidates who appear for a face-to-face interview have already been developed as prospects with great interest in the job opening. A telephone interview provides the candidates with the opportunity to refuse over the telephone if they are not interested.
All the related line managers and HR managers along with the support staff must be available for 15 candidates, taking an enormous amount of time away from other business interests.
Arranging three face-to-face interviews is less time consuming for everyone, more easily coordinated, less resource intensive, and more targeted.
Resources are wasted unnecessarily in rescheduling interviews for candidates who could not make the original date.
Rescheduling a telephone interview is relatively easy and can be dealt with comfortably.
The process cycle becomes so long and time consuming that the prospective candidate may lose interest or take an offer from a competitor.
The process cycle is shorter and more engaging, maintaining the candidate's interest. A shorter cycle also means quicker closure, beating the competition. Moreover, the sooner the employee is brought on board, the faster they can deliver the results.
One psychological reality that we must never ignore is that when presented with 15 or more options face to face, it becomes very difficult to choose the best three because the factors that should be pertinent only to face-to-face interviews integrate factors that are not dependent on physical presence. It complicates the power of strategic selection by creating a misunderstanding between what is being offered and what is required.
Finally, Flowchart 1.1 shows the completion of the process; another strong possibility is that the recruiter will be left with only two alternatives. They may choose one of the remaining two candidates, compromising on quality by selecting a new hire who was never on the first priority list, or they can repeat the entire process cycle. Either way, it's going to be a massive depletion of resources in time, effort, man hours, and consequently money.
In the case of detailed telephone interviews, there is no body language or facial expression, and hence the focus is only on the voice and the answers of the candidate, and the conviction they carry. This is not the limitation it might seem at first. In fact, most of the important psychological and technical factors can and should be tested on the telephone. The face-to-face interview should judge only the factors that are vital to physical representation of the person, such as soft skills. This leads to a more logical process of selection. Hence, the chances of process failure and repetition are greatly diminished.
Gone are the days when money alone used to make an offer lucrative for the candidates. Post recession, candidates have become extremely sophisticated, as well as cautious before accepting any job opportunity. Two important realizations have resulted in sales and HR techniques joining forces and altering the traditional recruitment method.
Firstly, a candidate now scrutinizes the new organization, role, and management as closely as a recruiter examines the candidate. Candidates can be divided into two groups, as observed and explained:
"The first group is much quicker to accept things as they are and tries to maintain the status quo. They want a job where there is a sense of stability and potential growth opportunity, and they are more worried about being part of a larger team. Post-2008, this group has become even more focused on stability and long term security.
The other group entered into the workforce just prior to 2008 or after; this group appears to have a much different dynamic. This group is not as concerned with "big companies", and is more focused on how the opportunity will benefit them."
by Jason Carson, Director, Labor Relations/Human Resources and Safety, Brillion Iron Works, United States
In either case, the candidate holds many expectations of the recruiting company before thinking about whether to join their team, or not.
Secondly, companies have learned from their past experiences that it's only the top performers who rise to the challenge during the worst times and keep the company afloat. Hence, organizations are critically engaged in identifying such professionals and acquiring their services before their competitors can. So, top performers have top organizations and offers lining up for them.
Both these developments together have created the demand that has converted the recruitment process into a mutual selection process.
Prospect development through telephone interviews is extremely important because the candidate would not enter the interview venue without being absolutely sure about it. Because of this, the quality of telephone interview as well as the interviewer has come under scrutiny, and the interviewer and their pitch are the crucial factors in closing the deal, just like in a sales process.
Ergo, it is imperative for an organization to make sure that the telephone-interview process is strong, logical, and far reaching, and that the interviewer is proficiently skilled to carry out this process. The following chapters will equip you to do all that is required to master this art; but before that, one must be able to spot the errors that are currently being made in the selection process.
The recession has made a large impact on the way recruitment processes are initially carried out, leading to a complete process transition. Candidates and organizations have become more watchful and are aiming to save time and money while also creating a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship.
Telephone interviews offer a solution to the companies as well as candidates in delivering the results they demand by shortening the recruitment process and making it more cost efficient—converting the recruitment process into a qualitative process of mutual selection.
The aftermath of the recession has taught employers and employees alike the consequences of money-based relationships that were created in haste. The telephone interview provides all the participants a chance to effectively compare their respective requirements and expectations, simultaneously offering a platform for a more stable relationship.
The next chapter will enable you to revise the way in which telephone interviews are being conducted within your organization currently, and will help you to identify the mistakes that are weakening the process.