Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Hire Hourly Team Members Part 3… The Phone Interview

So, we’ve pared down our list of candidates through our phone interviews, and we have a list of people we are going to interview, right!?  No?

Maybe it would help to talk about how to phone interview for a bit…  It can be difficult since we know that a large percentage of communication (80% or more) is non-verbal.  On the phone we can’t see the other person, we are limited in how much we can ascertain about the applicant.

I think we start with how the phone is answered.  Some people still have a home phone which might be shared by an extended family, so it’s prudent to be understanding of the family in the background.  I’ve also found myself being very judgmental about how the phone is answered.  It’s easy to expect someone who sounds like we do to answer the phone politely, with a quiet background, who might ask who is calling, and then ask us to hold while they fetch the applicant.

I’ve found that it’s much more likely to catch people off guard, perhaps busy with kids or out in public, with a noisy background, perhaps expecting a different call, and yelling for the applicant (or confused and asking ‘who is this again?’).  In my experience I’ve found that the circumstances around phone calls are not a good predictor of future success, so let all of this go!

An important lesson I’ve learned is that I was very lucky to have parents who coached me along the way.  Before I went to the see my doctor, my mother would talk to me about how to describe what was bothering me.  When I went door to door asking neighbors if they would hire me to shovel their snow or pull their weeds we would talk about how I should act and speak.  Before job interviews we would talk about how to present myself (stop in the bathroom and tuck in your shirt/comb your hair, remember to sit up straight, make eye contact, ask questions, etc.), as well as what questions to ask.

Many people did not have the benefit of this coaching; so understanding that not everyone grew up under the same circumstances is needed.  Neither poor phone manners nor imperfect language skills reflect a lack of intelligence or a poor worker.  It’s best to look past these things.  I’ve hired a number of team members with less education that I had who were much better natural leaders!

So just what CAN we judge through a phone interview?  For my part, I’ve culled through the applications and picked out the ones I want to talk to in person.  The phone call is just a short talk to be sure this person actually filled out their own application and can answer some straightforward questions about their background, as well as why they’ve applied for my job.

Why they want to leave/have left their last job can be very telling.  And here I want to state a couple of things very clearly
I think it’s OK to want to leave a job because of unpleasant working conditions.  I worked while in college, and one job I had was cleaning the meat cutting room in a supermarket.  It was an awful job and I was ready to leave after my first day!  I ended up working there for the whole semester since the pay was pretty good and it was an easy bike commute, and yet had anyone asked I would have been happy to tell them how much I disliked this job.

I think it’s OK to want to leave a job because of a poor manager or because of the way you are being treated.  I have worked for people whose default communication style was literally barking out orders.  For some reason they felt that threatening the job of everyone who worked for them would be motivating (I can tell you that it is not!).  At one workplace I really enjoyed the tasks of the job as I learned to weld; fabricate things out of steel, and troubleshoot machinery!  I loved the things I did at work!  And yet my horrible boss made it very difficult to stay there, and eventually I had to leave to find less stressful working conditions.

You have most likely had the same types of experiences in your life, or you know people who have.  There are a lot of unpleasant workplaces out there, and a lot of very poor bosses.  As leaders we (hopefully) know not to talk smack about our current or previous workplaces during an interview, and a lot of people have not received that guidance.  Again, this does not show a lack of intelligence or necessarily mean they will be poor workers!  I’ve found that it pays to delve a little deeper and try to find out more about the working conditions or the boss and make a decision from there.

There is a difference between very poor working conditions and one’s (bad) attitude about work.  You should quickly be able to tell if the conditions are indeed bad enough to need to leave, or if it’s just a relatively normal workplace and this applicant has a poor attitude.  Who are they blaming?  How did they attempt to make a positive change?  I’ll keep asking questions until I feel I have a good understanding of the work situation.  If it’s their attitude, I thank the person for applying for the job and state that I have a lot of very qualified applicants to call.  If it is indeed a bad boss or poor working conditions, I’ll bring them in for an in person interview where I can learn more about them.

Remember, up to this point we’ve been weeding out the people we do not want on our team.  I’m going to leave you with a thought to chew on…  The number of possible great hires is not as small as you might think.  A relatively large percentage of our applicants can be great team members with the right leadership and team culture, and we’ll get to that later.

Next up… the actual interview!  This is where it gets exciting, so stay tuned!

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