Get Hired - 3 Tips to Pass Every Phone Interview

A few months ago I started a blog series on how to improve your chances at each stage of the interview process. In the first two parts I focused on the top of the funnel – specifically, how to make your applications and resume jump out of the applicant pool so you get more interviews. Check out part 1 and part 2 for some context. In this blog I’m going to focus on the next phase of the job search process – the phone screen.

Also, if you haven't already, check out my blog on resumes. I'll show you the resume I use and give you access to my resume template for Microsoft Word.

The Job Search Funnel

The Job Search Funnel

The phone screen is a standard step in most corporate recruitment processes. Human resources departments and recruiters need to reduce the field of candidates down to a subset that actually stand a chance of getting the job.

Of all the stages in the job search process, the phone screen is the easiest for you to control. There is no reason to fail at this stage if you execute the correct strategy. I’d go further to say that it’s actually quite critical for you to convert phone screens at an extremely high rate in light of the rapidly growing competitiveness of job searches today. Unlike the first stage i.e. getting noticed, and the latter stages i.e. in person interviews, the phone screen is actually quite easy to master – it’s formulaic. But to master the formula you must first understand the mindset of the phone screener.

Phone screens are typically conducted by an in house HR person or an external recruiter. Sometimes you’ll actually have to go through both. In either case there are three primary motivations that govern their behavior and decision making.

1.       The need to reduce the field: The phone screener’s job is to reduce the total pool of possible applicants down to a more manageable number. If fifty resumes meet some basic level of qualification, the screener needs to reduce the field down to 7-10 people for the hiring manager to actually interview. This has implications on the tactics you need to employ to make it through this step. You can’t win the job in this stage – you can only lose.

2.       The desire to avoid the big mistake: Whether the screener is an internal resource or an external consultant, the last thing they want to do is waste the hiring manager’s time by passing along a bad candidate. Some candidates will be better than others, but under no circumstance does the screener want to risk putting forth a completely unqualified or incompetent candidate. Again this has an impact on your optimal strategy. You generally need to play it quite safe and conservative so the screener can be confident you won’t embarrass him or her.

3.       The mandate to identify cultural fit: One of HR’s primary roles in the company is to maintain and grow the corporate culture. Since the screener most often lacks the specific domain expertise to measure depth of competence, they typically focus on personality and cultural fit to help determine which applicants advance to the next stage. You job in the phone screen is to appear like someone who will be easy to work with – I’ve seen many candidates fail at this stage because they come off as over confident in their misguided effort to convey competency.

There are a couple of things may have jumped out at you in that list. For one, screeners tend to be quite defensive in their approach i.e. they aren't typically focused on hitting a home-run but rather they focus on passing along consistently solid candidates while avoiding the big mistake. Secondly, because phone screeners aren't generally experts in the field or function they’re screening for, they tend to rely heavily personality fit and on the job description as the measuring stick for qualification – sometimes to a fault.

So what does this mean for your optimal strategy? Here are three tactics to employ on your next phone screen. They take advantage of what we know about the motivations of the screeners themselves and are designed to help you take advantage of the system to get past this step and onto the in-person interview more consistently. If you can raise your batting average at this stage, you’ll significantly improve your overall chances of landing a job.

1.       Master the job description: The job description that you read on the internet was probably the last communication the hiring manager had with the phone screener about what the ideal candidate should look like. Because the screener is not an expert in the field or function he or she is interviewing you about, they will treat the job description like the bible. Your best opportunity to pass this stage of the process is to study the job description, break it down piece by piece and have a prepared answer for every aspect of it. If there are qualifications in the job description that you don’t have, you should have an answer prepared in advance for that with the strongest counterpoint you can think of. For example if applied for a marketing job that required experience in a marketing automation system or software program that I didn't have, I would prepare the following response and deliver it with confidence:

“I see that you’d ideally like to find candidates who have experience with application X. As you can see from my resume, while I haven’t used that specific application in practice, I have proven to be a quick learner when it comes to new systems and processes. So much so that I spent a few hours over the weekend watching tutorials and videos on best practices for using application X and I’m already making progress towards learning it.”

2.       Deliver the keywords: Phone screeners are taking notes and looking for some key points to underscore in their case for why you are a good candidate to pass along to the hiring manager. It’s your job to make it easy for them to build that case. The best way to do that is to focus on saying the most important keywords over and over again. Look through the job description again and pick out your strongest points relative to the requirements. Then identify the most powerful keywords from the job description that you can leverage. For example if the job description requirement was:

“Extensive experience developing front end interfaces using JavaScript and Jquery.”

I would make a point of saying “JavaScript and Jquery” at least three or four times in the phone call. And at the end of the call I’d make sure I closed with a summary of the keywords I most aligned with. This way you make certain the screener has some specific notes on your strengths in relation to the job description. It should go without saying that if you’re asked about your strengths specifically on the interview, you should make certain your answers align to what is written in the job description. It doesn't do you any good to talk about your strength as a “great communicator” when communication skills weren't listed as a key requirement in the job description.

3.       Prep your cultural message: Inevitably in the course of the interview the screener will ask you a rather innocuous sounding question about the type of work environment you like or what your former colleagues would say about how you were to work with. Most of us consider this to be a softball question so we don’t adequately prepare for it. I've seen more than a few candidates do quite poorly here and cost themselves a shot at the in-person interview. Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for the cultural question:

  • Don’t talk about work-life balance. It’s always interpreted as “I’m lazy”.
  • Don’t ask about standard work hours or what time people come in and leave. It’s another red flag.
  • Don’t describe yourself as a perfectionist. That gets translated into “I’m a handful and control freak”
  • Do talk about being collaborative. Even if you’re not, you can never lose by saying you are.
  • Do talk about being hard working. A good work ethic can make up for limited skill sets.
  • Do talk about being detail oriented. The better option to “perfectionist”. It says you can be relied upon.

The Best 30-60-90 Day Plan and How to Use It

If you do a google search for “how to build a 30 60 90 day plan” you will get a bunch of misguided information and some random thoughts masquerading as best practices. Many of the so-called experts publishing this content are trying to sell products and services by dishing out click bait caliber advice that’s likely to do more harm than good for your career. Very few articles or tools out there were created by actual managers – the individuals who make the hiring decisions and evaluate your performance over the first 3 months on the job. In this blog I’m going to answer some of the most common questions I get about 30 60 90 day plans and also give you access to a 30 60 90 day plan template I built and use in my own career. If you find value in my plan template I'd love to hear about it in the comments section. 

NEW >> And, if you're a manager or executive, I've just added a special version of the template with a bunch of extra content designed for leaders. Download the manager's version here.

NEW >> If you're in sales, I've just created a special customized version of my 30 60 90 day plan template built specifically for sales. Download the sales version here.

NEW >> I just released my Manager's Job Search Bundle for those of you looking to land your dream job. It has my resume template, interview checklist and manager's 30 60 90 day plan template all in one. Download the manager's job search bundle here.

Here are the questions I get asked most about these plans:

When should I be building a 30 60 90 day plan?

There are two occasions when you would want to build a 30 60 90 day plan. The first is in the final stages of the interview process. When included as part of a strategic planning framework it can help you differentiate from other candidates by demonstrating your capacity to operationalize a strategy. I’m going to focus more on this specific use in a future blog. The second, and our focus for this blog, is the 30 60 90 day plan you will want to build in your first week at a new job. It shares many similarities with the one you’d build during the interview process with the small exception that you’ll create this version knowing you’ll actually have to deliver against it.

Key takeaways:

  1. You should build a 30 60 90 day plan in the late stages of the interview process
  2. You should deliver a 30 60 90 day plan before the end of your first week on a job

What is the objective of a 30 60 90 day plan?

This is where most of the advice on the Internet has it wrong. Most articles, like this one, make the critical mistake of thinking that the 30 60 90 day plan is designed to guide YOU. It’s not. The plan has nothing to do helping you “get up to speed” or “hit the ground running” and everything to do with aligning your boss and management team to a definition and framework for success. It’s designed so your hiring will be declared an unequivocal success after 3 months by the people who matter most to your career. It’s not about making sure you focus on learning or training or any of the other misinformation out there. No one cares about that. The purpose of this plan is to set the foundation for career advancement.

If you don’t build the 30 60 90 day plan as a purpose-built tool to further your own career, you’re leaving too much up to chance. When built correctly, this plan gets everyone aligned to a common definition of what success looks like so you can guarantee you’ll leave the first 90 days on pace to your next promotion.

Key takeaways:

  1. Don’t build the plan to help guide you. Build it to create a common definition of success.
  2. The 30 60 90 day plan is the first step to achieving your next promotion.

What mistakes are most common in a 30 60 90 day plan?

I’ve already covered the first big mistake people make – they build these plans for themselves instead of to align others to a definition of success. The next biggest mistake people make is not being precise enough in their plans. You have to get way past things like “meeting with key people” or “executing company orientation”. These are table stakes activities that you’ll get fired for if you DON’T complete them – there are no points to be scored here. Rather you need to build measurable deliverables that have actual value to the company in your plan. For example, auditing and optimizing one key process or implementing one new program to demonstrate the effectiveness of your process improvement. Another mistake people make is not being clear about what things you’re actually going to deliver and when. There needs to be some way of scoring your success or failure and a clear project plan with tasks and deliverables is a good way to accomplish that.

Key takeaways:

  1. Build your plan with precise definitions of what you will do. No obscure descriptions
  2. Include a scorecard in the form of a task list so your success can be measured

What does a good 30 60 90 day plan look like?

A good 30 60 90 day plan template always has the following components:

  • It starts with a clear definition of objectives that are rooted in value to the company … not you
  • It identifies specific deliverables and aligns them back to the objectives
  • It contains discrete themes for each plan stage (e.g. 30 – audit, 60 – process, 90 – program)
  • It provides a clear set of tasks with dates
  • It contains a scorecard so it’s easy to measure and ultimately demonstrate your success

Can you give me a 30 60 90 day plan template that has worked for you?

Here is a template I’ve used in my own career. You should personalize it so it relates more directly to your own job. I’ve intentionally made the design professional but not flashy – it should be easy to customize for your own purposes. 

>>> If you're a manager, check out my latest 30 60 90 Day Plan Template for Managers

>>> If you're in sales check out my brand new 30 60 90 Day Template for Sales

>>> If you're looking for a new job, check out my Manager's Job Search Bundle

How Unrealistic Job Requirements Hurt Everyone

The gap between skills employers are demanding and the skills people actually have is widening. Job requirements are becoming completely unrealistic and its making it more difficult to find work for many people. Here is a 3 minute video clip where I talk about the problem of credential creep and how its changing the job search environment.

Let me know about your experience with credential creep in the comments section.

How to Get Your Resume Seen by More Hiring Managers

get your resume seen

I was recently invited to speak at a conference of employment services counselors. It was a great opportunity to meet a group of people who spend their entire lives on the front lines of the job search process. More than most of us, they have a keen understanding of how the job search environment has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. Here is short a clip from the session where I address one of the most important changes you need to make in your approach to improve your chances of finding a great job this year. 

If you want to learn how to build a killer resume that will differentiate you, read my blog post.

Also check out my visual resume template for Microsoft Word. Its the resume template I use and I'm sure it will work well for you too.

Email me or use the comments to let me know how these changes have affected you.

 

5 Secrets from a Hiring Manager - Tactics to Get Noticed and Get the Job

Part 1:

This week I'm going to do a blog series on how you can stack the deck in your favor when looking for work. In this first post I'll set the lay of the land, which I'm sorry to say is quite grim for anyone approaching a job search using conventional tactics. They just don't work anymore. So i if you've been out of work for a while or you just can't shake the feeling that your job search or interview strategy needs tweaking, this blog series is for you.

Before we get started, if you haven't read it already, I highly suggest checking out my blog on building a resume that will separate you from the pack. You should also grab my visual resume template for Microsoft Word. Its the resume template I use. In fact I used it recently to beat out a ton of competing candidates to land my dream job.

Get my resume template for Microsoft Word

Looking for a job is one of the hardest things we have to go through in our professional lives. All of us, at one time or another have to do it. And if you believe the recent statistics, most of us are going be looking for work every couple years from here on in. It sucks. There’s no way around it. And at the risk of rubbing salt in the wound, it’s getting harder every day. The game has changed.

I interviewed a candidate recently who revealed something to me that has had me seriously vexed for a few weeks now. He had applied for 1,100 jobs, received 25 phone interviews, 6 in-person meetings and got 2 offers. ELEVEN HUNDRED?!?! This is what you’re up against these days – job seeking superbots playing the numbers game to get hired. And don’t get me wrong – I commend them for doing it. They’re taking advantage of technology and putting in incredible amounts of time and energy to find work so they can support their families – good for them. But what does this mean for your job search? How will you possibly stand out when so many candidates apply for every job?

The simple answer is ... you won't - not using the same old approach that worked for you even three years ago. Its gotten to the point now where you need very specific and unconventional tactics at every stage of the job search process in order to sufficiently differentiate yourself from the hoards of competitors you're up against for every job. Here are the five phases you have to get through to get a job in most companies:

Phase 1 - Getting Seen: A friend of mine recently applied to 10 jobs on LinkedIn and told me several weeks later only 1 of the 10 applications had even been read. How are you supposed to make those numbers work?

Phase 2 - Jumping Out of the Pool: A recruiter friend of mine told me she spends about 30 seconds scanning each resume she reads to create the first pool of applicants to screen. What do you need to do to make your resume stand out in 30 seconds?

Here's a great blog on this topic.

Phase 3 - Pass the Phone Screen: This is an easy one if you know how to play it but many of us don't know the right tactics to get past the initial screen. How do you make sure to check all the boxes in a screening interview?

Phase 4 - Ace the 1st Interview: Typically this is with the hiring manager. I've done hundreds of these interviews and I've seen some very common mistakes being made. More importantly I have some tips on how to double your chances to get out of the first interview alive with a great chance to get the job.

Phase 5 - Impress at the 2nd Interview: Usually this includes various team members and potential peers in the company. To be successful here you need a special set of tactics to convey the right image and take advantage of the consensus hiring approach.

There is no question the job search is harder than ever and you need to step up your game if you want to improve your chances of getting your dream job. There are specific strategies you need to embrace at each phase of the process to increase the probability of getting deeper into the hiring process. The more often you can get out of the applicant pool and into 1st and 2nd interviews, the more offers you're ultimately going to get.

Check back later this week and i'll give some of my secrets for "Phase 1 - Getting Seen" and "Phase 2 - Jumping out of the Pool".