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How to Make the Most of a 30-Minute Phone Interview

Hiring good people can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly. If you’re in a constant cycle of hiring, I don’t have to tell you about the time warp it can cause — but what about the cost?

The more interviews you do, the more you spend. And the more time you spend absorbed in lengthy interviews the more likely you are to take shortcuts and make mistakes. And according to Dr. John Sullivan, the hiring process is getting even harder:

“Aggressiveness, the need for counteroffers, higher rejection rates, and a renewed focus on recruiting the currently employed will all return to prominence.”

What if I told you I could help you be more efficient with your time, and get the information you need to make decisions for next steps — in about half the time you’re currently committing?

The advantage of reducing your hiring time will add to your bottom line, perhaps more than you realize. A report from UrbanBound illustrated the time demands, and how costs can add up:

“Onboarding can be an extremely time-demanding project. It can cost up to 1/3 of an employee’s salary to onboard and train new hires, especially when that employee’s job description does not have to do with onboarding. Therefore, if a small company has a flawed onboarding plan, they risk having a bad retention percentage which can be extremely costly.”

Considering this, it’s logical to believe organizations would be better off spending less time overall on interviews, but more quality time during that initial conversation. So, how would one shorten the time commitment and reduce overall costs, and give a better interview in the process? Consider my process for a 30-minute phone interview, below.

How to Run a 30-Minute Phone Interview

I know what you’re thinking … 30 minutes seems really short when you are trying to find a fabulous candidate, how do you make it worthwhile? You’re probably asking yourself:

  • What questions do I ask?
  • How do I prioritize the questions?
  • If I run such a tight agenda, how will we connect?

Okay, maybe not that last one. But if you structure a simple agenda, prepare quality questions, and are disciplined throughout your time in front of candidates, I believe you can answer all of your questions after just a few interviews. Let’s start with time management.

Managing The First 5 Minutes

If you’re going to pull off an effective interview in 30 minutes or less, you have to be organized and efficient. You’ll want to start strong and there’s no better time than the first five minutes.

4 Things to Cover in the First 5 Minutes

  • Introduce yourself: “Hi, I’m the Managing Partner of Revenue River Marketing. We’re growing quickly and I’m looking for the very best marketers in the country.”
  • State your intent: “We’re hiring for position XYZ and I’m looking for a specific type of candidate. I’d like to move quickly so we can both decide if there’s a good fit for us.”
  • Set the agenda: “I’d like to spend 10 minutes asking you a few questions, then I’ll give you an equal amount of time to ask me anything you’d like.”
  • Confirm buy-in: “How does that sound?” (If they say anything other than ‘absolutely’ or ‘I’m ready’, I’d be concerned. Anyone who just starts rambling clearly isn’t picking up on your goals.)

The Next 10 Minutes: Getting Answers to Key Questions

If you’re going to get through enough quality questions in 10 minutes, you’ll want to ensure you’re on point with your preparation. You’ll want to prepare a set of direct questions and count on the candidate being perceptive enough to answer with brevity.

I’ve noticed that observing how candidates handle the pace of this section can be very telling. If the candidate decides to grandstand during replies to your questioning, it’s a clear disqualifier.

Instead of interrupting to get through your questions efficiently, I advise you let them talk. They’ll cost themselves the chance to answer the remainder of your questions, and likely a chance at employment with your organization.

Conversely, a good candidate understands that you’ll ask follow-up questions if you want more detail. Some of our very best hires have quickly and artfully answered our most direct and pointed questions with quick-witted responses.

While I can’t provide the exact types of key questions you should ask for your own specific position, I can give you a sense of qualities you want to look for that are predominantly universal for any job.

Giving Them 10 Minutes to Pass the “Test”

Now it’s time for your candidate to impress you with their prepared questions. Your goal for this ten-minute segment is to see how prepared the candidate is and how much they want this job in particular. You want to know if they’re just looking for any job they can find, or if they’re truly interested in a career with your organization.

Good candidates prepare well. They study your website, your bio, your team, and your offering. They have a list of specific questions that demonstrate their understanding of your business, and hopefully even some observations on how they believe they can add value.

Many candidates won’t realize how important this segment of the interview is, and they’ll reveal something about themselves you missed previously. The candidates that used active listening during the first five minutes will operate at the same pace you did and respect the agenda.

Insight to Gain during Candidate Questioning

  • Did they study your website? Test them on it.
  • Do they understand what you do? Ask them questions about it.
  • Are they more interested in compensation or job duties?
  • Are they more interested in benefits and vacation or company growth trajectory?

Remaining 5 Minutes: Wrapping Up with Next Steps

Something to remember during this initial interview is that the goal is not to hire, but to qualify for next steps. Each candidate is either ready for another interview or they’re being ruled out. You’re not hiring them today, so don’t overdo it. Just get through the critical questions you think need to be answered and wrap things up.

You likely won’t have exactly five minutes here, but that’s okay. Let them know your plans for next steps and let them know your expectations for follow-up.

Follow-up should always be the responsibility of the candidate and never on the executive. I’ve been surprised by some great interviews that were followed by poor follow-up and their responsibility here allows them to demonstrate their skills further, one way or another.

5 Important Qualities To Focus On in a 30-Minute Phone Interview

1) Coachability

Employees that aren’t coachable struggle to get through tough times, and those who are receptive to instruction improve quickly. As Derek Lauber from Lightbox Leadership puts it, “Hiring for coachability can help you find those individuals with the traits necessary to becoming long-term valuable members of your organization.”

Example Question: What would you do if you found yourself struggling to meet your objectives after 90 days?

2) Transparency

You can substitute in the word “honesty” here. I love asking questions that allow the candidates the chance to prove they’re not completely honest. A transparent workplace is important in maintaining a positive culture, and you don’t want to let any bad seeds take root. Jessica Miller-Merrell of Glassdoor advises, “When one person is not aligned with the organization, it is significantly more likely that everyone below them will be out of line as well.”

Example Question: Why shouldn’t I hire you? (Please don’t tell me because sometimes you care too much)

3) Desire

People that really want something for themselves work harder than people who just want to live a life of leisure so I look for people who are hungry. These are the people you want in your organization, pure and simple.

Example Question: Why is this position the direction you want to go with your career?

4) Organizational Skills

The modern workplace is a massive game of dealing with distractions– organization creates efficiency and that means better productivity. In “Organizational Skills in the Workplace,” Rick Suttle advises, “Planning is a needed workplace skill, and it is particularly important as person advances into more supervisory or managerial roles.”

Example Question: How do you plan your day/week, and what tools have you used to do so?

5) Humility

The best players on any team have humility — ego and selfishness can cause cancerous behavior that can destroy what you’ve built. As John Baldoni put it in HBR, “Humility is more than an important characteristic for leaders, but for employees as well. It is this trait which allows leaders and employees to work well individually and as a team. A humble employee is aware of his own limitations and is willing to accept –- and give –- help as needed.”

Example Question: Those are some impressive results. To what do you owe that success?

Additional Questions & Comments

You’ll also want to spend a couple minutes on some resume specific questions. You should prepare a few direct questions about their resume you can mix in with the others. Here are a few questions I like to ask to see if I can get someone to complain, make excuses, or show inconsistencies for the character traits I’m targeting at this time.

  • How was your relationship with your boss at this job?
  • Which of these positions do you feel held your career back?

These can be clear indicators of disqualifiers for your role, so don’t shy away from them.

With Practice Comes Perfection

After you’ve used this 30-minute phone interview script with a few candidates you’ll perfect the process and refine your style. Once perfected, cutting your initial interview time in half with these concepts will save time and money while improving results during this step in the hiring process.

Start by spending a little more time setting up your own script, and you’ll be sure to benefit once you’ve applied these tactics.

Written by Eric Pratt




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