Phone Interview Therapy: How to Solve the Compliance vs. Connection Conundrum

What activity comes to mind when you read this description:

A thoughtful conversation with a professional who draws out a person’s passions and goals to evaluate the next best step.

If a good therapy or coaching session was your first thought, I don’t blame you. I’m sure a telephone job interview didn’t cross your mind. In fact, people rank job interviews among life’s top stessors. Recruiters average 40 such phone calls/week, or 2,000 conversations a year. That’s a lot of time spent stressing people out for a living!

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it doesn’t even make good business sense. When recruiters as well as hiring managers conduct conversations that bring value to both parties, the process produces a much stronger field of candidates.

I call it “phone interview therapy,” and here’s how it works.

Many organizations allow compliance concerns to dominate their candidate screening process. As a result, interviews are heavily scripted to ensure they are lawful. Make no mistake: scripting for legal compliance is an important first step and we coach our clients on how to ensure their tools and systems are defensible. But if the conversation never digs any deeper than basic facts, an interviewer may walk away with no real understanding of the candidate. Why does she do what she does? What is she passionate about? What does she dislike intensely? Any one of these topics may be directly relevant to a job opening.

Good candidate screening incorporates what recruitment innovator Shira Harrington calls “passiontivity”–the intersection between what people want to do (passion) and what their capabilities are (productivity). A-list job seekers want to maximize skills and do meaningful work they can be passionate about. This renders obsolete old school interviews that dwell only on skills and job specifics.

Hiring managers and recruiters, it’s time to step up your interview game to meet modern expectations.

Be less automatic and more artful.

Don’t treat a phone interview as a transaction, stripped of all emotion. It’s a conversation between two human beings. I encourage you to venture beyond background and competencies. One way is to ask “the million dollar question”–if you had all the money and time in the world and didn’t have to work for a living, what would you be doing? This question shows that the recruiter cares about more than basic competence. The answer reveals what matters to the candidate.

When you talk about the job, broaden the discussion beyond your aptitudes checklist with questions like these:

  • What in the job description are you most interested in doing?
  • What in the job description would you like to do, but you’re not trained for yet?
  • What in the job description are you willing to do in short doses?
  • What in the job description you would prefer to be done by others?

These questions weed out candidates who want a foot in the door more than they want to do the specific job at hand. “I’m willing to do anything” does not generally make for a good match. Because as we all know, there definitely are tasks, jobs, and responsibilities that we don’t want to do under any circumstances.

Go for the win-win.

The more humanity an interviewer displays, the more likely she is to get the information needed to select the right candidate. The interviewee leaves the discussion feeling like he’s been heard, carrying away what he needs to know to decide if he wants the job. I have had candidates thank me after our interview process because it helped them realize the opportunity was not the right fit.

What is more stimulating or supportive than a thoughtful conversation between two people about an opportunity that could be in both parties’ long-term best interests? I arrange and staff those conversations for a living. The last thing I want to do is to stress people out. If that’s what I thought my business was all about, that would put ME in therapy.

I’m for stress-free interviewing that leaves all parties with a better understanding of themselves, their passions, and their opportunities. How about you?


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