Not long ago, I was at Disneyland on vacation. While waiting to get into the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor in the Magic Kingdom, I spotted a sign on a door that read: “Inhuman Resources”. Good humor, of course, is best based in reality, and the reality here is simple: most Job Hunters think of HR as inhuman. Like the late great Rodney Dangerfield, HR staffing specialists often get “no respect”.
Take a minute, however, to look at the hiring process from the other side of the desk. A typical HR staffing person might be assigned to deal with 20 to 40 job requisitions at a time. Each one of them will likely attract 100 – 500 candidates in today’s job market. Assuming each applicant has a 2 page resume, that amounts to 200 – 1,000 pages of repetitive, boring, and all too often, irrelevant resumes to be considered for EACH job requisition. Overburdened staffing specialists can’t possibly afford the spare seconds to ask: “The candidate said XXX. I wonder if that means he/she has done/can do YYY.” They simply don’t have the time to contemplate what the resume writer is “really getting at”.
The reality is that the HR person’s role is screen OUT more than screen IN, to look for any excuse to reject rather than to accept a candidate. The human impulse to help people is replaced by the unfortunately necessary “inhuman”, unforgiving response to any typographical error or small doubt about any given candidate. It isn’t about whether any given candidate might be able do the job if given a chance. Rather, it is about winnowing the field to find 5 or 10 exceptional candidates out of hundreds to pass on to the hiring manager.
I know this to be true, because I used to be one of those people, sorting through the resumes, dealing with Applicant Tracking Systems, deciding who merits an initial interview, and conducting those phone screening interviews. The wise job hunter will look at the phone screening interview as a prized opportunity to gain an initial advocate. Here are tips how to do so:
- SPOON FEED INFORMATION IN A WAY THAT THE INTERVIEWER WANTS IT. The screening interview is about doing Due Diligence on the part of the company, dealing with “red” and “yellow” flags on otherwise stellar resumes, discerning a candidate’s true interest level in the job, knowledge about the company, and general fit for the position. It is ALL about the EMPLOYER’S NEEDS, and NOT AT ALL about the candidate’s concerns. If you are asked about a potential “red flag”, be grateful for the opportunity to deal with it and put it out of the way—and be ready to do so. By the way you deal with these and other issues you can build rapport and give the ammunition needed to help the HR staffer make your case, or you can shoot yourself in the foot.
- BE COOPERATIVE, AND UNDERSTAND THAT EACH QUESTION HAS A PURPOSE THAT ISN’T ALWAYS OBVIOUS. Often hiring managers provide HR with questions that every candidate must answer, even if the answer is as plain as day on their resume. Responding by saying, “If you read my resume you would see what you are talking about,” will be regarded as hostile. The process, especially at this stage, is all determined by the employer. You may not like it, but you have to conform to its contours. From your answers your interviewer will derive insights about your intelligence, ability to communicate effectively, emotional disposition, eagerness to learn from failure or mistakes, and more.
- DON’T BE DEFENSIVE OR COY. For example, if you respond to the question, “What will be your salary requirement?” with an answer like, “I’m negotiable”, or “Make me an offer and I’ll consider it”, you are more likely to generate antagonism than a next interview. It’s much more reasonable to say something like: “In my last/current position, I was/am earning XXX, but I can’t at this stage know how that would equate to this position in your company.”
- DON’T WASTE TIME WITH PROCESS QUESTIONS such as: “When will I hear back from you?”, “Where are you in the hiring process?”, “How did I do?”, or “When do you want the person you hire to start work?” It’s obvious that every job seeker wants the answers to these questions, but this isn’t the proper time for them.
Toward the end of the interview, you will likely be asked if you have any questions. This is an opportunity to show, by the questions you ask (and the way you ask them) your understanding of the role, the company, your skills and your enthusiasm. Don’t forget to close by expressing your appreciation for being considered, and offer to give any follow-up material that would be helpful.
The really good screeners know how to interpret tone of voice, attitude, levels of competence and self-confidence. Speak clearly, articulate your words, make sure you respond fully and forthrightly to the question that is asked rather than spewing out some canned message that you want to get across.
It all comes down to this: be the professional that you are to earn the respect you deserve, and the chance to proceed in the hiring process.