Monday, July 9, 2012

The Phone Screen

“We received your resume in response to our ad online and would like to get to know you better. Are you available for a telephone interview Thursday or Friday next week?”
“Great. How about 9:00 a.m. on Thursday.”
“9:00 doesn’t work. We will schedule a call for 11:00 a.m.”
“Okay, I can do that.”

That’s how it started with innocuous e-mails. The good news is that my resume managed to rise to the top of the pile of what I know must have been overwhelming response. The marketing job, as described, is not a perfect fit. I know it. But now I have a week to think about it. A week to stew about the category, the job description and the responsibilities. I also had a week to develop answers to questions that might come up. I have a week to research the company. I have more than enough time to over-think it too.

A week passes. The call comes and I am ready - I think.

“So, tell me why you think you might be a good fit for this position?”
“Well, I am passionate about marketing. I have held top marketing and communications positions for three significant companies in St. Louis. I don’t know everything about the company but I have been successful in new category/market segments since my early career in advertising where I worked on a broad range of businesses such as toys, consumer electronics and even  quick service restaurants to name a few.”
“Hmmm. Can you give me an example of something you did in which you are particularly proud.”
 “Sure, I was instrumental in re-positioning plasma cutting equipment at a previous company. The program included message strategy, distributor communication, packaging, point-of-sale and trade show activity. We managed to reverse a declining market share trend for a brand that represented nearly 15% of our sales.”
“Interesting. Can you share some examples of how you work?”
“Well I try to be collaborative and get the right resources lined up. I believe in working as a team. Sometimes you want to work with in-house resources and other times you want to selectively outsource the best people you can find. Am I answering your question?“
“Tell me about an area where you show strength and an area you think you would like to improve as a manager.”

I hate this format. I can only guess about that information for which this HR screener might be fishing. I can tell she’s taking notes. I can also tell she is leaving pregnant pauses in the dialogue as a technique. (Leave a little silence in a conversation and I will almost always fill that gap with something I wish I hadn’t said. I know it is a trap but I always fall for it.) Long answers are bad answers, but if you are getting little or no feedback it is only natural to try to explain – maybe even over-explain. And that can be very revealing or catastrophic to further consideration.

“How did it go?” my wife wants to know.
“Terrible. I didn’t say what I wanted to say and I am sure I didn’t say what they wanted me to say. Now, I am at the mercy of notes based on a 20 minute contrived and in some ways intensely personal dialogue with a perfect stranger on the phone."  

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