"This is not only a new company, but also a whole new industry; it's exciting for us, of course, but the real excitement generated by Phone Interview Pro will come from those who hone their skills using the service." - Paul Bailo
Getting to first base means getting past the phone screen. However, far too many individuals in career transition don't take this initial step seriously enough — thinking that it's not that important, that they can "wing-it." Think again. The initial phone interview, if nothing else, is intended to weed-out a large number of prospective candidates. If you don't take it as seriously as an in person, formal interview with the hiring manager, chances are you'll never get to that face-to-face with the employer.
Welcome to a Success Strategies podcast on Total Picture Radio with Peter Clayton reporting. Several weeks ago, our friend and frequent contributor, Judy Rosemarin, founder of Sense-Able Strategies, asked me to make a presentation at her ExecuNet senior executive networking meeting in New York on using social networks. At the meeting, I met Paul Bailo, who discovered a need while conducting his own job search: namely, advice on preparing and acing the phone interview screen.
Based on many hours of research, and his own experiences, Paul started Phone Interview Pro – a service for job seekers who want to perfect their telephone job interviewing skills. Paul recognized that while resume, interview preparation, and target company research assistance are commonly offered by outplacement and career counseling organizations, the importance of the telephone interview is often overlooked. In response to this, Phone Interview Pro has created a 250+ point phone evaluation.
Today, job candidates make initial contact with prospective employers via a telephone screen. The phone interview has become a crucial first-step in securing an in-person interview. While making a career transition, Paul Bailo determined that many job candidates needed a phone coaching resource. And Phone Interview Pro is the outgrowth of his experience. Paul's book, The Official Phone Interview Handbookwas just released this month.
Paul Bailo Transcript
Peter: Welcome to Total Picture Radio, the first podcast for career advancement, employment trends, recruiting and leadership development. You'll find us on www.totalpicture.com, iTunes and now syndicated on JobRadio.fm. Tune in and dial up your career.
Welcome to a success strategies podcast on Total Picture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting.
Several weeks ago, our friend and frequent contributor to Total Picture Radio, Judy Rosemarin, the founder of Sense-Able Strategies, asked me to make a presentation at her ExecuNet Senior Executive Networking meeting in New York on using social networks. At this meeting, I met Paul Bailo who discovered a need while conducting his own job search, namely advice on preparing and acing the phone interview screen.
Paul, welcome to Total Picture Radio.
Paul: Thank you, Peter. It's great to be here.
Peter: Let's start at the beginning here. You have launched a website called Phone Interview Pro. You have written a book, The Official Phone Interview Handbook, which was just released this month and is available on Amazon.com.
Let's start with your book, The Official Phone Interview Handbook, which is a small paperback focused exclusively on phone interviews. I think you mentioned to Judy that you were the Tootsie Roll.
Why did you write this book, Paul?
Paul: Peter, it was interesting. I was working for the sixth largest Internet company and they had a big downsizing, I was impacted. I was in outplacement and it occurred to me that as I spoke to people, everyone had said when you go for your face to face interview, this is how your resume should look, this is how you should dress, but no one actually looked at the phone interview. It's always after the fact. So I said to myself there must be a need here for people to do real research on the phone interview.
I'm currently studying for my PhD.; I've done a lot of research and I said this seems like there is a real need for people to methodically go through the phone interview. What I did was I came up with very unique ideas that don't exist currently in the career service industry. It's my own research, it's done very methodically, very scientifically, and it's a compilation of over 50 different strategies to ace and perform a world class phone interview.
Peter: How did you go about developing these 50 strategies?
Paul: What I did was I got a group of my PhD. friends together and other good friends in the HR world – senior executives, and we sat down and I had surveyed them and I said what does a world class phone interview look like? What is it from beginning to end? And very minutely, we took into effect the quality of the phone, we looked at when the candidates should pick up the phone; is it the first ring, the second ring, the third ring or the fourth ring? What should they say, how should they say it, and what are the key components that senior leaders want to see from a candidate on a phone interview?
We've done the research and said look, this is what a world class phone interview looks like and this is how you could go about doing it. There are certain things that came out of our research which indicated a lot of people seem to do poorly in the morning on phone interviews and a lot of our expert advice came from senior leaders in HR who said it seems like a lot of people aren't relaxed in the morning or that their voice muscles aren't really up to performing.
When you look at the book, we have a whole chapter on exercising your voice. Before you go for that phone interview, what you want to do is possibly call a friend or talk to someone, or call yourself, but get your face muscles to start moving to help you relax and also get ready for that phone interview. So we've taken it on a very, very detailed level.
Look, there is a ton of competition out there, and what we really need to do is all candidates really need to sort of perform at their best level possible and every single thing that's said, how you say it, impacts the view of you and what you have to do is everything very properly.
What the book does is takes you through, beginning to end, of how you perform really a world class phone interview. And the funny thing is I've given this book to people who have been in the career services industry for over 30 years and the reaction 5x over was they've never seen anything like it.
Peter: And you're absolutely right, I've never seen a book like this, and I've been doing this for four years now. I get 15-20 books a week on business related to leadership and careers and jobs, I've never seen anything as specific as this and yet, as you know, phone screens/phone interviews have become commonplace. I don't know anybody who is interviewing these days who hasn't gone through at least one phone screen before they get to an actual live interview.
Paul: That's a very good point, Peter. I mean the key to understand with a phone interview is that the companies aren't looking to have a phone interview because they love you. What they're looking to do is really weed you out. A phone interview is not just a phone interview; it's the minute they call you on the phone to schedule a meeting. What we try to do at Phone Interview Pro is to surrogate people to understand that, it's not just this date and this time where you're going to talk to a hiring manager or someone from HR; it's when that phone rings, how you sound ,what you say, the words you use, how expressive you are, how passionate you are – that's building a mental real estate in the person's mind to say I like this candidate or I don't.
People really need to understand, what you have to do is you have to go from them liking you to loving you. The beginning of this journey is really when you first pick up that phone to schedule that phone interview and then to perform really well, but you have to really understand that the phone interview is really a weeding process; it's very cost effective to call you than to fly you in to corporate headquarters or to spend a whole day in the office.
Peter: As you well know, Paul, a lot of these initial phone interviews, these phone screens, are not even conducted by the company themselves or the hiring manager or someone within HR; it's a third party company that the company has contracted with to do, as you well put it, the weeding out process.
If you are doing a phone interview with a third party, do you conduct that differently than if you were speaking to a hiring manager or an HR professional within that organization?
Paul: No. What you're going to do is perform. It's like my mom always said, going to a birthday party as a child, and she would say "be yourself, but be your best." So in other words, no matter who you're talking to on that phone, you've got be yourself and you have to be your best. You still have to treat it as if you're talking to the hiring manager. You can't bring your defenses down, you have to perform very, very well no matter who is on the end of that phone because once again, Peter, you're building up your mental image of yourself in the person's mind, you have to get a really good reputation in that person's mind, even if it's an outside agency because once you perform well on the phone interview, they're going to say "wow, I talked to Peter, he sounds great. He sounds energetic, he sounds articulate, he seems very interested in the position."
You want to perform perfectly every single time as it relates to the position that you're trying to obtain. So there is no deviation in the performance of the phone interview for an outside agency, a hiring manager, an HR person – it's all the same; you have to perform at your peak level.
Peter: I want to go back to something you brought up earlier in this conversation that I'm very curious about and that is, the number of rings before you answer the phone. I find that really interesting.
Paul: It's an interesting thing. As I've said, I've taken it to a very scientific level and looked at every key aspect of the phone interview.
I think of it this way, when my mom always used to tell my sisters if a boy is going to call you, don't pick it up on the first ring. I always wondered why that was – because you don't want to seem too eager. But she always said the second and third ring, that's okay, and the fourth ring, forget about it.
So when we did our research from the hiring manager perspective, the surveys indicated the fact that they like people when they pick it up on the second and third ring. Their impression of the candidate when they pick it up on the first ring is that they're too needy. And as you probably know, Peter, most people don't want things they can get very easily; they want things they can't have, and that's even in terms of looking for a candidate.
Our survey indicates that the person who is interviewing you will think of you better if you picked it up on the second or third ring. If you pick it up on the first ring, it shows once again that you're too eager, you may give the impression that you're slightly desperate for a position. If it's on the fourth ring, we recommend don't even pick it up; it shows the fact that you weren't ready, you weren't prepared, and what we recommend is let it go to the answering machine. Quickly think of an excuse of why you weren't able to pick it up, call the person back and quickly get into the phone interview.
So as you could see, no one has really studied or looked at the phone rings but you have people in the industry who has been in there for 30, 40 years, but they've never actually told their candidates when to do this. So we find it very unique and very intriguing that we've looked at every single, we believe a large, portion of the phone interview process from beginning to end, starting with the ring.
Peter: What in your research did you find was the biggest mistake people make in doing these phone interviews?
Paul: There are really three big mistakes. The first one is not being yourself. There is only one of you in the universe, right, so you're very, very unique. You really want to be yourself at your best. Just relax and be yourself.
The second big mistake we see is that people aren't prepared, and that means they haven't done the research, they haven't really prepared their work environment for the phone interview, there is a lot of distraction. What we recommend in the book and in the evaluation on interview pro-evaluation and recommendations is the fact that you sort of sterilize your phone interview space; that means have your resume ready, have the job description posted right in front of you. A phone interview is like an open book test, right? You have all the answers. So what you want to do is be prepared. And what we find out is is that people aren't prepared; they're not prepared for the questions, they are not prepared to articulate their value proposition.
What we see is the first one is the fact that people really aren't themselves, they try to be someone else; so you've really got to be yourself. The second one is to be prepared – really be prepared for this phone interview. It's not like the phone rings and you just go for it; you really need a day or two to prepare and get your answers ready and get everything going.
Peter: You need to take this as seriously as you would take an in person interview with someone, and I think …
Paul: There is no difference. The words that most people use, Peter, is "oh I just got a phone interview." Well it's not just a phone interview; it's the beginning of a new job, it's the beginning of a new career, and people really do need to take it extremely serious because this is the first step in the relationship with trying to get that new position.
Peter: And if you don't ace this, you're not going any further. That's it, it's over, right?
Paul: Yeah, it's over, it could be over in a quick conversation … it could be over by the time you schedule a phone interview.
The third biggest thing that we find, which is very interesting, is the fact that people do not spend enough time on the phone handshake. What we mean by the phone handshake is within a minute or minute and a half, that's where you sort of greet the person, get to know the person a little bit. What our research is indicating is most people rush into the phone interview. Our research indicates that you should only have a phone handshake no more than a minute, a minute and a half. And once again, it's sort of "good morning, how are you… how's your day going…" very niceties, just to get to know the person before you get down to business. You can't go over that minute and a half because then it shows that you may be a little sloppy, that you're not diligent. But most people don't spend the time in the beginning just to know the person they're talking to. Look, the phone interview is a conversation, it's from one person to another person, and that's what people really need to understand.
So if people could just be themselves and relax, people could just get more prepared, they'd be in a really very good situation, and (3), is to just take a moment to get to know the person on the other side of the phone. Because remember, they can't see you either, 80% of your communication skills are eliminated, both for you and the person interviewing you. So that minute, minute and a half of "hi, how are you, how are things going…," we call that the phone interview handshake. It goes a long way.
Peter: So should I try to identify who I am speaking with, or do you work for the company, are you a third party that's been hired to do this initial screen?
Paul: I'm a Red Sox fan, as many of my friends know, so if, for instance, it could be as simple as if the phone number area code indicates they're in Boston, you could say "oh I noticed that you're calling from Boston. I see that the Red Sox beat the Yankees last night." It's a nicety. It's similar to what you would do in a face to face, Peter. During the phone interview handshake, you want to do a number of things.
The first thing is get to know the person.
The second thing is you want to confirm the contract of the phone interview. That means, "Dear Mr. Jones, I just want to make sure I have on my schedule that we're meeting for an hour. Do you have a hard stop?" Now that's important because you want to be considerate of that person's time. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. The person may say "no, I don't have a hard stop, so let's see how it goes." That gives you an open window to continue the conversation; it gives you the window to add more value proposition to what you could do for the position.
So within that one and a half minutes, it's get to know the person, get to understand who they are a little bit, gets them to understand what they want from this phone interview and then confirm the contract of time with them – when does it begin, when does it end, are there special things that you want to focus in on. So it's basically is sort of like a preface to what that phone interview is going to look like. So you can naturally get yourself mentally ready to perform at a high level for that entire phone interview.
Peter: In the section called "It's In Your Control," you write "the interviewer may be asking the questions but ultimately, you control the phone interview." I think that's what you've been speaking to over the last couple of minutes.
Paul: Yes. Once again, a phone interview is people talking to people and it's not just a one way street. You could highly recommend things during the phone interview, and as we talk about the phone interview handshake, you want to assess, very quickly, what kind of phone interview this person wants. Is it fast and furious? We have something in the book called the FBI phone interview. But you could easily suggest things. You could say "Dear Mr. Jones, it sounds like you're very interested in my background in the international arena. Could I suggest that we spend a little more time on that, would that help you?" So in very nice ways, you could sort of navigate the phone interview, offering advice to the person doing the phone interview for you. You could guide it.
For instance, a person may have a question if it's a technical phone interview. If you did all your homework and you have everything prepared, you could say something like "Dear Mr. Peterson, would you like me to email you my technical document that I designed for IBM?" So what you could do is you could sort of start crafting that person's mind and feeding that person the information that you want them to know about you and offer suggestions on how the phone interview could move in different directions.
Now, I'm not saying you control it 100%; it's like a dance. In a dance, sometimes when I'm dancing with my wife, I'm leading and other times she is telling me how to lead. So it's a dance. A phone interview is really a dance between two people; you could lead the person to ask you certain questions, you could lead the person into saying "oh by the way, I could send you this information…". I mean how powerful is it that if you're on a phone interview, you've done your preparation, and you have all your documents ready to potentially be sent over there, so the person could actually look at it, and when that happens and the person is looking at the document – the same document you're looking at – it now becomes a team effort. It's not me against you or you against me; it's let's look at what I've done, let's look at that website I designed, let me show you what I could do.
Peter: That's terrific advice, and it really goes back to what you were talking about earlier in this conversation that you really need to prepare well for these phone interviews, just as you would prepare as if you're going to meet someone in person.
Paul: Absolutely. There is no difference. No difference whatsoever, Peter. It's a matter of what you would do in a face to face is the same exact thing that you do in a phone interview. Even to the point of when you have a phone interview to actually get dressed up for it.
Now most people would say I have an early morning phone interview, they may be in their pajamas. We highly recommend – and there is a whole chapter on this – is to get dressed up as if it was a regular – as we would say a face to face interview. Wear your suit and tie, wear your makeup, get dressed up because it puts you in the right mental zone for the phone interview.
If you know the person who is interviewing you – and a lot of times, a lot of people are on LinkedIn, so we recommend during the preparation of your work environment for the phone interview, if the person has a LinkedIn photo, to actually download that photo, blow it up and look at it, so as if you're actually talking to the person. It keeps you in the right mindset.
So dress up as if you were for a regular phone interview, blow up a picture so you could actually look at the person, and we recommend sitting down actually for the phone interview; we think it's more natural.
Paul: We think it's much more natural… because if you think about it, you know, if you're trying to impress someone, or if you're in a face to face interview, Peter, do you ever get up in the person's office and walk around and talk to them?
Peter: No, I don't think so.
Paul: It's unnatural. We researched things as have a mirror and you're looking at yourself so you could smile. I mean that's unnatural too. The right procedure is is to sit down at your desk, we believe having a photo – we've seen a 15% increase in phone interview performance by looking at a person, predominantly if it's actually the picture of the person…
Peter: That's wild.
Paul: … that we've seen a 15% increase in the performance of that person's phone interview skills.
Peter: In reading The Official Phone Interview Handbook, I had to smile because you have one section where you say don't use a cell phone for a phone interview. And of course, in what I do, I'm always telling people you have to be on a landline phone. But Paul, Gen-Y'ers don't have landlines. They don't. I can tell you that from personal experience.
Paul: We highly recommend a landline…
Peter: If I'm interviewing somebody under 30 years old, they don't have a landline; they only have cell phones.
Paul: It's the preference of if you want to do this right, the right way to do it …
Peter: So go over to mom and dad's house and use their landline, folks.
Paul: Yeah, or what we really recommend is very interesting – we talked to a lot of outplacement agencies and they looked at me like I had three heads and the suggestion really is, is to go out, buy an old clunky AT&T telephone and get a landline. The sound quality is better, the probability of having any interference is almost nil.
With a cell phone, the problem is also that we've been trained just to keep talking. You're walking down the street, you're not being very articulate, your etiquette is maybe a little sloppy. Not only do you need a landline just for the phone interview, you need a landline for your entire job campaign. We consider it like the Bat Phone for your job campaign, meaning there should be one unique phone number, predominantly a landline, that any and every time that phone rings, it only has to do with your job campaign – nothing but a job campaign. There is no confusion of who or what, when that phone rings, who it could possibly be. When that phone rings, it relates to your job search.
Peter: So since you brought up Phone Interview Pro, let's talk about Phone Interview Pro because it's a very unique and interesting concept where you actually do phone interviews with your clients prior to doing the actual job phone interview. Can you tell us a little bit about this and how it works.
Paul: What we have found as a niche in the world of people looking for work, and we created a company called Phone Interview Pro, and I actually hold the patent on the process of phone interview scoring.
So we offer is a mock phone interview with a senior level person who has years of experience predominantly either a graduate degree or a Masters degree in the HR arena, and we offer the person for $69.95 a mock phone interview, but it's a real phone interview. The minute that phone rings, we start scoring you. We look at when you pick up the phone, how many ums and uhs, did you have a landline, were you passionate, were you bold, were you brief, were you to the point. We have a number of unique psychological questions that we ask you. Now, they're generic questions, so that means a person who is in the health field or a person in the technical world or a person in the financial world could all go through this process because what we've done is we've gone to the core element of what a world class phone interview looks like. It lasts about 30 minutes, and we go through a whole litany of questions. And then what happens is, is I've built an algorithm and a database and we run the algorithm, and the algorithm predicts the probability of you being recommended to the hiring manager, and it also gives you a gauge of how you performed against your peers in that industry based off of your level and based off of your education.
We're the only company in the entire United States who does this.
I tell people it's like your SATs. If you have a real phone interview or you're in your job search campaign mode, you're crazy if you don't do this. The reason for that is you don't know how you're doing on that phone interview, and for $69.95, we give you a litany of information – 250+ dimensions of the phone interview.
Peter: After the phone interview is over, you run this through your algorithm, you do the scoring, and then I get back my test results, so to speak.
Paul: Right, with answers and recommendations. So it's like the SATs; so what you get is you get a whole list of points relating from the beginning to the middle and the end of your phone interview, things even as was there background noise or not, right?
Paul: And each and every question has a certain weighted average against your overall score. And then after the phone interview, it takes about one to two days to process all the information, run it through the algorithm and the database and then you get a whole report. And in that report it tells you how you performed, it has a list of recommendations, it also has the perception of the executive evaluator who works for Phone Interview Pro of what they thought of you.
This is very subjective, but based off of your voice and based off of how you answer the questions, did you come across as being trustworthy, did you come across as being easy to listen to – and these are things that the individual candidate who comes through to do the evaluation has to think about. And once again, that part of it is subjective.
We also have a piece that gives you recommendations – what should the person do, what should the person not do, did the person use too many ums and uhs, and in the evaluation, we allow for a certain amount of ums and uhs. If you go over that portion of ums and uhs, you significantly decrease your score. And then what we have is sort of a write up of comments and recommendations.
This is, as I explain to some people, this is like your insurance policy. A lot of our clients who come to us, come right before they have an actual phone interview because they want to know how do you perform at a very high level and there is a lot of competition, as you know, out there, Peter.
But once again, it's a high level evaluation of your phone interview skills from beginning, middle, end, from the minute you pick up that phone, to what your voice quality is, how articulate you were, how many ums and uhs you had, and then you get a whole list of recommendations, and then the key part is how did you rate, what was your overall rating of the Phone Interview Pro mock phone interview. It's amazing what we find.
We find that after you do the Phone Interview Pro evaluation, 5-10 days later we send you a survey, and our results indicate that we have a 95% success rate of people who have gone through a Phone Interview Pro evaluation and they either got another a phone interview or they received a face to face interview. So the numbers are off the charts really.
Peter: How long have you been doing this, Paul?
Paul: We started five months ago, actually. The book we've been writing for … came up about nine months ago, and the book, as you said, just came out on Amazon two weeks ago and the #1 phone interviewing book on Amazon.
The company I test marketed at Sacred Heart University Job Fair with some of the students and it was just off the charts. The goal is to get people back to work. That's the goal.
We're really trying to help people master that phone interview so that they could get through the phone interview, so they could get to the face to face.
Peter: I think what you're doing is terrific, and I love the fact that you started doing this because you were in your own job search and you realized that there was a need out there that wasn't being fulfilled by anybody.
Paul: Yeah, it just came to me, really. I basically took my severance check and said okay, I thought to myself look, I have three Masters degrees, I worked for some of the largest companies in the world – GE, American Express … some really large, highly respectable companies – and I said to myself it can't be that hard getting a job. I talked to some really smart people and it's not as easy as I thought it was going to be. I'm a very good networker, I've always networked – it just so happened that all of my networks were in the same companies that were in the credit crisis. I just said to myself, I said "okay, this sounds like there is something here." And just having an open mind and being open to what the world throws at you and I said "wow, here is something really cool." The more I talked to people … and even my own outplacement, people looked at me and said you know, this is so obvious, that it's not that obvious.
Paul: The phone interview has been happening for years and we basically said … I just basically said, "look, I think there is an opportunity here." (1) Predominantly get people back to work and (2) to really say look, there is a better way of doing this and putting real rigor around the phone interview and you know, really helping people to say look, this is really what you have to do during that phone interview.
Peter: Paul, thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today on Total Picture Radio and best of luck with Phone Interview Pro and your new book.
Paul: Peter, thank you for having me.
We've been speaking with Paul Bailo, who is the author of The Official Phone Interview Handbook: Master The Phone Interview and Phone Interview Pro. Be sure to visit Paul's feature page in the success strategies channel of Total Picture Radio. That's totalpicture.com where you'll find resource links and a lot more information.
This is Peter Clayton reporting. Thank you for tuning in to Total Picture Radio.
About Peter Clayton
Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.