(Most) Telephone Interviews are Pointless


Stewart Smith

(Most) Telephone Interviews are Pointless.

These days the recruitment process for most software engineering jobs tends to look something like:

  1. CV review
  2. Telephone interview
  3. Remote coding exercise (don’t get me started!)
  4. Onsite interview

And whilst that could in theory be quite a quick process (you could do all of that in a week, right?) in reality there’s a lot of feet-dragging between the stages and so “time to hire” for most roles is much more likely to be 3-4 weeks.

Having spent approaching 20 years recruiting Software Engineers and IT personnel of just about every shape and size it strikes me that time is being needlessly wasted here. There seems to be little reason why you can’t have a candidate onsite and interviewing in person within 7 – 10 days of first setting eyes on their CV. So what needs to go? Well the telephone interview for one thing.

Most hiring managers these days are receiving CVs from another party, whether that be a trusted Recruitment Consultant or an Internal Talent Acquisition Consultant (my goodness I hate that job title – not the people or the role….just the title…another time) and so these people should have done your telephone interview for you already.

Seriously, why on earth would you be working with a recruitment company who didn’t understand your role well enough to ensure they only shared suitable people with you. Worse still, if you have an internal recruiter and they’re getting the match wrong why are you employing/paying them?!?!?

At Novate IT and 52° North we have found that very soon after we start working with a company ALL our candidates are passing the client’s telephone interview stage, and so if this is the case it really begs the question why bother having it? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming we are recruitment wizards capable of only finding perfect candidates, I’m just saying we’re doing the job you’re eventually going to be paying us for. Our job is to do the telephone interview and so save you time, doubling up on work we’ve already done is pointless.

Now some companies do choose to do a technical telephone interview, I accept that is a bit different but why not let us do that for you too? Surely you can define 4 – 5 stop/go questions for your vacancy that we can ask to ensure you only get to read the CVs of people who are at the required level of skill?

Ditching the telephone interview can feel like a daunting prospect for many clients, the perception being that it saves time interviewing in-person lots of unsuitable candidates. The reality however is as stated before, if it really isn’t being used as a filter and most people are passing it is actually wasting your time. Have a look at your “telephone interview to office interview” and “office interview to hire” ratios, times the difference by 30 – 60 minutes (however long your telephone interviews typically last) and that’s the amount of time you’re wasting by telephone interviewing candidates who have already been interviewed by your Recruitment Consultant or In-house recruiter.

Obviously as a hiring manager you want to be protected from the risk of having to meet with lots of unsuitable candidates so what do you do? Well firstly ensure that the people that recruit for you REALLY know what you want, this involves preparing good/accurate job specs and providing specific feedback on every CV you receive. Then, once you have a well-established, successful relationship…….trust them - take a few of their candidates straight through to your second stage (ideally an onsite meeting, where you will test AND interview them).

As well as not wasting time doing telephone interviews the benefits of this approach are manifold:

  • You’ll get to meet the candidates before pretty much every other employer, thus getting them bought into your role / company / brand first.
  • You’ll come across as an employer who is REALLY serious about hiring them, not just “having an informal chat” on the phone whilst the candidate is potentially distracted by something else.
  • Your “time to hire” will be turbocharged, meaning you can make offers within the first 7 -10 days, which in turns mean your new employee will start work for you sooner.

And if you find you’re interviewing hideously unsuitable people? Well, you need to either look at the source of your candidates; should you be looking at new suppliers/internal recruiters? or, do you need to improve the quality of the information you are providing them with. Don’t be afraid of changing all elements in your process as your ultimate goal should be to know that when you receive a CV it is going to be someone you want to meet, then you’re not reviewing a CV you’re just preparing for the interview.

Stewart Smith – Self-professed recruitment expert and Bristol’s least hated IT recruiter.

- If you’d like some help redesigning your recruitment process or just getting to the bottom of where all the talented employees you need to hire are email me stewart@novate-it.co.uk