10 Phone Interviews I’ll Never Forget

Tony Compton, Managing Director

I’ve had plenty of phone interviews over the years – on both sides of the #hiring and #employer conversation. As an interviewer, and as a job candidate. This post is about my Top 10 phone interview experiences as a candidate, and I’m happy to share some of my #lessonslearned from the not-so-enjoyable side of the rude, unprofessional, inconsiderate, time-wasting, and (fill in the blank with your own adjective) portion of the #hiring process.

Though there’s really no way to be completely guard against it, but I hope that I never again have the pleasure of interviewing over the phone with:

1. The Unprepared, Uninterested, and Arrogant

I recently had the “pleasure” of a conversation with a hiring manager who asked a total of three questions during the phone interview, only one of which had any substance. The other two were of the “tell me about yourself” variety. After a total of 11 minutes of conversation I was asked, “So, do you have any questions for me?” (That’s never a good sign.) After more chit-chat and back and forth I was told about how they’re going to keep “going through resumes” for another two weeks, how the company has to “get it right” and how they even left one (or more) senior-level positions open for a year. Yep, a year. Is that something you really want to tell candidates, or are you intentionally trying to push them away? Business moves at a lightning pace, but apparently not at that company. I think they’re still looking… While they look, I’ll move on with the rest of the business world.

2. Everybody (Employed at the Hiring Company)

Not too long ago, one of my job pursuits was with one of the Big Shot global consulting firms. One of those that advertises in airports and is easily recognizable to anybody in business. (That’s as far as I’ll go to identify the company.) After some initial positive vibes with a point person in the hiring process, I was sent on a global telephonic journey to have conversations with multiple people scattered about Planet Earth. Paris, London, etc. Last count I had was eight hour-long phone interviews. The only person left untapped for an interview was the overnight security guard. Nevertheless, after investing in hours of phone interviews (which I thought went well) with good people in different time zones, I was eventually informed of the decision to go with an internal candidate. And I was only told that because I asked. Big Shot consulting firm took no initiative to let me know of their decision. Do the math around this exercise in futility and you’ll understand why this was an experience I’ll never forget.

3. The Checklister

Interviewing with #HR reps or corporate #recruiters who know nothing about a specific opportunity don’t really qualify as interviews. They’re more like one-sided phone conversations that only benefit the hiring company’s information gathering system. These conversations are easy to decipher shortly after the call begins. The tone of voice of the interviwer, the pause between scripted questions, the typing of answers… they’re all dead giveaways. What makes matters worse is when I was asked to “officially and formally” apply in the hiring company’s system. Being told that I would not be considered for an opportunity unless I spent an hour with the black-hole application on a #career website has been never produced a positive outcome. For those who employ this tactic, allow me to recap: I spend 30 minutes on a phone interview with somebody reading off a checklist of questions. There’s a 99% chance my answers will never see the light of day. Then I’m told I have to apply through your career website because I have to in order to be considered. Lastly, I get no response from you. No status check. No updates. Nothing. Yeah…ummm…No thanks.

4. The (Allegedly) Date and Time Challenged

I’m starting to run out of fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve waited by the phone waiting for an interviewer to call. 10, 15, 20 minutes go by. Sometimes the phone never rings as scheduled. Meanwhile, I’m confused as to why those who schedule phone interviews fail to understand that it’s not just the 30 or 60 minutes of scheduled time, it’s the prep work that goes into getting ready for the call. The research, homework, and securing the environment to have a productive call. Not to mention that time is an asset that I wish to use wisely, not sitting around waiting for somebody to call. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. If you’re going to demand that candidates respect the process, so should interviewers and hiring managers.

5. The 12th Player on the Bench

The 12th player is a basketball reference. It’s the last player on the bench. They’re on the team, but they’re the last player a coach would use in a game. They’re also the last to know anything. The answers commonly repeated by 12th players (some recruiters/ interviewers) to questions about a job or the status of a hiring process is “I don’t know” and “Let me find out.” Of course, they never, ever come up with helpful answers. It’s usually a strung out series of quick phone interactions culminating in “I don’t know what’s going on, I haven’t heard anything. I’ll let you know if anything changes.” Time flies, the process ages, and we only get older. I think I’m still waiting on some people from 10 years ago to get back with me with new information on job applications.

6. The Blabbermouth

There’s a questionable rule of thumb that if a hiring manager goes on and on about the company, the job, and themselves, let them talk. They’re supposed to feel good about themselves, and the interview. But I’m not so sure. In my experience, some phone interviewers go into a history about the company, and themselves. It usually happens when they haven’t prepped for the interview. To compensate, they fill the time with an endless string of long-winded statements. While there can be some value in that, and some information may be gathered, by the time some blabbermouths keep quiet they’ll say “It’s three minutes to the top of the hour and I have a hard stop. What questions can I answer for you?” Instead of having a conversation, candidates are treated to a phone speech. Then jamming poignant questions into three minutes. Oh, BTW, there is no next step in this “hiring” process.

7. The Send Me Your Stuff-ers

You have a good phone interview, and it concludes with the request for work samples. My initial answer is to Google my name and any one of a number of other keywords that will instantly provide a number of publicly-available examples. Or just look at my LinkedIn profile. Some stuff is there, too. Quick, simple, and easy. You’ll find enough of what you’re looking for, but I’ll provide more if what you see isn’t what you want. But nope, that doesn’t seem to work. So time is spent gathering specific examples of relevant material and sending (emailing) them. Material that won’t ever returned. But how do the “Send Me Your Stuff-ers” usually reciprocate? With silence…

8. The Repeat Offender

A distant relative of The Date and Time challenged, these interviewers are in a league all their own. Scheduling mishaps occur. I get it. They’re a part of corporate life. Things happen. Schedules change. No problem. I’m a good natured, understanding, easy-going guy. But beyond waiting by the phone for one scheduled call from a hiring manager that never comes, is a willingness to be scheduled for a phone interview with an interviewer multiple times. And still they don’t show. This happened not too long ago when I was scheduled for call that never came. The call was reset, but that date and time also came and went. So I spoke up and expressed my displeasure. The apologetic response (from the person doing the scheduling) was that the blown off phone calls were not indicative of the person’s character, nor the corporate culture. So I acquiesced and set a third call. That never came.

9. The Unexplainable

I was going to entitle this section “The Angry” but that would seem overly harsh. But I’ll never forget one 30 minute call I had with a VP that seemed too busy, too tired, too angry, too jet lagged for the call. By the end of the call I’d swear I was hung up on. It was like hearing “Gotta Go, Bye…click…” I didn’t know this person. Never met. No previous interaction of any kind, ever. Of course, my follow-up inquiries were met with silence until one day I emailed the recruiter and shared that my personal travels are bringing me close to their corporate hometown, and I would welcome the chance to introduce myself in-person. Lo and behold the recruiter quickly responded to that email to tell me they had gone in another direction. Again, imagine if the “having a bad day” shoe was on the other foot and candidates started to hang up the phone on hiring managers the end of calls. The candidates wouldn’t stand a chance.

10. The Unappreciative

Nobody likes to lose out on a good job, but it happens and I understand that hiring decisions won’t always go my way. But I’ve learned (especially in my more recent years) to always say “thank you” to those who have taken the time to show interest in a position, and a company. The investment candidates make goes way beyond the time spent on a phone interview. The work before, during, and after call quickly adds up. The investment in time, energy and resources is substantial. I don’t care if a recruiter, interviewer, or hiring manager is busy. Everybody is. Nothing substitutes for courtesy, respect, and appreciation of a candidate’s time – even if it is “just a phone interview” to some.

I recently wrote (an unexpectedly popular) post on things companies must do to improve the overall hiring process. Some of that is reflected in this post, but sharing the stories behind bad phone interviews deserved its own article. No doubt you’ve had your share of challenging phone interviews, including the ones that were scheduled but never actually occurred. Please pop over to LinkedIn to comment and share your experiences. There’s nothing more valuable to the audience than to learn about real-life situations, especially in the #employment world of #recruiting, #interviewing, and #hiring!