The questions sound familiar: “Describe a time when you went above and beyond;” “Tell me about a time when you had to deliver bad news to a customer.”
But in this telephone job interview, there is a twist: No human is on the other end of the line.
As companies compete for workers in the tightest labor market in decades, more employers are trying to streamline the hiring process to nab promising candidates before they can get away. For some, that has meant rethinking the tried-and-true phone interview, rolling out one-sided, automated exchanges in which applicants give recorded responses to a series of questions.
It is much like leaving a voice mail—only one with a job on the line.
Major companies such as laboratory-test provider Quest DiagnosticsInc., hospital operator HCA Healthcare Inc. and insurer Allstate Insurance Co. use such interviews for some hiring, as do retailers, restaurant chains and law firms. In May, job site Indeed introduced a set of text- and audio-based skills tests for employers to assess job candidates at no extra cost, including an option for a one-way phone interview, meaning that even the smallest U.S. businesses can now use them in the hiring process.
Jeremy Maffei took his first-ever automated interview in October after applying for a role as a digital marketing specialist at a small marketing agency in Florida. The interview lasted less than 10 minutes, but Mr. Maffei said it threw him off. “I blanked out,” the 42-year-old recalled. He was asked to describe his biggest success and failure, yet with no one on the line, he couldn’t tell whether his responses resonated. “It’s highly impersonal,” he said.
Here’s how to ace automated phone interviews
- Come with examples: Many questions are open-ended and aimed at gauging how an applicant would respond in a given situation, so think up anecdotes in advance. For example, how might you respond to an unhappy customer or other challenging situation?
- Act naturally: It may be off-putting not to have someone responding to you in the moment, but remember that a human will eventually listen to these answers. If you have a joke or anecdote that may fit, tell it. The more you can treat this like a traditional live interview, the better.
- Speak clearly, and cut the background noise: It is important for candidates to have an upbeat speaking tone, and to take these interviews in a quiet place, so reduce the background noise.
- Research the company and job: As with any interview, reread the job description beforehand. Even in an automated exchange, recruiters can tell if someone seems unfamiliar with the job or its requirements. And sound excited about the opportunity.
Source: HarQen LLC
Some employers say such interviews are more efficient and candidate-friendly. Applicants can take the interviews at any time of day, even after work, and the answers can later be reviewed by a hiring manager. The goal, those companies say, is speed.
With the unemployment rate at 3.7% and job openings outnumbering unemployed Americans by more than one million, companies want to lock in hires as quickly as they can, recruiters say.
“There’s a little bit of this, ’Ready, aim, fire: We’ve just got to get bodies in the door,’” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., which helps job seekers.
The rise in phone interviewing is, in many ways, counterintuitive. More advanced hiring techniques exist, such as automated video or text interviews. Some companies, though, have shifted back to voice screenings, finding them more effective, particularly for hourly roles.
The Wisconsin job-recruiting firm Cielo, which hires 150,000 workers annually on behalf of clients, has found applicants far more likely to complete an audio interview than a video one, said Adam Godson, the company’s senior vice president of global technology solutions.
Over the phone, applicants needn’t worry about their appearance or their location, nor do they have to have access to a smartphone or a computer with a camera, Mr. Godson said.
Some job seekers, though, say they’re still acclimating to them. Bob Lichty, a 49-year-old in South Bend, Ind., has taken two automated phone interviews for separate sales director roles at arts organizations in recent months. One lasted 45 minutes. “Phone interviews are hard enough,” Mr. Lichty said. “When you throw this automated thing out there, it’s like, ’Wow, I have no idea how this is going at all. I don’t know if I’m killing it with my dad jokes, or if should I just leave them out.’ ”
Quest, a Cielo client, uses automated phone interviews to hire phlebotomists, specimen processors and other employees. Lara Gartenberg, Quest’s senior director of talent acquisition, said an applicant can take an interview at night, and the person’s answers are reviewed by a Cielo representative in the Philippines or Singapore. A U.S. recruiter will find notes the next morning on whether the applicant is a fit and will schedule another interview, if the applicant makes the cut, she said.
HarQen LLC, a 25-person Milwaukee company that makes software behind those automated interviews, has more than 150 clients, from law offices to hospitals and staffing firms, says Suzanne Kinkel, HarQen’s president. Allstate and HCA use automated voice interview software made by interviewing-technology firm Montage, said Montage Chief Executive Kurt Heikkinen. Allstate said it has used the technology for several years, while HCA said it uses it on a “limited basis.”
Trash-hauler Waste Management Inc. began using on-demand voice interviews a few months ago for most front-line roles, including drivers and technicians. The company has seen a 5- to 7-day improvement in the time it takes candidates to complete a phone interview, which “contributes to a faster hiring process,” said Melkeya McDuffie, vice president of talent.
Darlene Racinelli, a Temecula, Calif., financial controller with 30 years of experience, recently had her second automated phone interview. She had applied for a financial controller role at a Texas manufacturer and found automated interviews frustrating because she couldn’t ask questions to better understand the company.
When the system asked her to describe her most-difficult challenge—a stock job-interview question—she decided she had enough. “At that point,” she said, “I hit 9 and just ended it.”
Write to Chip Cutter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Appeared in the November 29, 2018, print edition as ‘A Job Interview, With Nobody.’