My Take on Phone Interviews

I've been doing phone interviews at Viget for six years. The phone interview happens early in our recruiting process, usually after a resume and skills review, and before any quizzes, homework, or face-to-face meetings (although, there are some exceptions). They aren't easy, but they are rewarding, and they're often the highlights of my week.


Phone interviews at Viget help us answer five initial questions about you, the candidate:

  1. Do you come across as a professional person with ideas, opinions, and values that would fit in well at Viget?
  2. Can you clearly and confidently articulate what you're good at and what you want from your next job?
  3. Do your priorities align well with our company culture and with the position?
  4. Would the team like to talk to you?
  5. Do you seem genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity at Viget?


Phone interviews are not good at definitively answering these questions (and I think it's important for us to remember that we shouldn't expect them to):

  1. Are you good at the core skills of the job?
  2. Are you smart?
  3. Are you a person of integrity who is going to work hard?

The folks I work with have heard me say many times, "I love the truth." I have no problem with a 30-minute conversation that concludes with me saying, "You seem pretty great, but I don't think you're right for the job." That doesn't seem like a waste of time and, usually, it doesn't feel unkind or judgmental -- it just feels true. Nobody wants a job that they won’t be good at or that won’t let their talents shine. The hard ones are when it's not clear and the decision about whether or not to move ahead is murky. I'm grateful for my 6 years of experience, though, because I can see more clearly than I used to and I can trust my gut. 


Over the years, I've also adjusted my approach to the phone interview. Here are some things I try to do consistently now that I didn't always do before:

  1. Offer to take the call outside of business hours when I can.
  2. Offer to do a Hangout or video call when I can.
  3. Ask very direct questions about gaps in employment history, lack of a college degree, or other topics that have me curious.
  4. Take thorough notes, capturing more than just the gist of your answers, but your phrases, specific examples, stories, and word choices.
  5. End the call with an outline of what the rest of the process will look like if we are going to move forward.


Still, there are things I wish I were better at accomplishing during these conversations. I wish I were better at:

  1. Understanding the nuances of technical skills and interests, so that when you tell me you love working with a certain technology, I can derive a more subtle meaning from your comment.
  2. Understanding the real work behind marketing and account management positions, particularly in large organizations. I think I just don’t have sufficient first-hand experience with those environments to really appreciate what goes into various roles and responsibilities.
  3. Building rapport with a shy, reserved person. We employ a lot of introverted people who are talented and awesome; I have great rapport with many of them, but it takes time. Sometimes, on a call, I can tell that the main barrier to feeling a connection with a candidate is their temperament -- but, I struggle to know how to best respond to that barrier.
  4. Being more succinct. Sometimes I'm eager to tell you all about Viget. Hopefully, I get points for my enthusiasm -- but, I do aim to listen more and talk less on these calls.

Most candidates will not move beyond the phone interview. For those who do, the evaluation gets more rigorous, thorough, and time-consuming. I hate to burden my team or a candidate with the time commitment if I know it's not going to result in a hire. For those who don’t move past the phone call, I hope the conversation reflects well on Viget, even if the result is disappointing. I hope all candidates realize that the phone interview is one of the best parts of my job: it is a privilege to get to know (even minimally) so many talented people.

Emily is Viget's people director, hailing from our Durham, NC, office. She specializes in heart-to-hearts and asking questions that don’t have concrete answers.

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