Robots Rule!: Phone Interviews and AI with a (nasty) twist

By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia

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I dread selling myself over the phone.

As an easy conversationalist, I am never afraid to pipe up and give my two cents’ worth when I meet a stranger. Not on the phone, though, when my performance drops by about 25%. On cold sales calls, I often fumble and stumble such that I am quite amazed the person on the other end of the line actually agrees to see me.

In a face to face chat, I pick up visual clues that give me comfort and confidence to communicate smoothly. And they just aren’t there over the phone.

I don’t know what I’d do then if I had to meet the challenge of the latest change in phone interviewing!

Speed Dialling = Speed Dating?

In an effort to speed up the recruitment process, companies are replacing the traditional phone interview with one where there is no human at the other end. You listen to a series of standard behavioural questions such as, ‘Give us an example of a time when you…’ and you leave your answer. It’s a bit like voicemail.

In 2018 the internet job site Indeed offered employers a set of text and audio-based skills tests including the option for a one-way phone interview. This is free for employers so it’s likely to quickly spread to smaller companies.

Larger companies are tapping into the services of companies such as which offers ‘automated machine scoring of 11 emotions and sentiments’. Sounds a bit like an oxymoron to me – a machine that rates emotion. What strange times we live in!

Some candidates do prefer one-way phone interviews to video interviews and apparently, there is a higher take-up rate for this new style of interviews.

However, if you are a hiring Manager wanting to jump on board, think twice about using remote phone interviews for senior roles. Executives usually have high expectations about how they are treated in the recruitment process. They expect professional respect. Watch that they don’t hang up in disgust at having to respond to a disembodied voice down the end of the line. You may well alienate your best prospects.


Think you can just ignore all this?

One of my friends told me recently she had thought that my blog about video interviews was a bit of a beat up and that it was never likely to happen to her. Then it did. She had to scramble madly to prepare and said later that she had not performed at all well. And this is someone who usually wins every job she applies for!

It’s time to prepare so that you are not taken unawares.

Tips for Remote Phone Interviews

  1. Find out how long you have to respond to each question.
    Imagine how disastrous to be cut off halfway through your answer. Equally, what a pity it would be to give a brief response that doesn’t provide enough information to the employer. Some software offers you a standard two minutes to answer each question. If you are not advised as part of the application process, contact the employer to ask what the parameters of the interview will be.

    Any time we do something for the first time, our performance tends to be weak. One-way phone interviews are obviously new so do some ‘dry’ runs. One of my common mantras to clients is, ‘Ask yourself how much you want this job and then do the work necessary to win it!’ Record sample questions on your phone with enough space for an answer. Then, practise, practise, practise. There’s never a downside to practising.

  2. Err on the side of brevity.
    If you are not able to discover how much time you have to respond, deliver a strong, well structured SHORT answer. The content and your delivery should be such that the employer wants to meet you face to face to find out more.

  3. Use a cheat sheet.
    This is one time when it might make sense to have some supporting content if you are someone who tends to freeze up. Bullet points in large font are an obvious approach but make sure there is no sound of rustling paper or over-long pauses as you scan madly for the right content. In addition, have a list of your employment history with dates and titles and your Cover Letter nearby.

  4. Don your headphones.
    This will allow you to have hands-free access to your cheat sheets.

Above all, manage your voice.  In a face to face interaction, it is commonly quoted that your voice conveys 38% of the impression you make on a stranger. Over the phone, that figure soars to 75%. delivers candidate ratings based on passion, charisma, tenacity, optimism and excitement. It measures ‘Mood’ covering features such as Arrogance, Happiness, Self Control.  It also rates how well the person scores as a ‘Team player with Emotional Intelligence’.


How well do you think your voice sells the above qualities?

By the way, also offer sample questions that they recommend to clients, so it’s worth having a quick quiz. Forearmed is forewarned, as they say!


Algorithms set to eliminate recruiter bias?

When I last recruited a Practice Manager, I wanted someone with quite a different personality and skill set to me. Yet, research tells us that many Managers seek to hire someone like them and that bias taints many recruitment activities.

Now, companies and recruitment agencies are starting to take bias more seriously. Mainstream recruiter Hudson, for example, is using software from a company called PredictiveHire to reset their practices.

Candidates are asked questions via text and this information is used to create a personality profile. There’s no résumé, no names and no bio information.

The software is also currently being used by internal recruiters, who report that they find it more efficient as well as more effective. They argue it allows them to streamline mundane elements of their job so that they can focus on more value-added activities.

How on earth can you prepare for something that supposedly uncovers the essence of who you are?


Tips for Personality Profiling

  1. Start 12 months out.
    There’s no easy answer or quick fix for this one. If this software really does work, you need to make sure that the ‘real you’ is valued by your market place. Give yourself time to fine tune your workplace behaviour.

  2. Research qualities and attributes that are in demand in your area.
    The first step is to identify the top 15 or so characteristics. Then use a mechanism to choose which elements to work on. That’s where Gap Analysis comes in. It is a simple but effective technique that gives you more bang for your buck. It allows you to identify the three key changes that will have the biggest impact.

  3. Hire an Executive Coach.
    It’s a mistake to think that Coaches are only for poor performers. I recommend to most of my executive clients that they ask for a coaching program as part of their initial Salary Negotiation when they start a new job. When I used to offer this service, I called it ‘Making the Best Better’. It really can be the difference between success and failure. If you can’t afford a coach, use a combination of reading about best practice behaviour and a mentor to foster your development.
  1. Prepare an excellent résumé anyway, as it may be required of short-listed candidates.
    Everything about your application should be excellent. Make sure your résumé is modern and stylish, not too long and contains persuasive evidence of your worth.

  2. Provide examples in the interview of in-demand qualities.
    It would be a pity if you have done the hard work to hone your workplace performance but cannot convince others of your strengths. There is no substitute here for a career specialist who can help you match your interview performance to your personality profile as uncovered by the software.


Shock and Horror

My clients are constantly horrified by what I say.

Not, of course, because I make any offensive remarks, but because they have allowed themselves to get out of date with current job search techniques or critical career issues.

These latest changes are an eye-opener even to me this time. You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be adding remote phone interviews and personality profiling to the list of current recruitment practices when talking to my clients about what may lie in wait for them the next time they apply for a new role.

About the company...

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You might like these blog posts Starting Up Part 2: Conquering the Lean Startup Phase, 4 Christmas Marketing Mis-haps, How To Determine The Social Media Budget Your SME Business Needs, and Tips and Benefits For Small Businesses To Create Episodic Content.

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