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Making The Most of Phone and Video Interviews

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With current times requiring all of us to manage and minimize travel and face-to-face meetings, interviewing candidates on the phone, or using popular video services like Zoom & Skype have obvious appeal in bringing a practical solution to keep talent acquisition of accountants and bookkeepers moving. 

When used effectively, phone-interviews bring all the benefits of identifying the best candidate for the role, without the current risks and expense of bringing candidates in from all over and organizing the resources to accommodate interviews and candidates.  However, they also bring the considerable risk of missing out on great candidates when run ineffectively. With over 50% of our communications attributed to non-verbal body language, how can you make the most from the efficiencies without losing the interviews effectiveness?

Here are 4 pointers for making the most from conducting selection interviews by phone, based on hundreds of phone and video interviews conducted by us:

1) Organising the Phone Interview

Phone interviews get bad press when they are sprung upon candidates. Some recruitment consultants and employers simply call candidates out of the blue to announce they have been shortlisted and dive straight into an interview that may run anything from ten minutes to an hour. The candidate may be halfway round the supermarket with a toddler in tow, or even driving a car.

To get the most from phone-interviews, organize them in the same way you would organize face-to-face interviews:

  • Call candidates to arrange a suitable time and day for the phone interview
  • Allow candidates enough time to organize themselves, review their CV’s, contact their referees and brush up on their homework on your business
  • Ensure candidates know the duration of the planned interview so they can plan it around the rest of their commitments for the day

2) Take Account of the Missing Non-Verbal Communications

Every good interviewer knows the value of setting the scene before getting an interview underway.  In a situation where all non-verbal communications are missing, the scene-setting introduction is more vital than ever.

Think for a moment about face-to-face interviews you have conducted. How often have you known a candidate was unclear about how to answer your question simply by reading their facial expressions? How often have you been able to convey that a candidate should stop talking by putting down your pen or disengaging from the interview?

When we designed and conducting 60-minute phone interviews for middle-managers into a major supermarket chain, the introduction to each interview spent at least 5 minutes explaining:

  • That as candidate and interviewer could not see each other, the interviewer would have no idea of whether their question was understood unless the candidate said so, and that the candidate wouldn’t know whether their answer had filled the interviewers requirements unless the interviewer indicated they were moving onto another question
  • Candidates were encouraged to speak up whenever they were uncertain of the interview questions and ask for them to be repeated or rephrased where necessary.  Remind candidates that it is in both parties interests to get as much as possible from the interview
  • Similarly, interviewers were coached on giving verbal signals of encouragement where more information was required from a candidate, and in moving them onto the next question

3) During the Phone Interview

As the interview unfolds, checking whether you are putting into practice what you said you would do at the outset of the interview is always worthwhile. This simply means ensuring you account for different candidates peculiarities, such as their accents, clarity of speech, ability to understand your questions and your ability to understand their answers.

If clear, concise phone communications are part of the job, this may be a selection criteria in itself, but make sure you don’t lose good candidates for roles that don’t require phone skills.

4) What about Skype & Zoom Video Conferencing?

At first, video conferencing and especially the availability of Skype and Zoom to most candidates and interviewers, would appear to address most of the shortfalls the phone interview presents. After all, you can now see the candidate and they can see you.

The reality however is that while these technologies help, the need to account for non-verbal communications is still there. Think about the closeup TV camera shots needed to get emotional reactions and facial expressions in the news, or in movies. Most video conferencing facilities won’t give you that same detailed definition you get when interviewing people face to face, so still pay attention to those non-verbal communications in the introductory scene-setting stages and as the interview progresses.

Other tips on using Video Interviews:

  • Ensure interviewer and candidate are as visible as possible and not, for example, silhouetted against a window
  • Ask the candidate to prepare as if attending a face to face interview
  • Ensure only one person speaks at a time
  • Always run the connection and quality/sound/video check before the interview
  • Double check the time zone difference, including recent daylight savings changes, when organizing offshore interviews

Using these simple yet effective guidelines help you benefit from the cost and time savings of interviewing remotely, while accounting for the shortfalls in not meeting candidates face to face.




About the Authors

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers.

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