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How to Best Prepare for Preliminary Interviews

by Ruth Mayhew

Whether you're preparing to conduct a preliminary interview or providing guidance to your staff on how to conduct one, attention to human resources best practices is key to a recruiting technique that yields good results. Following uncomplicated yet effective best practices ensures that your initial interviews are a wise use of your time and the applicant's time, and that they produce information that helps you narrow your choice of candidates. Many recruiters and hiring managers conduct preliminary interviews via telephone or video conference because it saves so much time for both the employer and the applicant.

Recruiter-Manager Communication

Preparation for a preliminary interview begins the minute a hiring manager sends a job requisition to the HR department and before the job vacancy is advertised. As the recruiter or HR staff person who conducts preliminary interviews, it's critical that you and the hiring manager connect before posting the job vacancy. You must see eye to eye on the job's responsibilities, the type of requirements and experience necessary to do the job and the kind of person the hiring manager believes will fit the position -- assertive, detail-focused, analytical or other qualities managers look for in their employees. If a recruiter and hiring manager can't seem to communicate well about the vacant role and how to identify candidates who meet the company's needs, the preliminary interview is doomed before the job is even posted.

Basic Requisites

The minimum requirements an applicant must have should be clearly stated in the job posting. Posting an ambiguous job advertisement -- or one that doesn't describe the requirements well -- results in resumes from applicants who have none of the basic qualifications or who don't fully understand the job. And, this wastes the recruiter's and hiring manager's time from the start. For example, if the minimum requirements for a job include a four-year degree and five years of experience, without exception, the posting should clearly state the requirements, so that applicant resumes that don't reflect those qualifications can be eliminated from consideration. Effective preparation for preliminary interviews involves determining which applicants meet the basic qualifications and, thus, which applicants will be interviewed.

Consistency

A preliminary interview doesn't take long -- perhaps 20 to 30 minutes. It gives the interviewer enough time to provide details about the job, ask the applicant whether she's still interested in the job and verify her work history. Those are three essential points to bring up, and therefore, should be consistently used in every one of your preliminary conversations. Create a standard list of questions to ask every applicant in a preliminary interview. If you deviate from the list, it'll be very difficult for you to render an honest comparison of applicants or to accurately rank them according to their qualifications, experience and telephone poise. Also, an interview evaluation form helps to ensure that you're ranking candidates using the same criteria.

Venue and Medium

If a large number of your selected applicants for preliminary interviews are currently employed, modify your schedule or the HR department hours to conduct interviews outside normal business hours to accommodate applicants with limited time off or inflexible working hours. This way, an applicant can express his interest in a job and answer basic questions without having to participate in a clandestine telephone conversation so his employer won't know he's looking for a job, or take off from work early. Something as simple as accommodating applicants' schedules also is an ideal way to portray your company in a positive, applicant- and employee-focused light, which is good for your industry reputation.

Job Seekers

Your preliminary interview is the first opportunity you have to make a good impression on a prospective employer. Therefore, prepare for even the brief telephone interview with as much interest as you would a face-to-face interview. For example, learn more about the company and as much as you can about the job responsibilities. Practice giving the interviewer a succinct, yet complete, chronicle of your work history and make a list of past work experiences that match what the employer is seeking. Record your practice interview questions and play them back to listen for areas in which you can improve. Or, ask a friend to role-play the phone interview with you. Rehearse a statement that articulately describes your qualifications and why the recruiter should select you from among the first-round candidates.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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