Acing the Human Resources Phone Interview

by Kelly Gerlach

IT Phone Interview

As an Information Technology Professional, it can be challenging conveying hard skills to Human Resource managers that may not fully understand the ins and out of technology. There’s a trick to speaking to HR departments, and ensure that your skills and talents come across loud and clear – generally paving the way for you to speak to the hiring manager.

Remember – the Human Resources Department is there as a first round test of your skills and abilities, but most importantly, how you’ll fit into to the overall culture of the business you’re interviewing for.

Be Patient With the Interviewer

As a Technical Recruiter, I work with many different clients to assist with their staffing needs. While all interview processes are different, many do require a phone interview with Human Resources before moving on to the hiring manager.

This process is generally put in place by the business, and the HR Manager has no leverage in what interviews he or she conducts – it simply happens as part of the hiring process.

Most HR employees aren’t trained in technical skills. Their job is much more PEOPLE focused. Getting the right person in the door from a personality perspective, instead of hard skills.

That said, it can be very challenging for HR representatives to conduct a thorough technical phone screen. As an IT Professional, articulating your skills to someone without any (or with minimal) technical experience can be frustrating. Many questions you’re asked during the initial phone screen may not actually pertain to your particular skill set.

For example, I had a candidate interview for a Front End Developer role. The initial process was a phone screen by HR, and instead of UI/UX questions, the interviewer focused on technologies like networking, break/fix, and hardware questions. It wasn’t until the candidate pointed out that these weren’t questions she was normally asked, did the HR rep realize the questions were for a different position.

Luckily the pair was able to laugh about it and move on (she got the job, by the way!), but in some instances, this would leave a bad impression with the candidate… and understandably so.

The HR rep may be as nervous about the interview as you are. Be patient with the questions asked, and if you feel comfortable enough, take control of the interview yourself.

Answer your skill based questions in laymen’s terms, and be personable about it! The HR Manager will appreciate your understanding, and it will demonstrate your ability to clearly articulate your skills - allowing you to advance to the next stages of the interview.

Be Prepared for Personality Based Questions

While you have applied for a technical position, it is important to the business that the person they hire for any role fit into their existing culture and employee base. From experience (I used to manage a large tech team), it only takes one personality to be completely off from company culture for the team to not function at 100%.

While none of us like the personality questions, they are inevitable, and being prepped for them is the best way to ensure you won’t stammer through.

Some of the most common questions that you’ll hear during an initial phone interview are:

  • How do you deal with conflict or disagreement on a team?
  • What steps would you take to report an issue to your manager?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What criteria do you use to decide to escalate an issue?
  • Tell me about a time you worked on a team and a member didn’t pull their weight. What did you do to fix the issue? Did the project complete on time?
  • Why are you looking to leave your current position (or why DID you leave your last position)?

These are just a handful of questions that an HR manager could ask, and having these answers ready to go alleviates the awkward pauses and silence on the phone as you think of the best way to answer.

Do Your Prep Work!

So often I hear from candidates “I thought the interview went well, but I wasn’t really prepared for XYZ…” My response to this is always “What did you do to prepare before the interview?”

As a recruiter, it’s my job to make sure the candidate is ready to go, armed with all the information I can physically give them without actually doing the phone interview in their place. However, I can only do so much – and that’s where preparation comes into play.

You will always know who you’re interviewing with before the call. Do some research. Check out the person’s profile on LinkedIn, see if you have any common connections. If so, reach out and ask others’ opinions and how to best communicate with said interviewer.

Use your network to your advantage!

Understand the position you’re interviewing for – have the job description printed out and in front of you. The interviewer may ask the question “what do you know about this position,” and you’re all set with the answer without stammering around searching for a description.

Learn about the company! Not that you have to know the founder’s names, but a basic understanding of what they do, what product they provide, mission statement, etc. goes a LONG way. It shows that you are interested in the company, not just looking for a job.

Remember to SMILE

It sounds silly, but the interviewer can hear your smile through the phone. If you’re not excited, if you’re distracted, or doing other things while interviewing that is a HUGE red flag for the person on the other end. If you can’t carve out 45 minutes to talk about a prospective position, how are you going to act in a business setting?

Be sure you’re in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Have your resume in front of you, and smile when you talk. Don’t put the interview on speaker phone.

Speak slowly. While you understand your skills, remember the HR manager may not. It’s important to speak slowly, clearly, and be concise. Do not interrupt, even if you think you know the next question the person is asking.

Remember, the goal is to secure an offer for an in-person interview. The in-person will be much more technical in nature, which is when you let your hard skills shine. During this initial phone screen, it is much more important to wow the HR Manager with your soft skills. Understanding how you work in a team, what personality traits you’ll bring to the table, and if the business culture is going to be a good fit for your personality are what to expect from a phone screen.

Be yourself, be confident, be prepared, and you’ll be on your way to the next step of the interview process!


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