Quarsh Blog

When Telephone Interviews Go Wrong


Recently, a close friend was telephone interviewed for a pretty senior technical position as a “Head Of”, paying around £120k. He asked me for some guidance on how to perform well. This wasn’t an easy task as we didn’t have much to go on. The headhunter had called my friend (let’s call him Chris) one Friday afternoon, not long after Chris had changed his LinkedIn profile to “looking for new opportunities”. Chris was pretty excited to be contacted as it boded well for his search for a new job. The headhunter seemed like a nice chap, and after ten minutes or so of chat he confirmed that Chris would be called by the CTO of the client the next week so that Chris could find out more about the company. To prepare, Chris and I spent some time going through the company’s website and accounts through Companies House, and we talked about how to build a rapport over the phone through humour and two way discussion.

The day of the interview came… more preparation by Chris, by this point excited and a little bit nervous… and then he called me afterwards, thoroughly disheartened and dejected. The interviewer was 15 minutes late to the call, having been prompted by Chris via email, and the first question he asked (quite crossly) was “So why did you apply to join our company?” A bit awkward. Chris had been approached, he hadn’t applied. Every question after that was short, closed, and each response met with a long pause from the interviewer. There were no questions about Chris’ technical skills, strategic influence or management style. It was all over in 20 minutes. Chris knew it hadn’t gone well. We analysed why.

  1. The client didn’t have Chris’ CV, just his (quite short) LinkedIn profile.
  2. Chris didn’t have a brief or a job spec, and the headhunter didn’t tell him much.
  3. The client had probably forgotten the interview was happening, or at least was in the middle of doing something else.
  4. The company’s website wasn’t particularly informative.
  5. The company’s accounts showed huge losses which worried Chris. He didn’t want to talk about it during the telephone interview but it was something that any decent candidate would find out about.

Assuming that the interviewer actually wanted to talk to Chris in the first place, all of this points to one or both of two things: organisational arrogance on behalf of the company, and how lack of preparation can thoroughly scupper an interview. A brief would have allowed Chris to draw the interviewer’s attention to Chris’s relevant skills. A CV would have allowed the interviewer to ask some relevant questions.

Neither of these things are critical, though. More than anything, a generous and positive attitude from the interviewer would have changed the whole tone of the discussion, and both Chris and the interviewer might have learned something, even if the outcome was the same. As it is, Chris is staying well clear of the headhunter and won’t be saying anything nice about the company any time soon.  

If nothing else, don’t use a recruiter who can’t or won’t brief both parties properly, and recruiters, take time to get feedback from your candidates. The interview might have bombed because of your client, not your candidate.


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