Career Advice Tuesday – Having A Hard Time with Phone Interviews

October 5, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

Like to have some advice.  Recently I have been attempting to transition my career from internal security professional to “professional consulting.”   I have been trying to do this for the past six months, and I have basically gotten nowhere.

The process normally goes like this:  I send my resume, and get a quick response from the human resources team.  After that, I traditionally get a phone conversation coordinated with a mid level person in the consulting practice.  Shortly after the phone conversation, I get a rejection e-mail.

I am willing to admit that phone communication is not my strongest suit, and I know I have to work on this.  However, I do believe that I am better in person, and I seem to communicate better in a one-on-one setting.   Do you have any advice on how to overcome this obstacle?


Mr. Watson

Dear Mr. Watson:

It is very good that you recognize that you have an issue with your verbal communication skills when the phone is the medium.   I think that the first thing that you need to do, is to address this issue and turn this negative into a positive.  Before you apply anywhere else, you need to work on your phone skills.

Considering that you are applying for a consulting position, where a good portion of your success is based upon your ability to communicate and transfer knowledge, a poor performance on a phone interview is traditionally enough to disqualify you for this type of role. Generally speaking, a mid level person is going to be more critical about putting a person forward if their communication skills are lacking, as opposed to a perceived technical weakness.  The reason for this, is that if they move you to the next role, they are going to have to commit a great deal of resources (and their time) to your interview process.  This is not only time consuming – but costly – given the business they are in.   The mid level person is going to have to be very confident that you will perform well during the next interview, or they will be inclined to dismiss you.

Keep in mind, by rejecting a candidate they will not risk anything, by putting forward a substandard candidate, their judgment will be questioned and they will lose credibility with their management.

First you need to figure out the nature of your problem.  Some common problem areas will include the following: clarity, articulation, skills, structure (order of thought process) or energy – these are all common points of rejection for phone interviewers.  This is the time to be honest with yourself.  If you do not know the answer, ask your friends or peers.

Next, you should go through some mock phone interviews with people whom you trust.  It s most helpful if you can have other information security professionals interview you, if not, try to find a human resource professional, or someone who is in general IT or risk.  When you do this, record your conversation – and play the results back to you.

Another thing that you can do, it to get a better understanding of the position – and take some better control over the conversation.  By now, you should have a good sampling of the questions that they will ask of you, so you should try to demonstrate your knowledge during the call.  Generally the more prepared you are, and the better you can anticipate the questions (and the answers) the more likely you will be able to make a solid impression.

Finally, I would advise you to dial up the energy, one to two notches above your usual level of enthusiasm.   Generally, if there is some indecision, a candidate who has a higher level of energy is generally going to receive the benefit of the doubt, whereas a candidate with low energy will generally be discarded.

I agree that phone interviews are generally lousy, but you need to accept that they are standard operating procedure, and they are a significant obstacle in your professional pursuits.   If you are bright enough to realize that this is an issue for you, I am confident that you will be bright enough to figure out how to overcome this hurdle.

Hope this helps,

Mike and Lee

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Career Advice Tuesday, Interviewing 


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