I Think I Can. Telephone Interviewing Tips

By Wayne Hoover, CFI

“I can’t do an interview over the phone, I have to see the person.” I hear this so often at our seminars and, while different, it simply is not true (toss in the fact that I dislike the word “can’t”.) As Mike Reddington, CFI with WZ’s Executive Education division has said numerous times, when someone says “can’t” they should always include the word “easily”. Telephone interviewing is something you CAN do and once you try it you will find that is, in fact, done easily.

Here is what Dave Thompson, CFI said on his International Association of Interviewers (IAI) Video tip recently:

 

Let’s talks about the advantages of conducting interviews over the phone.

In the last few years, it seems that more and more organizations are conducting interviews remotely, whether that means over the phone or with the use of some type of videoconferencing tool. Much of the reason behind this approach has been to help close out cases more quickly and efficiently without the cost of travel across the country (or sometimes to different countries) that is otherwise necessary to conduct an interview.

A lot of people are apprehensive about a phone interview primarily because they can’t see the person they’re talking to. Although that could be an obstacle when trying to communicate with somebody, I think there are a ton of advantages in conducting interviews over the phone outside of the cost savings.

One of those benefits of not being able to see each other is that it allows the interviewer to have notes, tools, and resources in front of them in case they need to do research while they’re on the phone. It allows the interviewer to avoid presenting evidence and avoid showing the subject any information from the investigation. It minimizes the likelihood of that problem. 

Conducting the interview over the phone also allows the interviewer to be perceived however they talk over the phone. Sometimes people feel that they might come across as too intimidating, maybe based on their size or age. Sometimes it’s the opposite. When you talk to someone over the phone, since they can’t see you, they’ll define you based on how you talk with them. It eliminates (or at least minimizes) concerns about appearances and first impressions based on looks, clothing, etc.

There are a ton of advantages when you interview someone over the phone, but it’s really important that we take those extra steps prior to the phone interview to make sure the logistics are set up the right way, the room is still set up in the proper format for an interview, and the subject still has the ability to tell their side of the story even though we’re not there in person.”

As Dave mentions, there are a lot of advantages.  We also find phone interviews take less time, usually significantly less.  This could be due to case selection.  We are not typically phone interviewing a tenured person or an overly complicated case.  More likely it is someone caught in the act or a shorter term employee.

For those who have conducted phone interviews, you have probably said something like, “If we thought this was that big of a deal, we would be there in person.”  While that’s a nice comment, let’s take it a step further.  I was listening to Stefanie Hoover (yes that is my wife) conducting an interview over the phone and sure enough she said, “If we thought this was that big of a deal, we would be there in person.”  But then she added, “Is it that big of a deal?  Do I need to fly there?”  The person responded with “No, I have not done it that often!”  As you can imagine Stefanie’s response was, “Great, from the investigation I didn’t think it was.”  And then she moved into development of the admission.  I think my jaw hit the floor when I heard that part of the conversation, as I thought what she did was brilliant.   She turned a statement we all use into a follow up question which elicited the person to start telling the truth.

One last benefit of phone interviews that you might want to consider is the liability.  In a face to face interview there is potential for someone to say they were held against their will (even though they were free to leave), thus being custodial in nature.  The courts ruled in State vs Mahoney (A995) 80 Wash. App495 that telephone interviews are non-custodial in nature.  As you can see, the phone interview removes that from the equation all together.

So the times, they are a changing!  So much for all interviews having to be conducted in a face to face manor.  With today’s technology we are able to communicate with the world without leaving our desks.  Good luck and give it a try, you will see “can’t” isn’t a word you should be using for conducting phone interviews.