When To Phone In Job Interviews

Could phone interviews, which eliminate visual distractions, be a more effective means of assessing job candidates early in the interview process?

When interviewing job candidates, do you bring them in right away for an in-person interview, or do you prefer to talk with candidates over the phone first?

This was the topic of a recent discussion in ASAE’s Collaborate community [login required]. It centered around a psychological study that looked into how professional pianists are judged in competition.

On the phone, unseen, people feel freer to say things than they would face to face, perhaps because they feel more anonymous and less reserved.

To test whether the pianists were judged more for the way they sounded, the way they looked, or a combination of both, psychologist and pianist Chia-Jung Tsay showed professional and amateur musicians different clips of classical music competitions. In one set, volunteers watched and listened to performances, while in another they watched the performance without sound, and in the third set they only listened to the performances.

“What was surprising was that even though most people will say sound matters the most, it turned out that it was only in the silent videos, the videos without any sound, that participants were able to identify the actual winners,” Tsay told NPR.

One possible assumption from this finding is that judges were influenced by pianists’ attractiveness, but Tsay’s analysis found that wasn’t the case. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is indicative of superficial judgment,” she said. “There is something about visual information that is better able to convey cues such as passion or involvement or creativity. These elements are very much a part of high-quality performance.”

In relation to job interviews, how much does visual information play a role in an interviewer’s assessment of candidates?

There is a significant amount of research on how long it takes people to form a first impression. Whether it’s thirty seconds [PDF], seven seconds, or one-tenth of a second, people are quick to judge others based on surface-level information.

Watch these hiring managers, who were interviewed by the British documentary series “The Human Zoo,” describe how personal biases such aversions to strong perfume and gray shoes affect their hiring decisions (about 30 seconds, beginning at 1:08 in video below):

So, are phone interviews an effective method of avoiding snap judgments initially in the hiring process?

They take away potential visual distractions and can be a good method of narrowing down a thick stack of candidates and eliminating those who do not meet minimum requirements.

Phone interviews may also encourage candidates to let their guards down.

“On the phone, unseen, people feel freer to say things than they would face to face, perhaps because they feel more anonymous and less reserved,” Johanna Rothman, management consultant and president of Rothman Consulting Group, Inc., told HR Magazine.

Rothman says she also uses breaks in conversation to glean more information from job candidates.

“I make subtle use of long pauses in the conversation; candidates may assume I am taking notes, but often I am just waiting for them to say something revealing as they try to fill the silence,” Rothman said. “Sometimes they unintentionally say surprising things that would never come out in a personal interview.”

These types of interviews do not completely eliminate biases on the part of interviewers. A candidate for a job that relies more on technical expertise than communication skills, for example, may not express themselves as well on the phone as in person. Interviewers may also unconsciously judge an interviewee’s tone of voice.

Depending on the job you’re hiring for, a phone interview early in the hiring process may or may not make sense. But we’d like to know, how do you prefer to interview job candidates? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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