Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC) Ep 5: The Value of a Phone Interview

ATC is proud to partner with Cendea to present the series, “Talent-Leadership-Culture (TLC)”. This blog series addresses the questions and gives insight to the art of finding the RIGHT tech leader to hire at the director level and above. Thank you to our experts for sharing their knowledge with the tech community.

There is no magical universal cookie cutter answer to the interviewing process for senior level hires, but there are several key factors that affect the company and the candidate. The interview today is clearly a two-way street and there is plenty of competition for key talent as we see low unemployment across most of the nation. The phone interview is a key ingredient in that recipe for success.

Understand the Candidate’s Vantage Point

If you’re looking for true impact leaders – people who can help take you to the next level, then first look from their shoes. Recognize that executive level candidates have seen more and understand more than those with less experience, and they have been on both sides of an interview. They’re going to ask deep questions and challenge you. If they are good, they don’t need your job. They are going to interview you as much as you interview them. They are leaders, decision-makers and consider an opportunity more their choice than yours. You must be prepared and ready – if they’re good and truly interested then they certainly will be ready.

Where does the Interview begin?

The interview actually starts with what’s being said on the street about your company, be it current or ex-employees, press, or posts on Glassdoor. This is announcing your culture whether you like it or not, right or wrong. Today’s world has a fly on your walls that’s willing to talk. Given that there’s often just 2 degrees of separation, it’s easy to ask someone who might say “It’s OK here … but people are frustrated … and I’m considering opportunities myself.

Executives tend to be observant and know what they’re willing to put up with and what they’re not. We draw conclusions, based on what we see and hear, and perception is reality. Take the time to find out the word on the street and take action to fix it so you don’t lose out on prospects before you ever even get to talk with them!

Is a Phone Interview worthwhile?

A phone interview upfront, even if the candidate works next door, accomplishes several important things in helping you determine if this is a right leader for you. Executive communication skills are critical and you need to gauge the difference on how they come across over the phone where there is no body language versus in-person. This is best tested when they don’t know you and thus could be nervous. Are they uncomfortable, mechanical, curt; or is this “old-friend” easy? Don’t quickly write off bad vibes because this is “just a phone screen” – that’s the point, these are executives and they will need these skills in your company.

Dig deeper to see how they fit your culture and chemistry. The last thing you need is an unintended culture disruptor. How have they dealt with situations in their past? What were the circumstances on leaving other companies? How would they work with the challenges ahead of them for you? You only get answers to what you’re willing to ask … and you only hear answers when you remain quiet and really listen.

Another major advantage is that the phone interview breaks the ice and gets thoughts and questions flowing well beyond the basics. This allows the initial in-person interview to go much deeper quickly. They’ll research to better understand what is unanswered and important to them. Challenge them and should they decide they’re not interested in a personal interview after that, it keeps you from wasting time.

Who needs to be involved?

It’s easy for the hiring manager to fall into the trap that this is just one more thing that someone else can do. However, this short-term gain could turn into that long-term nightmare. This is how many people buy a car, they choose a certain brand and model, head to the lot, take it for what is really a very short test drive, sign the papers, and then they own it.

The key words are “you own it” – just like the hire you just made. It can turn out fantastic, good, or you’re not happy because it’s not what you had hoped. For a bad hire, there can be major ramifications and the hiring manager pays the biggest penalty – ranging from less than expected results to having to replace the new hire. Respect and confidence for the hiring manager could take a hit as well. Investing upfront from day one is critical because you are the best person to evaluate the skills you need and how well they will work with you and your team. You won’t get that from reading a report from whomever you passed the buck down to in order to save you the hassle.

Is Timing important?

Lastly, speed can be very advantageous for you. The ability to make decisions is a positive indicator to an executive candidate that they could actually get things done if they came there. Great candidates may be heads-down like an ostrich and not listening to opportunities, but once they pull their head out and mention it to close friends, other offers seem to spring out of nowhere. While you waste time, others move in swiftly and seize your prize.

Develop a hiring decision timeline from when the candidate hits, to the phone interview, all the way to the offer decision. Make the timeline known and stick to it because they are evaluating you. You can unintentionally send a negative message to the candidate, as well as your team, or show that things get done in an orderly and expeditious fashion.


Know today’s dynamics.  Get fully engaged with your direct hires.  Commit to immediately halting any candidate who doesn’t fit the culture, can’t communicate, or lacks the required skills for the job before you bring them in and waste everyone’s time.  Commit to a timeline – show everyone you’re serious – make it happen and hire the best.

Cendea has over 25 years of securing great talent for great opportunities.  Please feel free to call us at 512.219.6000. Wade Allen, President & CEO, x101, or Jim Bledsoe, Senior Partner, x121.