This whole weekend has been a little bit foggy.  I’m still in shock from Friday morning, when something occurred at work that has never happened to me before.  I called an applicant to discuss the resume that he’d sent in…AND THE KID COMPLETELY ACED THE PHONE INTERVIEW! 

I still can’t believe it!  An interview over the phone is much less stressful than dressing up to appear in person before a panel, but so many people always manage to blow it.  Now that I’ve had a couple days to think back and dissect everything, I’d like to share a couple of key points that really helped this guy do so well.  This is so important to you as an applicant, since it’s your main time to shine.  With overseas security contracts, you probably won’t actually meet anyone in person until you’ve accepted the job offer, put your affairs in order, and taken a plane ride.  You’ve got no more than thirty minutes over the phone, and probably a lot less, to convince a recruiter that you’ll be a huge asset to the contract.

First off, and maybe most importantly, this kid’s resume came to my attention through a referral.  Personal referrals bypass the whole online application and vetting database processes, so they’re much more likely to actually get some attention from the hiring manager.  If you can finagle your way to getting a referral through your network, DO IT!  From my perspective as a manager, referrals are great because they act as another layer of protection from jerks.  If someone doesn’t like you, or wouldn’t want to work with you, then they wouldn’t refer you!  And you know, it probably didn’t hurt any that this applicant on Friday had a professionally written resume!

I had a few minutes to spare, so I gave him a call.  He answered the phone immediately and sounded very polite, which gave me the impression that he wasn’t ducking any baby mama drama or hiding from debt collection agencies.  Things like that can kill a security clearance, so I get turned off if I even catch a whiff of that stuff.  Also, I could tell from the background noise that he was driving when I called, but it quickly got quieter and I knew that he had pulled over to give me his undivided attention.  The kid knew immediately which job I was calling to discuss, which told me that he had been paying attention to detail, picking and choosing his applications instead of just flinging his resume out there.

We got to talking and the biggest thing that I picked up on was his great attitude.  Maybe it’s just that I talk to so many people who’ve been out of work for a while, but it seems that no one really gets excited about doing a job anymore.  This kid was more than happy to talk about his past jobs, and was just enthusiastic about working in general.  His career history wasn’t a perfect fit for the position, but there’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to these entry level jobs.  Even before we finished talking, I was mentally writing the interview assessment form, re-wording his past experience to make him the best fit for the job!

Last, the kid waited until I was done, then asked some questions.  Not too many of them, but just enough to show that he had done his homework.  He asked me to clarify some of the listed duties for that work location, which told me that he had either printed out a copy of the requisition or had at least read it through thoroughly.  Also, he asked a couple things about the company’s pay and benefits, which showed me that he had at least took the time to review our website.

The call ran a little longer than usual just because I was having such a good time, and all in all it was a great interview!   Both of us had that “warm fuzzy” feeling when we hung up, and I knew that I’d gotten lucky with a great candidate for the job.  Now I realize that I’ve only been in “management” for a couple years now, but that was far and away the best telephone interview I’ve ever had.  But right about now you’re probably asking, “If the guy’s so great, why didn’t he get the job???”

Well quite simply, there was no job to give!  Like most other managers or recruiters, I’ve got to get my slots filled ASAP.  My company’s policy requires me to keep requisitions open for 7 days to allow for qualified candidates to find the job and apply to it, but on day 8 I’m hiring someone and moving on.  In this case, I had already filled the vacant position just a few hours before this referral came in!  But here’s the thing:  when I called the kid, I was up front about the facts.  I told him that the job had been filled, and that any consideration would be for future vacancies or in case the first applicant fell through.  Turns out that’s just fine with him, since he’s currently working a short-term project and can afford to wait around for a few months for a full-time job.

I’m sure the guy would’ve been happier with an immediate job offer to get his foot in the door, but at least he managed to jam one of his toes in there with a solid future prospect and one more valuable contact added to his network.  Sometimes in the rush of searching for immediate employment, it’s easy to forget that building your career is a long-term investment.  Never stop gaining new skills, never stop looking to expand your network, and ALWAYS act like a professional.  Give it time, and you’ll be amazed at the results…