It’s very easy to get lost in the fluff with an applicant. I can’t tell you how many times I can’t wait to do a telephone interview with someone because of their resume. As the interview goes on they are not what they appear.

I have had applicants talk to me about specific tools or systems they have used and as I keep asking probing questions they get lost in their own words. Some will tell me about their Microsoft Suite experience by telling me their dad bought them a JR  PC when they were 5. To this day I will never understand what getting a JR PC at age 5 has to do with Microsoft Suite.

Usually I have job specific questions, but I also use several questions that tell me a lot about an applicant without them realizing it. It amazes me everyday as I am screening applicants, the answers I get to these pre-screening questions. 

Best job ever: Lets go from present day all the way back to your first job, even if it was a lemonade stand in your parents yard. Which was your favorite and why?

Biggest weakness: This one makes them think 

Availability: I  hold my breath on this one. A qualified applicant will say 2 weeks after giving notice. Someone just looking for a new opportunity and currently employed will say “I can start in the morning” 

Why do you want to work for us? One of my favorites, specially when they answer “who wouldn’t.”

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We once had a client with a recognizable name, a third of the applications I screened for this client had things like:

My family has been friends with his forever, we grew up just down the street from him so I would be a great fit, you need to hire me.

Why wouldn’t I want to work for someone with a name as big as theirs. I could tell all my friends and family who I am working for.

I would love to see them at the office everyday. Maybe I would even get a new outfit for my first day.

Will they be doing the interviews? If so can I bring my mom? She is a huge fan.

So out of all these screening experiences, I have put together three main tips:

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3. Please, please, please, be honest

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I will always circle back later in the interview and see if key answers match up. When the wrong candidates, 9 times out of 10 they are not even close. If I  revisit a question and get a different answer, that sends up many red flags.

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2. Be polite, but also make sure to show the real you

If you’re filling out an application, always think twice before answering any question. You can complete the application and let it sit for an hour or so, then go back and review your answer to make sure they show the real you before submitting it. If its meant to be it will be.

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Or if you are attending an interview, first of all sound enthusiastic on the phone. When I call an applicant and they make me feel like I am keeping them from something I am pretty sure they are not a great fit. With a telephone interview, tone is so important. Never schedule an interview if you have limited time to give the recruiter. I have called so many people and they tell me right off the bat they have 5 minutes. A typical phone interview should take at least 30 minutes.

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1. It’s all about the relation between you and the job

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Remember an employer asks screening questions for your benefit and theirs. They aren’t looking to hear about how much you love something that has nothing to do with the job opening but why you would be a perfect fit for the job and their company.

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Anyone can look good on paper. It’s their tone, how they answer job specific questions and remembering what they told me earlier what tells the true story. An unqualified applicant will go on about specific qualifications necessary for the opening that has nothing to do with the job or others may get out of topic easily.

Keep these tips in mind when either looking at an applicant or searching for a new job. The more honest, polite and focused you are, the easier things will fall in place and the faster you will know whether it is a match or not.


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Written by Sue Kelly

Sue’s eyes are laser-sharp when it comes to talent and experience. She will spot a perfect fit for your organization no matter how complex the profile you’re looking for. Think of her as the Sherlock to our Watsons.

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