Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Maneuvering the Phone Screen - Laid Off And Looking

Jon Gray was manager of planning and analysis at Xsigo Systems, a San Jose-based technology start-up. He was laid off in November 2008, after almost two years with the company. Previously, Mr. Gray, 34, spent seven years in various finance roles at Symantec Corp., a security software maker. He lives in Los Gatos, Calif.

Jon GrayI find that with all of my job opportunities, the first interview invariably takes place over the phone. There is at least one phone screening conversation, normally with the company’s HR department. Occasionally even two or three phone screens may take place. Here, I’ll share two contrasting experiences I’ve had with phone screens.

The first experience was actually the second screen for the role in question. The first screen, with the company’s recruiter, went well. If the recruiter was any indication, I knew I would fit the company’s culture well. It was the second conversation, with the hiring manager, that I want to focus upon. From the outset the cultural fit once again seemed perfect. We then moved past the pleasantries and on to my background and experience. The manager was an expatriate, and thereby familiar with my M.B.A. program (always a bonus in the US). He liked the tenure of my analytical work and my long experience working across hierarchical and organizational lines. We then dug into my technical capacities. Not being one to fib or exaggerate, I had to be honest with him that my knowledge of one particular discipline that his group used heavily was unfortunately on the lighter side.

When the recruiter later called to inform me that the company wanted to move forward with in-person interviews, I was pleased but somewhat surprised. Not only did I suspect that my technical capacities were potentially light for this role, but I thought I detected some hesitation from him as well. Nevertheless, we did move forward and I proceeded into a series of onsite interviews wherein what seemed like 75% of the lines of inquiry were of a highly technical nature. Frankly, it was a catastrophic round of interviews. I can only hope that we all only ever encounter a round like that once or twice in our careers.

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