Call Center Initial Interview, what do they measure?


This was originally posted on http://www.pinoyexchange.com by etogostocu; he needed help with initial interviews with the following questions:

Tell something about yourself that is not in your resume
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Why choose us among others (“company name”)
Why do you want to leave your company?

He added “honestly, bagsak ako lagi sa call center pag initial interview (although naga-apply ako para sa non voice) sinasabi sakin ng interviewer, di daw ako pumasa sa assessment nila ng English chuchu, di daw modulated boses ko…bagito ako sa interview.”

This was my initial reply to him (posted on the same site):

You remind me of myself 9 years ago.

From a recruiter’s POV:

The purpose of the initial interview is to measure your communication skills, that is, diction, intonation, pronunciation, grammar, your ability to comprehend, and the level of your confidence. A good English-speaking skill is your “foot in the door”.

Although you are applying in a non-voice environment, your grammar is being measured – it gives the interviewer an idea of how you will write – especially if the account requires you to.

There are other factors here, like how did you respond to the questions you posted above? The contents of your response, sans the issue of grammar, pronunciation, etc, will determine your failure (or success).

With your indulgence, I would like you tell us how you answered the questions above, this will give us an idea and give you a better suggestion. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, grammar or otherwise, this is the perfect time for that as it will allow all of us give you constructive input.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t replied since.

Here is a more detailed reply:

Contrary to what most applicants think, an initial interview is not the first part of the application process, generally, it is the second (resume screening being the first). There are two kinds – a face to face interview, mostly done for walk-in applicants; and a phone interview, done by recruiters after receiving and screening resumes sent via email or a job hunting portal (Jobstreet, JobsDB, etc).

In the call center setting, the goal of an initial interview is to get a measurement of your communication skills in terms of grammar, pronunciation, accent, diction, spontaneity, and some other details required by the client. Too, it gives the recruiter an idea of your overall attitude and behavior towards work. In some cases, after they have reviewed your resume, they will ask work history related questions, especially if the timeline is dubious, or several companies with short tenure. This is why I mentioned in the previous posts that a good comm. skill is your “foot in the door.”
The decision of a recruiter to pass or fail an applicant largely depends on the client requirement. However, generally, they majority of recruiters will base it on the following:

1. Your overall presence. If you come off too strong or too weak, the recruiter will take a mental note of his first impression of you – this will be validated during the interview. The best recourse is to watch your manners when you walk in the door, when you sit, when you speak, when you offer a handshake, or even when you leave after the interview. One tip: be professional.

2. Your accent and pronunciation. Recruiters are trained to detect even the slightest mispronunciation. In my experience, I do not look for someone who speaks like an American or for anyone who has a twang (that actually turns me off, especially if it’s fake). What I look for is somebody who has a neutral accent and neutral/trainable pronunciation – meaning, someone who does not have a strong provincial accent. I also watch out for notable pronunciation pitfalls in the areas of TH, long e, short I, p/f, b/v, vowels, etc. (these are just examples, there are more).

How do I define “trainable”? He is an applicant who makes the occasional (not frequent and definitely not consistent) mistake, but is aware of it so he self-corrects. His accent may have a provincial “hint”, but passable when endorsed to the accent neutralization training. A recruiter always thinks “if I give this person a chance, will he survive the language/accent neutralization training?”

A neutral accent is desired by most of the BPO and call center clients because they are easily understood by their customers.

3. You grammar and diction. Some applicants defend that being able to communicate is more than enough, meaning, so long as I can speak, it shouldn’t matter if my grammar is defective, “kasi nasasabi ko naman ang gusto kong sabihin” to quote an applicant who got upset after I failed her due to bad grammar and poor diction. This mindset is wrong. Correct grammar usage, whether you like it or not, is an integral part of a call center agent’s work, especially if you want to be easily and correctly  understood.

Being a veteran of the call center industry, I have seen and heard of several situations where a simple call became escalated or has resulted to a negative CSAT score (customer satisfaction) simply because the rep failed to say it right, chose the wrong word, or simply placed a wrong accent on the wrong syllable. This is why grammar and diction is very important, and recruiters are wary if an applicant displays grammatical errors and poor diction. An applicant who displays excellent pronunciation but has a bad grammar will always fail. However, some grammatical error may be tagged as “passable”, especially if the error does not impact the overall message being conveyed.

4. Your level of comprehension. In the call center industry, where most of the work done is talking to customers, here comprehension is a huge issue. One can never provide an effective solution to a problem if he or she fails to comprehend the real message behind the rant. A lot of customers beat around the bush and will oftentimes just give you the symptom/s instead of the real problems, it is up to the CSR to figure it out, re-state the issue, and get a confirmation from the customer if the issue is correctly understood.
Here is an example of an applicant with poor comprehension issue:
Interviewer: You mentioned that you are still in school? What year are you in right now?
Applicant: Oh I’m just here in the house.
Interviewer: No, I asked what year you’re in.
Applicant: Oh year? I’m 25 years old.
Interviewer: (writes down) not qualified.

5. Content of your response. A lot of applicants, perhaps because of nervousness or sheer lack of knowledge about what is being measured during an initial interview, tend to take the question at face value and provide an “as Is” response. The end result is an incomplete, shallow, and therefore unconvincing answers to questions asked.
In a separate blog, I mentioned that an applicant needs to analyze the question, find out what the bottom line is, and end his response with a “value statement”.
Here is a good example:
Question: What is your edge of the other applicants outside?
“Being a fresh graduate, I would say that my edge over the other applicants outside is my above average GPA. I studied everyday so the lessons would remain fresh in my mind and I actively participated in classroom discussion. Moreover, I pioneered several student programs, engaged in a dialogue with school officials to improve the health and welfare of my fellow students, and I was the editor-in-chief of the college paper…etc”

Here is a (very) bad example:
Interviewer: What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?
Applicant: “Tequila and Chinita girls????”
Interviewer: (writes down) not qualified.

Remember this: While it is true that the purpose of the initial interview is to gauge a job hunter’s comm. skill, it is also true that majority of the questions offer him/her a perfect chance to sell him/herself. Therefore, this is where the “value statement” comes in handy. If you look at the above (good) response, the interviewee did not give a vague or a general description of his edge over the other applicants, he cited examples and he said it with confidence – he is “selling” himself and to the interviewer. His response can be interpreted as “the applicant is an achiever, has a sense of commitment, initiative, and involvement.”

Next: Is there a secret to passing an initial interview?

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