Initial Interview (phone)

A phone interview is a second step in the recruitment process. Once you receive a call from an interviewer, this means that you resume has already passed the initial screening (aka paper screening), you partially meet the need for the job post, and what is left now is to get a glimpse your language skill.

Once you have submitted a résumé online (or left it at the office receptionist), it is best to assume that you will receive a phone call. Be ready.

An initial interview over the phone is short, mostly less than 5 minutes. For this reason an applicant is under extreme pressure to make a positive impression.

Questions may vary, but the most basic are:

  1. Tell me something about yourself?
  2. Why do you want to work in a call center?
  3. What is customer service to you?
  4. How do you understand the call center industry?
  5. Tell me about your work experience?

The recruiter may also ask you to read from a newspaper or a book, or he may ask you a random question geared towards testing ability to think quickly.

The secret to passing an initial interview is to prepare for it. That is, you need to research about the company you are applying for and have a general knowledge of the job you are applying for (this information is usually found on the job ad). This is due diligence, and is often necessary; you do not want to answer “I don’t know” or “I have no idea” when the recruiter asks  “What do you know about our company?”

Despite the required preparation,  do not sound as if you are reading from a script. When a recruiter detects  a rehearsed response, he will challenge you by asking an out of this world question (aka WTF question).

Remember what I mentioned at the beginning of this article: when you send a résumé online, it is best to assume you will receive a call from a recruiter, therefore, answer professionally . “Hi, this is Seven, may I know who’s calling?” sounds better than “Heloh, sino toh? Bakit ka tumatawag?

When the call comes in, DROP WHATEVER IT IS THAT YOU ARE DOING. If you cannot hear the recruiter due to background noise on his or your side, say so, then call him back. You may not get a chance to talk to him again if you don’t.  As a general rule, get a commitment that either you or him will call back at very specific time. If you are unable to take his call (say, you are in the middle of an emergency), simply apologize and thank the recruiter,

When you are able to take the call:

  • find a quiet corner
  • clear your mind
  • LISTEN carefully
  • speak clearly
  • if the recruiter speaks too fast, politely ask him to slow down
  • if you did not understand what he said, ask a clarifying question and confirm understanding (“The line was garbled, you were asking me if… I correct?” In call center practice, this is called paraphrasing or re-stating the concern and is an effective tool when dealing with a hard to understand customer.
  • Speak in English from beginning to end. Observe proper grammar, pronunciation, diction, and intonation.
  • If a question is difficult and you are not ready, take a moment to think, use the re-state technique. The few seconds of re-stating gives you the much-needed time to think about the answer.
  • Always have a ready reading material (in English) nearby.
  • Never fake an accent. Gone are the days when call centers are looking for someone with an American accent (there is no such thing by the way), most call centers are looking for someone with a “neutral accent” (trainable).

Remember that in an initial interview, the aim is to SELL YOURSELF, therefore, all your responses should be crafted in such a way that it will allow you to exhibit your skills, talents, and experiences.

If you pass  the initial interview, the recruiter is going to invite you for further testing. DO NOT GIVE A FALSE COMMITMENT. You might be blacklisted.  If you are not available on his proposed schedule, negotiate for the next viable one. If you cannot make it, call or SMS the recruiter and ask to be rescheduled at least two to three hours before your appointment. Below is a suggested format:

Hi. This is Seven. I was interviewed by (name of recruiter) last (date of interview) for the (name of the post), I’m scheduled to take the test on (date and time), sadly, I cannot make it due to (reason). May I ask to be rescheduled?

The details provided above makes it easier for the recruiter to find your résumé and reschedule you. Professionalism dictates that if you have a change of heart or will no longer be available for testing, tell the recruiter to either put you in active file (if you still plan to apply in the future) or that you are no longer interested.

You will know if you have failed the initial interview, he will just use the generic line “Allow us 24 to 48 hours to evaluate application, and if you are qualified for the post, you will hear from us.” This is an automatic sign that you have failed the interview and should move on (Remember what I said before, if you passed, you will be invited for further testing.)

Always save the number of the recruiter.  If you are en route to the recruitment office and are lost, you can always call or SMS the recruiter for help/direction.

When the interview ends, pass or fail, do not forget to thank the recruiter for calling and interviewing you, this is being professional and matured. Also, don’t hesitate to ask questions or clarifications (specifically about directions to the recruitment office), there is nothing wrong with being thorough.

Good luck on your application.

Comment below if you have any questions.

One Day Recruitment Process – what you need to know?

Think about this scenario: you just lost your job (or is about to), bills are piling up, your family member needs medicine or an HMO coverage ASAP, and money is thin. You scan the newspaper, visited an online job site and found a few companies who dangles the following on their ads:

  1. Salary
  2. Sign in Bonus
  3. Weekend Rest Day
  4. Day shift
  5. One Day recruitment Process

It sparks your interest, you prepare your résumé and start planning around what you read, that if it is a one day process, you’d be able to get a job in a day or two, worst case scenario, a week. So you set out to apply and as your wait for your interview, minutes turn to hours, and the next thing you know, your final interview is scheduled a week or  two later. ‘Anyare sa One Day Process? Nakaka-inis diba?

What is One Day Recruitment Process?

Two things:

  1. It is an efficiency program that allows the recruitment department to process candidates  in the shortest time possible.
  2. It is a marketing maneuver for attracting more applicants who are desperate to get a job ASAP.

As far as process is concerned, recruiters are required to follow the recruitment flow, that is:

  1. Paper or online screening.
  2. Initial interview (phone or face to face)
  3. Testing/Call Simulation
  4. Final Interview
  5. Job Offer

Some companies follow a time limit for each step. For example, a phone or face to face initial interview should not be longer than five minutes (some recruiters are so good they already made the decision to fail or pass you within 30 seconds). Testing should be anywhere between 30 to 50 minutes. Finally, the final interview should be within 20 to 30 minutes. This allows the company to stick to the “one day processing” guideline.

Why does the processing time change?

Although structured, the recruitment process is not a perfect science. It is affected by a lot of factors which could lengthen (or shorten) the processing time. What are some of these factors?

  • You are blacklisted (shortens the time)
  • One or two recruiters called in sick.
  • There is an overflow of applicants (more than what the recruiters can handle, especially during the peak season – After the release of the 13th month pay, after graduation, or after the release of a major newspaper ad, during a very popular job fair)
  • During the interview, the recruiter wanted to fail you but saw that you are trainable and may endorse you for another interview (so you need to wait, again).
  • The recruitment department holds an urgent meeting (this happens a lot).
  • You were scheduled for an interview, unfortunately, the interviewer from operations is out of the country/in a meeting/has a death in the family/insert reason here, so you need to be re-scheduled.
  • The account you are being evaluated or applying for has a far off start date, is not hiring, or is just pooling for candidates.
  • The waiting game is a part of the recruitment process.

As an applicant, there are several things we need to remember:

  1. Do not expect to be processed in one day. Remember, expectation leads to frustration. Frustration shows your impatience. Impatience is seen by recruiters.
  2. Bring food (sandwiches, juice, chips, and gum to freshen your breath). If you need to find a restaurant for a full meal, tell your recruiter. Keep your breaks short during the waiting time – you do want to be there when the recruiter finally calls your name.
  3. Do not plan to visit several companies in one day, unless you have a succession of failures (in which case you need to ask yourself why).
  4. Be patient every time, all the time. Always remember that you are being watched – by the CCTV, the recruiters, other applicants, and the receptionist (she is a spy, you know).
  5. If (and only if) you pass the initial interview, ask the recruiter what the next steps are and how long each step will be. Also, ask if there is a possibility that you will need to stay beyond 5PM (this way you can make plans for food, transportation, etc)
  6. Spend time chatting with other applicants who’ve already been through the process, this way, you can understand how easy (or hard) the rest of the steps are and you can mentally and psychologically prepare for them.

It’s true that the line “one day processing” can often be misleading. However, knowing how the process works and what factors should be considered will arm us with more than enough patience as we go through the recruitment process. Finally, I have always believed that we need to keep our expectations in check. My experience has taught me that just because someone is not meeting my expectation doesn’t mean he or she is doing a poor job.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to message me.


Call Center Initial Interview, what do they measure?

This was originally posted on 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?