July 21, 2009

The Phone Doesn’t Stop Ringing…Now What?

By Paul Bieber

Congratulations. You placed the ad for the salesperson, the estimator, or your bookkeeper. You have let the previous person go, and you are in a rush to hire so you don’t have to (OMG!) answer your own phone. To get off the phone you tell each person to mail a resume. Now don’t you feel better that the phone is not ringing, and, by the way, you just made the biggest mistake possible for the month of July.

We talked about the initial contact with glass mechanics and laborers. The guidelines for an office person are 180 degrees the other way. Your professional and admin people will be on the phone more than they will be in-person with your customers. You want to hear how they sound on the phone; how quickly they think and how they respond to questions. Invest ten minutes with each candidate on the phone before inviting them to a face-to-face interview. The initial phone contact really is their first interview with you.

If she/he hem and stammer on the phone, move to the next one. If they are shrill or too aggressive, move on. If they are mousy and can’t keep a conversation going for a minute, move on. If they have poor grammar, or speak with marbles in their mouth, move on.

Here are some specifics that I used. The first thing you should hear is their name and why they are calling. If the candidate is hesitant to give their name, move on. (This may be a competitor or one of your current employees going on a fishing trip to see what you are offering.) The candidate, in the first thirty seconds should make you want to speak with them for another five minutes. Just like the first paragraph of a story, or even a blog, the candidate should want to set the hook. If they do this with you, they have the instinct to do this with a potential or current customer. This is teachable, but if your candidate already has this skill, go for it.

The applicant, after introducing them self, should next tell you, in under a minute, why they are the best person for the job; their experiences, their strong points, where they live in relation to you shop, and little bit about their personal life.

This shows that the applicant has thought about the call in advance; that they are professional in their dealings. Now it is your turn to show them why they should want to work for you! Have your one minute intro to the job down pat…practice it at home or on your drive to work. It should include: your location, the basic hours of the job, the duties of the position, and a little history of your firm.

Your story might sound like this. “We are a general purpose glass shop, located in the Tacoma Park area, looking for a person to work in our showroom from 8:30-5:00, 5 days a week. We’ll ask you to come in one Saturday a month from 8:30 to 1:00, and you will receive a full day’s pay for this half-day. You will take care of our phones, answering customer questions and setting up service calls, as well as dealing with customers that come into the showroom. What we do here is help people with broken glass replacement, or with new construction using energy-efficient and safety glass products.”

That is more than enough for the first part of the phone contact. If your candidate didn’t open with their bio, start your one minute pitch, and when you are done, simply say “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” Let them talk, don’t interrupt. Write a note to ask about this or that at the end of their speaking. There are so many questions you can’t ask, but if the candidate speaks, you can listen. The candidate may answer you with “Well, what do you want to know about me?” Your answer should be “Just tell me about yourself and your business (or estimating, or sales) background.” The key to this is not what they say, as much as how they say it. You will get more specifics about their work history from their resume or a face-to-face.

After you get them to speak, and if they really don’t open up, then you can have a few specific questions that are conversation starters. Here are some examples: “So, what did you do on a daily basis at your last job?” How did you react when a customer called or walked-in and they were really upset?” Their answer can go from, “I talked them through the problem and resolved it,” to “If they were upset, I usually called my supervisor or the owner to handle it.” The second answer is your move on cue. Avoid the standard questions, “What did you like about your last job?” Most people have a pat answer to this one. Instead, ask open ended questions like, “I’m sure you liked your last job, but what would have been the a couple of things you thought could have been even better?” Let them ramble for a minute or so.

So far we haven’t discussed money or benefits. If they bring up money first thing, move on. I have heard this so often…”To save us both some time, how much does this job pay? I want to see if it will work for me.” If they can’t invest five minutes to lay the groundwork for their next career move, then, you know…move on.

After five minutes of conversation, ask them “What other questions can I answer for you?” This is where the pay and benefits should fall in. It is OK to ask about pay, but not just the first thing. Here is a golden tip–if their first question is: “What is the vacation policy?” Move on. Give a ballpark range of the salary. After all, you do want to qualify if they are a candidate. After you give your salary ballpark, ask specifically, “What did you make at your last (current) job?” If they hem and haw, then you will hear a made-up number. If they give you an hourly rate, ask if they received O/T or bonuses. You are looking for a monthly or yearly total to help you with your decision. Ask if they contributed to their cost of benefits, how much? And what the benefits were? This marketplace info is priceless, especially if they are in the glass trade in your area!

You get the idea…spend the time on the phone, eliminating candidates, until someone reaches their full ten minutes, and then invite them in for a face-to-face. You may get fifty phone calls, and invite in five people. A one-in-ten ratio is just fine.

How do you get off the phone? Well, if they are a real candidate, invite them in. Don’t tell them you will call them back when you have your schedule. You have each other on the hook, don’t loose the opportunity. You will find that after they hang up on you, they will call the next ad, and suddenly you will loose a good candidate. Ask them to mail, email or fax their resume so you can review it prior to your meeting. This is solely to see if they have good written communication skills and if they can follow directions. If you are not interested, ask them to send their resume and you will call them once your interviewing schedule is firmed up.

Next week we will discuss how to read and get the most out of the resumes your receive.