The most important call when you are interviewing for a job is the first call. Many candidates hurt their chances on the first call since they don't have a simple strategy nor do they approach the interview with the right mindset. The candidates are simply not prepared to take the first call to determine whether they are getting the job or not.
Why First Call is So Important
I know many will say that you have to meet with the employer face-to-face to get the job. I completely disagree. I have helped startups close complex million dollar deals with Fortune 500 companies without ever meeting anyone from the company face-to-face. I simply don't agree with this.
I think if the employer is inviting you for a face to face interview, then they should only do it to sell you the job and make sure you are indeed interested. If they are not ready to hire you, then they should not invite you for a face-to-face interview. And if they are not in that mode, then I would not accept the interview till I have some certainty. Any way I will let you make this call, but I have rarely ever been wrong when someone didn't handle the first call well. I know this since I have been----as many of you have been through this---a victim of this many times over the years.
According to the research done by Rachel Frieder, Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University, she found that most hiring decisions are usually made during the first interview, though not necessarily in the first minute that many believe. The Research Digest blog adds, regarding Frieder's research, that "Although the interviewers certainly reported making some snap decisions (4.9 per cent of decisions were made within one minute; about 30 per cent within 5 minutes), the vast majority (69.9 per cent) occurred after five minutes or longer. This includes 17.7 per cent of decisions made after 15 minutes and 22.5 per cent made after the interview had ended."
What Should You Do
My advice is not to take this first call unless you have a simple strategy and a stopping rule, otherwise your chances are not only low to none, but you will end up spending a lot of time and effort chasing a job that you shouldn't have pursued after the first call. You have to be very attuned to the right signals that you are getting on the first call since after the first call it gets more difficult since you have expended too much time and effort in the interview process.
I approach the first call with the mindset that since the company is interviewing so many people, it is better to start with a "no" mindset. There is very little chance of getting a job offer until you get your first solid "no." Without that first no, you are completely flying blind. It is possible that you may still get the job since as they say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. But you don't want luck to get you a job since you will eventually run out of luck like an amateur poker player. When you are looking for a job, you are a fish among sharks. You need something more than just luck to guide you. You need a strategy to navigate through the "no's."
Overall Objective of the First Call
Before you have a strategy, you need an overall objective. Your overall objective for the first call should be very simple: Are you getting the job offer? This will guide you on how well your beginning, middle and ending supports your overall obejctve.
But how do you determine this?
Before I write about how to handle the first call, there is quite a bit of research that supports having a stopping rule. In the book, "Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World" by Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, they write about something called a stopping rule that "provides guidance on the decision to call it quits."
We all know about the stopping rule at casinos at a blackjack table. The dealer has to stop at 17 or above without going over. This stopping rule makes casinos boat load of money and the dealer does not even have to take any risks or even think.
Another good example is that of Gerald Loeb during the 1929 stock market crash. He was one of a handful of bankers who didn't get wiped out in the crash.
He followed a simple rule that if an investment drops 10%, it's time to sell. The stopping rule saved him when the market crashed. Other bankers were not so luck as they got wiped out.
Many of us think that things will eventually turn around, but Loeb's view was that it is more likely that things will not turn around quickly if ever. In the book, the authors quote him saying, "The most important single thing I learned is that accepting losses promptly is the first key to success.” Now this is the rule you go with, but you have the option to override it on occasion based on your gut feeling.
Stopping rule saved Loeb from misery. Similarly, having a stopping rule can also save you a lot of time and effort when you are interviewing for a job. If you don't follow your simple stopping rule, you are probably going to regret it later.
How to Apply the Stopping rule on the First Call
As I said, your overall objective is to determine whether you are going to get the job offer. The company is also trying to determine whether they are hiring you on the first call. Remember there are only three types of candidates for a job: ideal candidate, a sucker candidate or non-candidate. No matter what the companies say, if you didn't get the job, you were a sucker candidate. A sucker candidate is the last person to know that he is not getting the job. My objective is to make sure you don't meet this fate that I have many times. I want you to be able to determine on the first call whether you are an ideal candidate and what to do when you are not the ideal candidate.
One thing that candidates do not do well on the first call is to come to a common agreement on whether to proceed and how to proceed. Without an agreement, you could end up wasting a lot of time that could easily have been avoided. The first thing you have to negotiate is how the first call is conducted.
Note, what I am presenting is not just for getting a job on the first call; it applies to other things too such as sale, securing funding and even getting a date. But my focus here is on help you understand my rules so you can either tweak them or create your own that you are comfortable with.
Here is the simple strategy that I use that you may find useful. You need an opening, middle and closing.
Also, you don't want the first call to last any longer than 30 minutes. You can always do a follow-up call if there is a mutual interest and you want to give one more shot to close the gap of being an ideal candidate.
You have to do this up front since it is key to your finding out whether you are a fit or not. The first question you have to ask the interviewer using three words in order of importance to describe their ideal candidate. You must ask this question right up front.
First, no one ever asks this question to an interviewer; you want to keep it simple with no more than three words.
Second, it will tell you what their top employee looks like.
Third, it allows you to use the 60/30/10 formula where you want to put most of the weight on the first two words during the rest of the interview.
Beginning Objective: To get the interviewer to tell you the profile of a candidate that they are looking to hire. If you are the candidate then ask for the job at the end.
During the middle of the call, you want to focus on only two things: problem and solution. You must know what the problem is and get it validated that you understand the problem. Next, you must find out how they are planning to solve the problem and whether you can help them execute it well based on your education, experience, and knowledge. You don't want to go into anything else beyond these two so you are focused and will give you sufficient information to assess the fit.
Middle Objective: To understand the problem definition and the solution and show you can execute to generate outcomes.
You have to ask the three words that the interviewer would use to describe you in order of importance based on the employer is looking at your resume and talking to you. Some don't like being rejected, so they are afraid to ask this question. My advice is that it is better to be rejected upfront then waste time and get rejected later.
Assuming that you are the ideal candidate, then you have to validate your value and bring up the compensation. I do not buy the conventional advice from HR experts that you should never bring up salary on the first call. Only sucker candidates do this. You are an ideal candidate and you must act fast to close the deal right on the first call. Granted that the employer may want you to talk to others but only agree if the hiring manager is on board to champion you. If you are dealing with a low level type then do not waste time and make it short and arrange a meeting with the hiring manager.
Ending Objective: To get the interviewer to tell you whether you are getting the job or not.
What Should Your Mindset be Before the Interview
My simple rules may come across as rather harsh, but interviewing for a job is not kids play.Employers are not transparent on where they are on hiring. Many are not even hiring, but are playing a game of power. Many will never fill the position since they never found the perfect candidate.
You have to know what you are dealing with. You did not make the rules; you are just mastering them. Look, if you are not ready to change the game, then you will be a sucker candidate that will be jerked around for days and weeks and end up getting nothing. I have gone through this when companies never called me back after the interview. I don't want you to go through my bad experience with companies, including Fortune 500 companies.
Since this is the first call, so first impression are extremely important. It is hard to overcome your first impression of the company and their impression of you. The reason for this is that we are cognitive misers, meaning that we are not going to expend too much brain power to make sense. In your case, the interviewer is not going to try to figure out the real you. He will go with his first impression and then justify the decision with observation and evidence. There is nothing you can do about this.
What if you are the ideal candidate?
Note, if the top two words are similar or identical as the ones used for the ideal candidate then that is an excellent sign, and you should schedule a follow-up call and try to close the deal. But until an offer is made, you have to keep qualifying whether you are still the ideal candidate just in case the interviewer does not want to reject you early. You might be saying that this is a game, and you would be right. Getting a job has become a big game that you have to master.
What if the interviewer says that all the words have equal weight?
This is not how life works. When things are all equal, you don't interview, you hire using ping-pong balls to see which one pops up. I have yet to see companies hire like that so don't fall for this bogus excuse.
What if you are not the ideal candidate?
If you are not the ideal candidate then be open to exploring further on a follow-up call. You don't want to be the one to say that it is not a good fit on the first call. You at least need one more call to close the gap if being the ideal candidate. If you are not able to close the gap, then you are probably not going to be a good fit and should end it. To end the interview process is the call you have to make based on your unique situation and information you have, but it helps to have a simple rule to guide your decision.
There are only three simple rules that you need to follow to determine whether you are getting the job offer.. You have to pass on all three otherwise it should be a no-go. Remember interview is not to go for a test, find a date, or make friends. You have to focus on getting the offer. Until the offer is in your hand, then only you can decide whether you want to do the job. It is very important you don't mix these two up and pass the following test:
You have to pass the three words test.
You have to pass the problem/solution test.
You have to pass the value test.
The last one is how much value are you bringing to the employer. If you are bringing value then you should be able to get a salary that is above competitive. Also you are saving the employer a lot of money, time and effort to keep on interviewing. You have to know the salary before you bring it up since you don't want to be way off base on this, since it can hurt your credibility. You want to be confident but not arrogant. And you definitely don't want to lose your composure.
Lastly, to pull this off like a pro, you must rehearse this since you definitely don't want to come across like an amateur. No matter what, you do not want to be a sucker candidate. Become a non-candidate and let the employer keep on looking for their ideal canidate.
Could you use this approach for other situations?
Though I have focused this blog on getting a job, but you can use it for any situations since the first call or a first interaction is like being in a Super Bowl. You get one shot to win. If you don't then you have to make changes and try next year. And we all know how tough it is to make it to Super Bowl every year.