Live Hard, Sell Hard: When Phone Screenings Go Wrong

Some months ago, I was phone screened for a Senior Recruiter role with a Fortune 500 retail company. During the phone screening, which lasted 75 minutes, I talked for roughly 10-12 minutes. Instead of digging deeper into the responsibilities of the role I applied for, the Recruiter spent most of our shared time selling me on why I would want to work at this company. To say the Recruiter was singing the praises of the company would be an understatement. The irony is that this brand is internationally known and respected, and has long been a company I have supported and admired, hence: hard sell not needed.


While I totally appreciated the screening Recruiter's passion for the brand, I wondered why one would spend so much time hard selling a candidate during a preliminary phone screening, especially at a time when Recruiters lament about candidate volume being so high and hours in the day being so few. The Recruiter went into depth about benefits, stock options, time off, the whole nine. It struck me as odd to be that in-depth with a first round candidate (who, for the record, didn't even make it to round two).  At the end of the call, I knew far more about the company than the Recruiter did about my skill set and abilities.

What made this particular call even more peculiar is that the screening Recruiter seemed to be reading from a "script" (and a lengthy one at that). When I began recruiting clinical dietitians, I had no knowledge of the field, so I kept a short list of company details and industry terminology handy so I could confidently cover all bases during phone screenings. In fact, to this day, I rely heavily on my handwritten notes from the hiring manager intake meeting when conducting screenings. Even though I, too, am working from a 'script' of sorts, I try to keep it conversational and not robotic. Perhaps it all comes down to a difference in recruiting styles.

Nevertheless, the screening Recruiter's borderline braggadocious sales approach made for an interesting glimpse into the company. Instead of bolstering the idyllic image I had long held in my mind, the hard sell worked to unravel the previously solid image I held of the organization. I shared my commentary with a former colleague who, ironically, had also been phone screened by the same Recruiter. We shared the exact same impressions of the call. Adding yet another layer of irony is the fact that my colleague and I were actually in one of the retailer's locations when we learned we'd both spoken with the same Recruiter for the same position. Go figure.

My Takeaways: Act Like a Recruiter, Think Like a Candidate

Having had the rare opportunity to experience life as a candidate in 2012 has given me valuable insights that I am committed to using as I improve my approach as a Recruiter.

My lesson learned from this call was to make sure that as a Recruiter, I'm doing more listening than talking. My typical phone screening is less than 30 minutes, and I try to keep my schpeel to about one-third of those minutes. It seems counterproductive to have a candidate on the phone for over an hour and know nothing more about their skill set than what was presented on their resume. 

Additionally, while directing a candidate to the website to explore benefits at-a-glance is perfectly appropriate, talking about benefits in detail during the initial phone screening can give the candidate a false sense of their potential for moving forward in the process.

For More on Talking Too Much (TTM):

Marie Larsen lists not listening enough is one of the worst recruiter habits, Tim Spagnola sparks a lively conversation about TTM in this RecruitingBlogs discussion thread, and Grammy Award winning group Run DMC even wrote a song about it.


Maisha Cannon is a Senior Recruiter and Researcher committed to introducing employers to talent that will enhance and grow their businesses. Over the span of her 15 year career in Human Resources, Maisha has filled over 1,000 positions, and has coached hundreds of candidates on resume writing, interviewing skills, and career planning. She spends her free time blogging, engrossed in social media, and singing along to the thousands of songs in her iPod.

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Comment by Christopher Perez on July 9, 2012 at 11:58am

Reminds me of the old joke about the self-absorbed guy on a first date. When he finally took a breath, it was to say: "But enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?"

Good topic, Maisha.

Comment by Maisha Cannon on July 9, 2012 at 2:58pm


I'm laughing out loud at your comment. I've never heard that joke, but I love it. What a riot. Glad you enjoyed. Thanks for reading and responding.


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