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Phone Interview Tips for Superheroes

April 7, 2020

By Stefanie Hoover, CFI

By now your inbox has probably been saturated with tips on how to stay productive while working from home. Most of them may seem fairly obvious, as a work-from-home professional for the past seven years, I still read them looking for new ideas. For my investigator friends, I thought this would be a good time to get out and dust off some pointers for conducting phone interviews. Chances are high that people are still stealing and that you will still have to deal with it—no matter that you are quarantined.

As we all get used to a new normal for the near term, hopefully you’ll get excited about the prospect of phone interviewing, whether you’re a veteran or a rookie at the “art of interviewing” over the phone. Instead of presenting the entire method, here are some boiled down tidbits as a refresher.

First, let’s look at it for what it is—a chance to be a Superhero while still wearing your jammies, sweatpants, or whatever makes you comfy and productive. Especially in this strange time, doesn’t everyone want to picture Batman in a onesie? Batman, just doing his thing remotely, scanning his laptop while Alfred works at least six feet away in the other room, catching bad guys and using the Bat Phone to get confessions. (Yes, I am home bound, and the imagination is starting to kick in).

Tip #1. Make sure your versions of Alfred know they need to be quiet during your phone call. 
Set up something for them to do ahead of time that will take at least two hours. It’s not that you’ll need two hours to do the interview, you’ll need this time to focus on your prep and wrapping up the call. I can vividly remember starting an interview during naptime and having to juggle the mute button while I found something for the dogs to chew on. It’s more than awkward trying to have a business conversation with a dog barking. Oh, and make sure you remember if the mute button is on or not. I’m not naming names, but a customer once heard me telling my dog to sit, and it was pure comedy!

Tip #2. Have all your tools at the ready.
I’m a big fan of phone interviews and this is one of the reasons: you can absolutely be looking at evidence while you’re talking to the subject, they have no idea. Continuity and flow of the conversation is very important during a phone interview. Don’t let yourself get too distracted by looking for documents. Have you ever noticed when someone on the phone with you is looking at their email? They suddenly give vague answers and seem checked out. Same thing for a phone interview but magnified, the subject is listening very intently to what you’re saying so you must be engaged the entire time. No checking Facebook!

Tip #3. Make sure the witness at the other end is fully prepped.
It’s their time to be like your sidekick Robin. Robin was a Superhero too, right? They need to know how this process works and exactly what their role is so they can feel like a Superhero when you’re done. Go through the what-ifs that might come up. “Robin, here’s what you’re going to do if they hang up on me. This is the plan if they won’t sit down and pick up the phone. Here’s the next step if they refuse to talk. Here’s our plan if they won’t write a statement. Here’s the final phase after we get the written statement.” Go through all the scenarios ahead of time and remember, Robin has likely never been a witness to a phone interview before, so this is all new territory.

Tip #4. Have the rest of the Justice League lined up to ready to help. 
Human resources, your boss, and store management, if needed, should be aware of what’s happening (follow your company guidelines). Even though I found that phone interviews were smoother and easier to handle than a face-to-face interview, you never know when something will go sideways. This is not the time to surprise your team. Have your ducks in a row ahead of time and get your business partners briefed so they can make informed decisions quickly. Especially during these stressful days, don’t add to the burden on your team.

Tip #5. Lastly, practice your method ahead of time, including the rationalizations you plan to use. 

I’m pretty sure Batman tries out throwing those little metal bat shaped things before he goes out and uses them. You should practice, too! In a phone interview, it’s important to exude confidence with your voice, as that’s all the interaction you’re going to have with the subject. No body language here. Confidence comes with practice. Use your significant other, who’s probably at home too, as a guinea pig. Get on your phones and do the introductory statement, ask for honest feedback. Or connect with your other homebound loss prevention teammates and practice over the phone. This time in our history is an opportunity to get some training and hone some skills we’ve been too busy to complete. Turn lemons into lemonade people!

We’re going to get through this, I’m hearing great things from many of my retail friends about teams pulling together. Let’s help each other and lift up our communities. We’ll rise above it, just like The Dark Knight Rises, and be back out there fighting crime in person soon enough. Stay healthy Superheroes!