Enhancing Your Phone Interview with Darrian Mikell

Darrian Mikell is the Co-Founder and CEO of Qualifi, a SaaS platform that powers the fastest phone interview experience in the world and helps recruiting teams hire great candidates 7x faster.

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Fletcher: Hey, I'd like to welcome everybody to the Hire Talent Podcast, hiring strategies for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. And today I've got a really cool guest, he covers a topic I love to death here, but it's Darrian Mikell. How do you do a thousand interviews a month? And maybe we're exaggerating, well I don't think he is, but when you got to do a ton of interviews, you got to have a better way that is effective, right? And so Darrian's got a company who's figured that out. So Darrian, tell us about how you got into the hiring space and about the company that you've got now.

Darrian Mikell: Yeah, no for sure, yeah. I think a lot of people... And I'd love to dig into more on your background too because I imagine it probably has some similarities in our back story. But I didn't start off in recruiting, my background is in finance and entrepreneurship. I love ideas, love starting things. And Qualifi was born out of a personal pain point that I experienced during my last company that I was at...

... So I was at another startup company before this, called Viral Launch, and we were kind of on a rocket ship. We were, no pun intended, we were very astronaut themed, but we were an e-commerce company helping third party retailers launch and grow their businesses on Amazon. So we were in a good place at a right time with everything that's happening in e-commerce. And for me, the founder was a friend of mine and he asked me to be his employee number one and help him build and grow the company. And so what that looked for me was running the internal operations of the team, especially as we started to scale. So we went from he and I to over 70 people on the team. And my job, like I said, was managing all the internal stuff start up companies have.

Fletcher:

Hiring fell on your plate I take it.

Darrian Mikell:

Yes, 100%. Everyone in a startup wears a ton of hats and I always joke that... Everyone has different perspectives, I felt like at the time I was wearing maybe the most hats. And yeah, one of those was leading HR and talent, at least for our first 40 or so hires before we brought on a director of talent that took over from there.

Fletcher:

So tell us about how Qualifi was born out of this madness of growing like a weed or launching like a rocket ship.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. There's a few different pieces to it. So yeah, obviously just the chaos of a startup company and me juggling a bunch of different responsibilities that lended itself to. Just trying to figure out ways to scale myself and, and allow myself to do more and be more efficient. I found the specific step that Qualifi solves in the hiring process is the phone interview. And I found at that time, that step to be particularly cumbersome, despite what people might think on the surface, it's pretty straightforward, 30 minute conversations are pretty quick. But when you're doing it with multiple candidates for multiple positions, it really starts to add up. And so that's what it felt for me.

And that was also really repetitive. So just asking what seemed like the same scripted questions over and over again, I try to be pretty consistent in my approach, and I was like, "Well, if I'm saying the same things over and over again, if I can just record it it would be a lot more convenient for candidates to respond at their own convenience."

The other piece to that was I had a 45 minute commute to work every day. I believe you live in LA, for me in Indianapolis, that's a decent commute. I was like, "I can probably knock out a few interviews just on the way back and forth to work every day." And so that's where the idea started.

Fletcher:

Hopefully without getting in a car accident.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, yeah. So no, that's where the idea started.

Fletcher:

So I love that. So speaking of a guy, I've done 10,000 interviews and more, and counting. A lot of those first interviews. And I used to do, probably even up to six years ago, I would probably be doing anywhere up to 12 interviews a day. And a half an hour a piece, that's six hours a day. Yeah. and then another six hours of doing something else probably, right?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. And you probably had a bunch of other stuff that was on your plate as well at the same time. I have to imagine.

Fletcher:

Yeah, yeah. And I use the same script every single time. I still use that same script today in multiple versions of interviews. So what was the script that you came up with that you were using? Your recommended script, your ideal, catch all script that you might use in this, even the scripted interview, how did that... Well first, okay, what was your script? And then I want to understand how you evolved that to your phone interview thing.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. No, I have to dig back on it. We still recommend it for a similar framework from then and I can't take any credit for it. I was a rookie at the time. A lot of startup founders and startup people, they're figuring things out on the fly.

Fletcher:

So who gave you the script?

Darrian Mikell:

I Googled it.

Fletcher:

You just Googled it? Yeah.

Darrian Mikell:

I'm not ashamed to-

Fletcher:

You just borrowed it from Google.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. And so I went through a number of... I was actually pretty intentional about how I wanted to approach it, so I did do a decent amount of searching to figure it. And there's this one , I don't know if you have show notes that we can leave it in, like I said, it's similar to what I still recommend today. But it's the seven phone interview questions that... I forget the exact title, but it's seven questions that you need to ask at the phone interview stage. A decent amount of it is logistical, so in terms of what they're expecting, in terms of wages and things of that nature, when's their start availability, when's their availability for a follow-up interview. But what interested them in the company in the first place, that's a very high level one to start to suss out.

Fletcher:

What do you look for in somebody's response there?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, just intentionality. And a lot of people, especially if you got that candidate through an application, sometimes depending on the source, people are just applying to random jobs. So you want to know that they're actually interested in the company and interested in the specific role and they didn't just spray and pray.

Fletcher:

Well, if you invite them for a phone interview, whether they're spraying and praying or anything, at least if you've invited them for a phone interview, you'd think they would take three minutes to look at your company website and something, right?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, yeah. I'm not expecting a full, deep dive, full diligence, but at least that after being interested, that you do in fact have interest in working for the company, that it's not just the title that you saw and they're like, "Cool, this fits the description." So that's one pretty surface level one that's... And for a lot of the clients that we work with, the idea for them is we help high volume recruiters. So it's going from the hundreds to the tens or less that they're screening. So helping them to really filter that list down.

Fletcher:

So if you're going to do an automated phone interview, what would be some of the more impactful interview questions that you would recommend somebody asking a candidate?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, no, those are key ones that I started with. We see people asking anywhere from... I recommend to keep it, not as short as possible, but focused on the key things that you need to know at this point in the process in order to really qualify the candidate and make sure that they're the most qualified to move on and spend the most time with, that's the idea for us.

So in terms of questions, there's logistical ones, but then also sussing out whether or not they are going to be potentially a quality fit in terms of their role and experience that they have at that position. And also cultural, not necessarily cultural fit type questions, but how they might adapt into the organization. And so just getting engaged on those. So like I said, my interview questions are around seven, which I typically recommend seven to ten questions. We've seen people ask upwards of 15, but really some of those things can be reserved for your in-depth interviews in the next stage. And so, yeah.

Fletcher:

So if you've got a hundred phone interviews that are prerecorded, how do you screen those?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, yeah. No, so the format, the way it works, it's a one-way facing interview. The recruiters are able to record their own questions directly into Qualifi, so they use their own voice. We do have what we call Qualifi questions, which are prebuilt and preloaded into the platform when you first log in. But typically recruiters are going in there, they have their own scripts that they've been using before us and so we just help them format those questions to the platform. But yes, their voice, it's very personal in that regards. They can create a question bank and then click to add questions to create an interview. And then from there, they send out these invites to candidates.

The candidates are able to actually take these over the phone. So that's one of the unique things about Qualifi versus other, typically video interviewing platforms, is that it's actually done over a standard phone call. It's very easy to-

Fletcher:

Dial in?

Darrian Mikell:

It's actually, you'll get the invitation, you'll click a link to read instructions, in those instructions you can enter your phone number or your phone numbers already programmed in, and then you hit start, and then our system calls your phone. So you pick up, and answer, and navigate through the questions in that way. It's very easy, just like having a [inaudible 00:10:23].

Fletcher:

So how does the recruiter process all the information?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. So the recruiter then, as soon as the candidate gets done, the recruiter gets a notification. They can jump straight to that interview. And the way that they process it is we record the audio, we also automatically transcribe the responses so they can skim through, but more often they're listening to the responses. And the way it's structured in the playback is they can listen to the entirety of the interview. Again, only the response because they don't have to listen to their self talk anymore, so it eliminates half of the conversation, but then they can also jump to specific points in the interview. So maybe they are really strict on what their compensation requirements are, if that's a question they ask, they can jump straight to that question.

Fletcher:

Or they can read it in the transcript, disqualify, move on to the next candidate.

Darrian Mikell:

Exactly. Yeah. Because the unfortunate reality is... You've done 10,000 interviews I know, and in that mix, there's been probably more than a few where you knew early, it was not going to be a good fit.

Fletcher:

Thank you for your time. I'll call you back in a couple of days if we're interested, after five minutes.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, exactly.

Fletcher:

Now, what do you do with the next 25 minutes of your 30 minute block that you scheduled?

Darrian Mikell:

Right. And so yeah. So with us, they're able to really take that interview time down to five minutes.

Fletcher:

Oh, so they're reviewing, it takes less time to listen to the interview, they're able to review them, process them, move them on to the next step much more quickly. This is amazing because now you can hire an introvert as a recruiter. Right?

Darrian Mikell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Fletcher:

Introverts just love processing information systems.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, I'm an introvert.

Fletcher:

Yeah, they don't really want to be on the phone talking to other people. It doesn't mean not all introverts won't do it, I've got some recruiters that work for me that are really introverted people and very, very good recruiters, because they're very intuitive and empathetic. But being on the phone talking to people is not exactly their most favorite part of the job.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. Not that they don't enjoy people, but it can just be, for me, especially starting this company, running this company, a lot of my job is meeting with people. And so I love meeting with people and learning about new things from others, but like I said, I'm an introvert so what I find is that can be draining throughout your day.

Fletcher:

Yeah, if it's too much, it's exhausting.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. Also we've heard a lot of recruiting teams, they're trying to get more of their time back. Sometimes they're recruiting across different time zones and this is the demands that they have, that they're working late evenings or skipping lunch. And so we're able to help them get their time back so they can get to more high value things.

Fletcher:

And the demand for recruiters are through the roof these days. I saw a LinkedIn graph or survey and it was like this hockey stick, demand for recruiters, that and every other role. But I think that recruiters probably top the list, or one of the highest demand out there.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. It's something like from year over year, from last year around this time, it's a 7X increase in job postings.

Fletcher:

Yeah, it's crazy. Yeah.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah.

Fletcher:

Yeah, it's interesting. So, okay. Oh, I was really curious, what is the compliance rate? So I'm an assessment guy and we often ask people to complete assessments before we interview people. And the compliance rate, if there's no interaction and depending on the job, compliance rates can be relatively low or okay. Especially before any interactions with recruiters, typically after there's an interaction with a recruiter that's meaningful, compliance rates can be very high, 70 to a 100%, and other factors go through there. But yeah, what's the compliance rate on asking somebody to do a phone interview typically?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. And I'm assuming you mean them actually completing, if they get invited?

Fletcher:

Yeah, they submit a resume and the recruiter fires back a nice note saying, "Hey Darrian, thanks for applying, man. Before we take the next step, can you take 10 minutes to answer these questions with nobody else on the other line?"

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. No, yeah, that's a good question. So yeah, what we typically see is probably somewhere in line with what you said. What we see typically is around 50 to 70% completion rate, interview to response rate. Which happens to be typically, from what we were able to gather from recruiters, on par or better than what they're already seeing from their traditional methods. And the caveat with that is we're also sending more throughput through. So since they're not as restricted on their time, they can send out more invites and still see a lot more throughput with that same percentage rate.

Fletcher:

But that's an interesting thing. So if you're a recruiter and I've got a list of 100 people that are there, and I've only got enough time to process... Again in my heyday, I probably was processing maybe 60 people a week. That's a lot of people.

Darrian Mikell:

That's a lot of people, yeah.

Fletcher:

That's Franken, right? Actually, I don't know any of the recruiters that do that, but some high volume ones do, might even do more than that, a little bit. But very few process that many candidates. And there's a lot of systems in place to make that happen. But okay, so I guess my question is, to get to that number, I might be looking at three to 500 resumes to get to 60 people who we're going to spend that valuable time with them. So you end up with this contingent [inaudible 00:16:17] when you're screening a resume you're, I do a one to five scale. Fours and fives I'm like, "Okay, I want to spend time on the phone with them." And then I end up with these three-star people.

Darrian Mikell:

The threes, yes.

Fletcher:

Three star people are the ones something's wrong with the resume, it came through in a bad format or there's just something I don't understand, it doesn't fit. But there's something else here that is interesting, but I'm like, "I don't have the time for this."

Darrian Mikell:

We're here for the three stars. Yes, for sure.

Fletcher:

Okay.

Darrian Mikell:

Obviously we're screening everyone that our clients are screening, all their applicants through Qualifi, but that's one of the things that we try to hit on and showcase, is that, yeah, maybe there's some hidden gems in that mix. We use a thumbs up and thumbs down, but there's those sideways thumbs that you're like, "If I was doing this the old fashioned way, my time is too valuable I don't have enough time to get to those folks." But sometimes you find really great candidates that don't know how to showcase themselves well on a resume or an application, but can knock it out of the park when you actually get a chance to talk to them. And so this gives them an opportunity to showcase themselves as well. So that's there for sure.

Fletcher:

Yeah, yeah. I've seen this, it's a similar concept, it's Amazon, Bezos, and Musk, and all these big time tech guys. There's this extreme shortage of talent out there and they know it, they're pretty... I just read an article today, Bezos is like, "No more pot tests for their delivery drivers." And they expect that to increase their talent pool by 400%. "We're just not going to test anybody who smokes pot anymore. We don't really care, whatever." But I don't know what their insurance company feels about that, but other than that, I don't see what the problem is.

So the point is, is that they use assessments and they use other strategies, and they look outside the box. They don't care about education. They don't care about direct experience. They don't care about these other things that so many people put such a big emphasis on, like must have a college degree, must have experience in customer service, must have experience in this, must have this background. They're like, "No, no, no. We're going to look for people who have the right aptitude, and attitude, and behaviors, and then we're going to teach them."

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. 100%.

Fletcher:

Why do they do that?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. I think it's one, smart and for multiple reasons, and the other thing that sort of mentality can help with this. And I'm no expert on this, but it's something with opening up different types of candidate pools in terms of restricting. But I know a lot of job descriptions in and of themselves can be biased and reduce your opportunity to hire diverse candidates. So I think that things like that, not specifically that, but mentalities around, all right, what do we actually care about for this role? What is this person actually going to be doing? And what are the proper skillsets that they need to apply? Let's make sure we focus on those areas and cut the mess that doesn't actually matter. So yeah.

Fletcher:

Yeah. Yeah, it opens up talent pools. And no, there is a huge play on diversity and being less biased there too. And that is just opening up talent pool. It's a by-product of it.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah.

Fletcher:

I love it. Yeah, I think so many entrepreneurs and employers are stuck on these, they have too many requirements and many of them don't want to hear this, but I just am always encouraging people like, "Look for that diamond in the rough. Open up, be less restrictive and look more for the raw potential and develop people." And so many people are impatient for that. But I think in a time like this, I don't know how many people have much choice in the matter.

What about scorecards? So I get this audio file back, are your clients using some sort of scorecard to rate the interview or are they just checking boxes and then moving them on to the hiring manager? How does that work?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, no, so the current version of the product is thumbs up, thumbs down system. So it's screening in essence, and so we're just helping them to be able to make quick decisions, actionable decisions. They could share the actual interview and the transcriptions internally with hiring managers, and those hiring managers can provide feedback in the application as well. The scorecard piece is definitely something that we're interested in though or other ways of evaluating and rating your candidates.

We try to do some of these structured hiring approaches internally, and I think it's working really well and we want to continue to enhance that ourselves. And so we use Qualifi, obviously on Qualifi, but the next step in our hiring process is actually a structured interview. And depending on the role, we ask a scripted set of questions. We keep notes as the interview is happening, we record it, and try to have a good, better... Like here's a quality answer versus a low quality answer that we're looking for.

Fletcher:

Yeah, some examples we can train people.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, yeah.

Fletcher:

Nobody's ever taught how to be good at interviewing. I feel like I always ask these people like... You go to school, you go to business school or whatever, something in that realm, you even learn HR. In those courses, are there any courses that are teaching people how to hire or interview, better yet? Or both?

Darrian Mikell:

It's probably one of the, if not the, most important thing that you can do to help your organization. And yet, it's very overlooked as a skillset and training. I know there's-

Fletcher:

Who teaches people how to do these things?

Darrian Mikell:

Right. That's a struggle. I think hopefully we can help with that over time as we continue to access more data, as we learn what's working, what's not working, start to share content and share best practices around. If you're hiring for these types of candidates or if you are asking this question, this is the best way to ask this question that's going to lead to your better results and catheter the information that you need. And so those sorts of things are really exciting in terms of what we're doing now. And yeah, we're only getting started so a lot more to come, hopefully, with we have going on.

Fletcher:

Yeah. I think that's pretty cool. So if you can leave us with two things that somebody can implement in their hiring process tomorrow, that would potentially make an impact on their hiring results, what would those be?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. I think a couple of things that I've seen recruiting organizations... So the recruiting teams with the folks that they work with internally is, typically if they're having struggles, a lot of times they're not on the same page with each other. So making sure that everyone knows, "All right, we are hiring for this title, yes, but what is this person going to be doing for us?" Again, what are the skill sets that we need? If you're doing things-

Fletcher:

Clearer expectations.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, you have an intake meeting setting clear expectations, not only about the role, but about what the process is going to look, making sure everyone's bought in. So that way you can have a streamlined process and it flows smoothly, and it's going to lead to your best outcomes in terms of getting the best candidate.

So that's one. The other is that structured approach that's inherent to Qualifi is, at the very least, every candidate is going to get the same exact experience.

Fletcher:

You ask the same questions.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah, they get the same questions. So what that does though, is it allows you to compare candidates on an apples to apples basis. And that was one of the biggest failings when I was doing recruiting, is that even though I had the same set of scripted questions, our conversations can go in so many different ways from that, especially when you're in a live context. And for instance, I'm an athlete, I've been a lifelong athlete, I love basketball. If we get to talking about basketball, I might stay on that topic longer. We might vibe with it.

Fletcher:

Now, all of a sudden you love that person, but you forgot to ask about their work history.

Darrian Mikell:

Exactly. And I'm like, "That candidate really stuck out to me. I wonder why that was." And we hire the person that likes basketball, but can't do the job, stuff like that. That's a [inaudible 00:25:33] answer, but yeah how do you structure your questions.

Fletcher:

No, I think it's dead on. No, yeah, structure helps give you that comparison and helps you be more systematic and process oriented about how you're evaluating.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. It helps you iterate too. So maybe after the first 10, 20 interviews your like, "All right, that question is not leading to the answers that I want. So let's try asking it in a different way."

Fletcher:

Yeah, like, "It keeps sending me to left field." Or something, right?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. Let's ask that in a better way. So it allows you to start to train. And then also, if you have a larger team, it allows you to scale not only for the volume, but as you bring on new recruiters or replace recruiters that come and go, it allows it to be pretty transferable.

Fletcher:

It's also scientifically proven to produce better hiring outcomes too, by the way. So if you look at the IO psychology part of it, the research shows that structured interviews produce statistically higher, better results on the hiring outcomes. And so often we get sidetracked-

Darrian Mikell:

People get in their own way.

Fletcher:

Yeah, they do-

Darrian Mikell:

People get in their own way.

Fletcher:

Or yeah, I'm going to ask you some you one question and another guy some other question, just because who knows? It just felt right at the time.

Awesome. Well, Darrian, it was a great pleasure to have you on. Tell us where we can find you and then everything will be on the page and all the socials as well. So yeah, how do we get in touch with you if someone wants to learn more about Qualifi?

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. So you can find Qualifi, it's spelled with an I instead of a Y. So, Q-U-A-L-I-F-I.HR. So qualifi.hr is where you can find us there. And then yeah, you can find me, I'm most active on LinkedIn. So Darrian Mikell, I'm pretty easy to find. Last name is spelled M-I-K-E-L-L.

Fletcher:

We'll send you some PM's, good. And of course all the information will be there, links to your site, contact information, social handles, wherever Darrian is best found. So if you want to catch up, if you like the idea of prerecorded phone interviews, great for volume hiring, definitely worth checking out. And thank you for your time today.

Darrian Mikell:

Yeah. Thank you for having me, this was great.

Fletcher:

Awesome.

 

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Want to Know More About Today's Guest?

darrian (transparent)

Darrian Mikell is the Co-Founder and CEO of Qualifi, a SaaS platform that powers the fastest phone interview experience in the world and helps recruiting teams hire great candidates 7x faster.

 

Qualifi’s frictionless screening platform saves both recruiters and candidates time while maintaining a human touch. Typical phone interviews have been shown to add 6-8 days to an already long hiring process. Qualifi eliminates that, enabling recruiters to scale effectively and win talent with speed.

 

Before Qualifi, Darrian served as the VP at Viral Launch, a data-driven market intelligence and optimization solutions for Amazon marketplace retailers, driving e-commerce revenue growth and more efficient marketing spend. Check out this episode of Better Product, where Darrian talks about How Early Stage Companies and HR Teams are Handling the Current Climate.

Darrian Mikell

CEO of Qualifi

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