Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

The Phone Screen has become an essential tool in many technical recruiters’ toolboxes. A quick 30 minute chat on the phone can give both parties a good idea of whether or not the candidate is suited to the job, saving the time and cost of bringing the candidate in for a face-to-face interview.

When I lived in Hawaii, I found that the phone screen became an even more important tool when interviewing mainland candidates, as the cost of bringing out a candidate is considerably higher than, say, flying in candidates around California. As well as assessing technical and non-technical skills, as one would do on the mainland, I found it crucial to answer 3 key questions which would then result in a face to face.

1. Do they really want the job?

Out on the West Coast, people normally can’t be bothered wasting a day off for an interview if they’re not interested in the job. A day trip to the other end of San Jose just isn’t worth it! In Silicon Valley, if your interviewee turns up the interview, he probably wants the job (of course he could just there for industrial espionage, but that’s a whole other story).

When flying a candidate out to the islands though, one has to be aware of “the vacationer”, a job interviewee who’s just there for the free vacation. Because some people do apparently, think Hawaii is a damn fine place to vacation.

It can be hard to weed out Vacationers, but one thing to look for is to make sure they don’t already have offers on the table. It takes a while to set up interviews on the island, so its in every-one's best interest to make sure that the interviewee hasn’t already accepted an offer by the time he comes out. Clarify with the interviewee what their timeline is, and make sure your HR department can move fast when making an offer.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a candidate who wants to stay out an extra day or two in the islands, especially if they’re not been out before. In fact, that should be positively encouraged!

As much as anything, a good phone screen will involve listening to the candidate’s tone of voice about how excited they seem about the job. Not every programmer will be swinging from the ceiling with joy as they get to renew their Java skills for another year... but horse sense can save a wasted trip.

2. Do they really want to live in Hawaii?

It does no good to nobody to hire a candidate and have them move back to the mainland after 6 months. Its bad for the employer, its bad for the employee. (Maybe not bad for the Recruitment Agency, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).

As an interviewer, I always made it part of my job to point out the good and the bad of living in Hawaii... everything from cost of living, to traffic, to island fever, and up to great food, beautiful beaches and so on. In fact, if anything, it was always my goal to turn people off at this point “why on Earth do you want to live in Hawaii??”, I’d normally say, “uh, you don’t like it?” “Oh I love it! but why do you want to live here?!”. If its because they want to spend their weekends building a photolog of Lost’s filming locations, and the evening suping Mai Tai’s at Halekulani, they might want to do some more research first.

I had a couple of candidates turn up for face to face interviews only to find that their favorite hobby was going to be a “no no”in Honolulu County (white rapid river rafting, and train spotting spring to mind). I soon made it part of my phone screen technique to ask about hobbies and interests, to make sure the candidate would find a life outside of work here. If a candidate didn’t want to go into depth (some don’t; they’re not applying for college), I’d explain why I was poking around, and ask them to consider if they could do their hobbies and interests here.

Having an existing link to the island is, of course, a huge plus. “Why do you want to live here?” “Because my fiance lives there” is a pretty good reason.

3. Are we on the same page with respect to Compensation expectations?

Compensation for technical employees in Hawaii can be a hotly debated topic, and deserves a post in its own right. However, whichever way you feel, its important that interviewer and candidate be on the same page, even in the early stages of the interview game. This can be a tough conversation to have, and nobody wants to show their hand too early, but it can save a lot of wasted time to know that two parties are not even in the same ball park.

If the candidate is expecting a range of $120-140k, and the employeer can only go up to $80k, its best that both parties agree not to proceed before wasting time and money on an expensive face-to-face. Of course, a hiring company should explain why they are paying less (or more!) than a mainland salary, and attempt to persuade, but if its not going to work now, its probably not going to work after the interview.

(Oh, and if there appears to be a big salary discrepancy, and they still want to come out, they probably just turned into a Vacationer).

Along these lines, relocation packages should be discussed as early as possible. For most candidates, a relocation package to Hawaii is expected, so if one is not on offer, it should be clearly stated up front (this goes for most tech jobs these days, not just Hawaii). There’s no need to lay everything out at this point, but some kind of guidelines such “we’ll generally pay reasonable reallocation costs” or “relocation is not offered for this position” are good starting points.

Overall, I learned that the Three questions above became very useful in saving time and money on candidates who would not have worked out. Just some more of the unique issues teams have to worry about when working on the islands.

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Comment by Andy Styles on August 3, 2011 at 5:35am
Great comments, Keith. You touch on several issues I'd like to cover in future posts... if my young son allows me time to write them!
Comment by Daniel Leuck on July 11, 2011 at 10:50am

Google Docs, etc, can also be a great way to interactively do some quick coding questions.

I agree. Its great to see them typing code in response to a question in real time.

Comment by Rubén Peña on July 11, 2011 at 8:59am



This is a very good posting.  Unfortunately, with the luck I am having, even though these questions have been posed to me during a phone screen, and I fit the profile of a Qualified Technologist willing to put down roots back in Hawaii to stay indefinitely at a modest fair market-based Hawaii compensation, I am still being rejected predominantly for 2 reasons, which I can't control nor work around ...

1) I am disqualified for consideration since I have been looking for too long & unemployed for too long (85%)

2) I receive no feedback at all letting me understand WHY I have been turned down (15%) [although usually I find out that another Candidate was selected for the position, or, the position was cancelled].


So even though I am passing the phone screen with positive communication regarding ....

a) I really want the job.

b) I really want to live in Hawaii permanently.

c) We are on the same page with respect to Compensation expectations.

... not to mention that fact that I am qualified for many/most positions, that I have much to offer the Hawaii Technical/Engineering/Scientific Community, and with the Spirit of Aloha running through my veins, I still cannot get passed the 2 MAIN REASONS mentioned above.  


I wish Hawaii hiring Managers could have enough foresight and benevolence to look past the state of the economy, and see the potential & added value in what I have to offer.




Comment by Marcus Sortijas on July 10, 2011 at 9:58pm
Great post, Andy.  I liked point #2, it's easy to get so focused on qualifications that you might overlook whether the applicant would be able to settle in Hawaii. 

Being born and raised here, I didn't realize how different the islands were until I went to college in California.  I still remember the first time I went to fast-food restaurant there.  I took my cup over to the soda fountain to fill it. Then I said, "Hey, where is the fruit punch?!"  I'd never been to a restaurant that didn't have fruit punch before.
Comment by Andy Styles on July 10, 2011 at 7:45pm
Thanks! I've yet to try a video interview - on either end - but sounds like a great idea. Google Docs, etc, can also be a great way to interactively do some quick coding questions.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on July 9, 2011 at 3:43pm

@Andy - Good post. Weeding out the vacationers and those who are unlikely to take root in Hawaii can be challenging.


@Tonu - Absolutely. We do multiple video chat interviews before bringing anyone over from the mainland.

Comment by Tonu Apelu on July 6, 2011 at 11:18pm
I agree with your view of saving money on the expensive "face to face" meetings. What if companies pushed towards interviewing possible candidates using Skype or Google videos? I'm sure there are companies doing this already. Great read.


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