(By Dan Simmons)

Has this ever happened to you?

You apply for a job and receive a call from somebody at the company who wants to conduct a preliminary interview over the telephone (a.k.a. a Phone Screen). They proceed with a few standard questions and you give what you believe are good answers. You are confident you are on you’re way to the next level except… you never receive another phone call. Obviously, you failed the phone screen.

What Went Wrong?
Unfortunately, many candidates take the phone screen for granted. They believe it’s merely a formality before the company calls them in for an interview. In fact, they almost treat the phone screen as though they’ll be called in during that telephone conversation. This is a crucial mistake.

The phone screen is the first major step in the interview process and it must be taken just as seriously as a face-to-face interview. You’ll never make it to the face-to-face interview unless you make a positive impression on the phone. Below are some tips you should keep in mind while you conduct a phone screen:

  1. Be enthusiastic and assertive: Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but the person on the other end of the line can’t see your face. As a result, they can’t fully or accurately gauge your level of excitement or interest in the position.
  2. Stay focused and eliminate all distractions: Avoid speaking too fast, having music or other noises in the background, chewing or smoking, or speaking too close to the receiver— anything that may create an unpleasant image of yourself.
  3. Don’t ask questions that appear to be selfishly motivated: This is the most common mistake. You shouldn’t bring up the subject of money or benefits. Remember, this phone call determines whether you’ll be having a face-to-face interview. Your only goal at this point should be to sell the company on your skills and experience.
  4. Be prepared for the following questions:
    • Why are you leaving your present position? Have a positive reason for this move. Ripping on your current boss is not going to leave a favorable impression.
    • What are your strong/weak points? Be honest when answering this question. Trying to convince the interviewer that you have no weaknesses will uncover at least one weakness—dishonesty.
    • What were your biggest accomplishments in your last position? Showcase your skill level and experience and make a detailed list of your accomplishments.
    • What contributions can you make to our company? This is the question that will either cement their interest or leave them with lingering doubts. Conduct research on the company, check out the company’s Web site, find out what they’re doing and be prepared to point out how you can help them achieve their goals.

If treated properly, the phone screen can set the tone for the entire interview process. It will make you look solid from beginning to end. The good news is that if you’ve read this article, you already have a jump on many candidates in the market right now. Stick to the guidelines above and you’ll increase your chances of moving on towards the career you’ve always wanted.