Conduct the Peerfect Technical Phone Interview in simple steps

10 min read

If you aren’t in tech it’s hard to know where to start - a technical phone interview requires careful planning and experience to work out right.

And if you wish to hire the best talent, you must evaluate them in the best way possible. That means asking the most compatible questions and applying a challenge that will put their skills and mindset to the test for the position you’re offering.

Read on to learn in simple steps how to do a technical phone interview.

In this article you’ll know everything you need from start to finish so you’ll be picking up the phone and applying some coding challenges like a pro!

Here’s the step by step for a technical phone interview:

#1 Make a first round with HR

Don’t ask the candidate to dive head-first into the technical interview. It’s a complicated process, which requires a lot of time, study and dedication.

For the sake of both, ask the candidate to pass through HR first. A phone screen interview works wonders, since it can be done remotely and make sure they are the right fit for the position.

After all, their values and personality for the job should be tested before their technical skills.

#2 Prepare a questionnaire for the technical phone interview

Asking a developer about their skills isn’t as straightforward as asking about a creative position. Instead of asking just about experience and portfolio you have to ask specifics on their programming skills.

If you aren’t familiar with tech and have a developer at your company, it’s best to ask them to do the interview. Another option is to ask a developer you trust to be the interviewer for you.

Now, if you’ve decided that you’re the person for the job then start off like this:

How to create a technical phone interview questionnaire

This is the part most similar to a regular interview. You’ll ask questions regarding their experience as a developer. The idea here is to discover their mindset and their thought process regarding code.

Here are some great questions to ask:

  • If you could create a dream job, how would it be?
  • Have you worked on any side projects?
  • Tell me about your coworkers.
  • What's an interesting technical problem you've worked on, and why?
  • What do you value in a manager?
  • How do you deal with problems?
  • Why did you look for a position at our company?
  • How would you improve our product/ services?
  • Do you have availability to move city? If not, what’s your view on remote work?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • What kind of employee benefits are you looking for?

Pay attention to how well they answer - more than just the “content” of the answer

With these questions the objective is to know what the candidate prioritizes in their life, how they deal with problems and their aspirations.

It’s important to pay attention to details. Candidates can let slip some interesting clues that you need a keen ear to notice.

Imagine for example if they say, “I only do side projects for charities” - that’s when you should ask “why?” How they answer these unexpected “why?” questions are when you find out the most on a candidate.

You catch them off guard and you need to make sure they are always authentic - pauses and changes in tone of voice are red flags to watch out for.

#3 Adjust your questions according to seniority

It’s important to have nuance when recruiting for tech. It’s a highly specialized field, but you can’t treat a rookie just off campus the same as a guy with 15 years on the job.

For rookies it’s best to ask more about aspirations and how much room they’ve got for growth. It’s also good to ask about side projects, why they chose the profession and their university projects.

For a senior, ask more about their former positions and if they currently work, why do they want to change company? It’s essential to gauge experience and compatibility of a senior with the position you are offering right off the bat in a technical interview.

#4 Create a coding game

Now’s the time to put the candidate’s skills to the test. You need to create a coding game (or challenge if you prefer) for the interviewee.

Doing this just through the phone is difficult - it’s best to use skype or another screen sharing software to see them writing the code on the go. Another possibility is to have a chat about daily tasks the candidate would face after being hired.

Ask them questions about common dev issues that occur (such as bugs) or future updates you plan for your product. This helps bring the candidate into your perspective and makes the interview more honest and approachable.

How to create a coding game:

  1. Determine what language you’ll be testing (Java, C++, Python, Ruby on rails…)
  2. Create the challenge. The idea is to simulate as closely as possible the daily tasks the developer would have to fulfill at your company. So, with that in mind, ask your current developers what they mostly do on a regular basis and then repurpose that into a “challenge”
  3. Another option is to ask a developer you trust to create a challenge for you
  4. Pay attention to their communication skills. The way they tell you about the solution is better than just solving it and leaving you without context
  5. Give them tips along the way if needed - this is important to evaluate teamwork
  6. Allow them to solve and then test out the code at the end - it’s important to evaluate how they react to mistakes. Do they get nervous? Or are they calm and start over with ease?
  7. Give them some feedback at the end of the challenge and tell them when you’ll be back in touch

#5 Decide if you’ll invite the candidate for an on-site interview

Evaluate the candidate’s performance on the phone - do they have the skills and mindset for the position?

If you believe they are a great fit, it’s time to invite them on-site to showcase their skills in person.

Every company does this step differently. At major companies like Facebook or Uber these interviews can last a whole day with many challenges and employees asking questions.

At a startup though, this isn’t feasible, and many companies do another coding challenge. This is similar to the phone challenge, but the difference is the candidate has to solve the question right there in the flesh.

You as an interviewer have to use this moment to imagine how the candidate would work at the company. How would they solve challenges? How would they improve your product/ services?

That’s why you should be less “generic” in this step than on the phone. Create a challenge that is more in sync with your company’s current demands.

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