The Wrong Call: The Technical Phone Interview Without Coding Challenges

After the resumes and letters of application have been sorted by Human Resources, or a recruiting firm, or an IT staff handling hiring for the position, the next screening step is personal contact. That means winnowing the resume pile by means of telephone interviews, with or without video screen. This is called a “technical phone interview,” perhaps because the position will involve technical development, trouble-shooting software problems, and working on software development teams. Whatever the reason for calling it a “technical phone screen interview,” the name is inaccurate.

A lot of advice for interviewers and applicants on such a call emphasizes establishing a personal connection. The applicant is advised to talk in a way that expresses excitement about working for the company, knowledge of its products, and understanding of the position to be filled. Prime advice is for the applicant is to talk enough about technical matters so that the interviewer gets a sense of how the applicant thinks, articulates problems, and uses technical vocabulary.

All this good advice, however, seems motivated—at least in part—by acknowledgement that the technical interview cannot find out directly if the applicant has the technical skills critical to do the job. Day to day, the successful applicant probably will spend a lot of time coding in one or more languages. The successful applicant will identify and define the nature of technical software problems or development challenges and work out solutions. The working out will be both by critical and imaginative thinking and, of course, coding.

But the “technical interview” cannot obtain direct evidence of those technical skills as applied to a real problem of the type that the company wants to solve. At best, the interview elicits testimony from the candidate about his or her skill level, some anecdotes about problem-solving, and, perhaps, a recap of the job experience already in the resume.

There will not literally be technical phone screen questions, because phone screening interviews do not involve coding to solve problems.

 Telephone interview tips

With the interview results in hand, can the HR person decide if the candidate has the technical skills required to do the job? Not based on concrete, objective evidence of architecture and debugging skills. And yet, decisions must be made to take the next step in hiring.

That statement of the problem points directly at the motivation behind the coding challenges technical interview developed by Woven. A relatively brief series of technical challenges, like problems in architecture and debugging, for example, give the candidate a chance to demonstrate in action problem-definition, approaches to problem-solving, and developmental solutions—all in the form of coding. Tests are geared to the requirements of the position (junior programmer, senior engineering manager) for which your company is recruiting.

The results give your company engineers a demonstration of the level of skill and the competencies of a candidate. This screens candidates to identify those to be interviewed in the next step. But, even more, it gives your interviewers a solid measurement of relevant technical skills, so that the telephone or in-person interview can focus on personal factors like communication skills, work ethic, and ambitions. Your business’s representatives also have an opportunity to present your company’s culture, a sense of team spirit, and some intangibles that make your company a desirable place to work.

This overall characterization of a technical interview emphatically does not mean that all tech screen interview questions are about “soft skills” and attributes of the candidates. If a candidate is interviewed by a typical HR staff member or recruiter and general questions for engineers are posed, the telephone interview questions to ask might go like this:

  • Describe the engineering project you found most challenging.
  • Describe a technical report, written or presented, that you made.
  • Can you characterize an occasion when you used logic to solve an engineering problem?
  • How do you approach identifying possible mistakes in your own work?
  • Can you describe an instance of your leadership on the job?
  • What new skills have you acquired or honed this past year?
  • What software packages have you mastered, and which do you use?
  • Describe your own strengths and why they make you a good engineer.
  • How have you handled a particularly difficult client or user?
  • Can you describe how you handled an employer’s negative comments on your work?

Obviously, these illustrations of technical phone interview questions for a general engineering interview do seek concrete instances of job performance, performance in the workplace, and work ethic.  Here is a general telephone interview questions and answers pdf.

It is apparent that these questions and others like them can yield a lot of information, even if the candidate has been extensively briefed on how to answer technical interview questions. That information is the candidate’s own report and assessment of their competencies and record. How the candidate articulates technical problems and solutions. How familiar the candidate is with actual workplace issues. What working style preferences the candidate claims in terms of working with users and teams.

Technical phone interview questions software engineer

It is also apparent that although there are a few engineering phone screen questions about technical knowledge and vocabulary, the interview does not in any way address technical skills such as coding, approaches to debugging, or architecture. In fact, the candidate has no way to demonstrate them. That is the overriding focus of the Woven coding challenges technical interview.

If we focus on a specific position such as software engineer, would the interview questions be substantially different? The overall framework of software engineer technical interview questions or computer engineering interview questions might take this form:

Indications of overall technical preparation

  • What is your educational preparation for the job?
  • Have you added a technical certification to that?
  • How do you go about maintaining those certifications?
  • How would you rate your own ability to do this job?
  • Do you have gaps or weaknesses in IT?

 Workplace performance

  • What was your most recent project and your role in it?
  • Have you made suggestions for improvement of a design that were accepted?
  • What is an example of you applying technical knowledge?
  • How did you manage source code in that context?

Getting at technical knowledge and competence

  • What databases have you designed?.
  • Can you explain the difference between OLAP and OLTP and their uses?
  • Have you employed automated-build tools or processes?
  • In automated-build, what is the role of continuous integration systems?
  • How have you used transaction logs?

Work ethic and teamwork

  • Do you have a strong preference for working directly with users?
  • What makes a successful team?
  • When you develop code, how much re-use of it do you typically get?
  • What technical websites do you follow?

These phone questions are about the position of a software engineer and ask for more information. Some of it is about the candidate and their background, but there is more technical vocabulary as well. The interviewer tests this person on their knowledge by asking them specific questions like if they know what OLAP or OLTP means. These questions will not be enough to tell HR recruiters if this person should be advanced to the next round or not.

Would the interview, even if there were twice as many questions, tell us about whether this candidate is good? Probably not. Because we didn’t ask them to solve any problems. The candidate could anticipate our questions and prepare answers.

Actually, the dilemma here is still more complex. A candidate might be selected based on performance in the technical interview but turn out to have relatively limited coding and problem-solving skills. Another and perhaps greater risk is eliminating a candidate who did not present especially well in the technical interview—but who has outstanding skill in coding and rare imagination in conceiving problems and new solutions. Ability to prepare extensively and come across well in an interview is not the primary competence your company needs day-to-day on the job. Your company needs the ability to complete software development projects, or get on top of debugging problems, or propose an innovative architecture.

Your company is competing worldwide for the most talented engineers to build the most effective and productive teams. That makes the recruitment and hiring process, and final assessment of candidates, one of the highest-impact things you do.

Technical interview coding challenges

Faced with the reality that top software engineering competence requires highly technical, diverse skills, not mere information or familiarity with the field, many companies are turning to coding challenges. They are finding that asking a candidate to set up a new problem in detail and creatively solve it yields the information they need: can the candidate solve the type of problem they will confront on the job?

Woven coding challenges, customized for the position being filled, capture performance objectively with challenges ranging from entry level coding interview questions to senior software development interview questions to software engineer interview questions. Assessment by informed and experienced engineers tells your more of what you really want to know about your candidate. Tests save the time spent conducting dozens of telephone interviews that probe for clues related specifically to skills and competencies, so engineering managers can be confident before advancing to the next interview stage..

All Woven coding challenges involve problems related to debugging, systems thinking, skill in technical communications, and frontend programming—usually clustering such problems in ways most relevant to the role to be filled. Some 90 minutes or less in front of a computer screen presents a prospective Junior/Mid-Full Stack Engineer or an Engineering Manager with problems at a different level of complexity in different applications. As will Entry Level Software Engineer questions. And, each test demands coding skills that your development teams use on the job.

After the technical phone interview

Without a coding challenge, recruiters use the technical phone interview to decide on the next step, such as an in-person technical interview at the company. This happens without any objective information about candidates’ technical skills and knowledge—or their ability to apply it to problems. The decision tends to reflect comparison of resumes (colleges, certifications, former employers) and impressions of how articulate, sincere, and interested candidates seemed.

After the technical phone interview, candidates typically have no sense of how well they did in comparison to other candidates. If the recruiter does give the candidate feedback, it tends to be subjective. One of the many benefits of the Woven coding challenge platform is that feedback is objective and less biased.

If a candidate does get an encouraging call back, the next step might be to provide more information on some issue that came up in the interview. More likely, it will be to schedule an in-person meeting with engineering team.

Testing Woven

Woven’s mission involves closing the gap between talent and opportunity. That includes leveraging the technology improvements in areas like machine learning and artificial intelligence to bring a clearer signal to the hiring process. We believe this will lead to 10X improvements in hiring software engineers, similar to the impact of technology applications in other fields.

The goal is to identify both excellent engineers and highly effective team members. So one area of focus is async communication for technical collaboration. A coding challenge for assessment of a candidate for Mid/Senior Frontend Engineer calls upon abilities to design, debug, and own frontend web architecture and API interaction in production. The candidate should write code that is clear, concise, and well-honed for the frontend and able to work in frontend frameworks.

Test results are reviewed and assessed by engineers at Woven to yield a report on the candidate’s specific skills, approach to understanding the challenge in detail, performance in solving the problem, and Woven’s recommendations for your company.

We unlock human ingenuity and purpose. We create effective software teams by allowing outsiders to join teams with the ease of insiders. Team quality is the most important part of an organization, which makes the hiring process an organization’s top priority. Despite that, the hiring process over half-a-century has changed little. Online job boards, digital resumes, online multiple-choice assessments, and video chat have merely moved the old process to a more efficient platform.

Woven exists to give technology leaders and talent acquisition teams the support needed to make some changes in a risk-averse way and with limited human interaction. We have chosen to undertake this challenge in a way that facilitates inclusive hiring and all the while acknowledging that teams built of similar members under-perform diverse teams.

The next step for a company ready to learn more about Woven’s distinctive approach to using coding challenges in hiring is to sign up for a free trial. When it’s time to identify the coding challenges needed for interviewing, we will begin by understanding your software development challenges and where additional engineering talent is required now. On that basis, we can create a coding challenge that reflects what the candidate will do on the job.

You can check our blog regularly for information, insights, and updates on engineering hiring, new developments in coding challenges and other recruiting, and new ideas in the technical interviewing space.