What You’ll Learn From a Technical Phone Screen Interview

A candidate that’s new to the tech world and applying for jobs might ask: “What is a technical interview?”

But if you’re an engineering leader, you know the answer to this question.

Companies looking to fill a software engineering position often use a technical phone screen interview to narrow down the pool of candidates. During this interview, the hiring manager asks the candidate technical phone interview questions to assess their level of expertise.

But what happens if a candidate flunks their phone screen despite having the skills and experience to do an excellent job? And what if a candidate aces the phone screen and is ultimately not the best fit for the role?

A savvy hiring manager can still gain useful information from both poor and strong interviews. Here’s why.

Asking the right tech screen interview questions

The goal of a phone screen interview is to quickly determine whether a candidate has the chops to do well in the role (and company).

It’s not an optimal situation if they pass the technical phone interview only to perform poorly on the job, and vice versa. However, just as important as finding strong candidates for your open position is learning what did/didn’t work in the interview process.

A fantastic interview gives you a glimpse into the way a candidate thinks. For example, if they walk you through their debugging process for a tricky issue, that shows they’re analytical and can think on their feet.

If a candidate explains why they would choose one technology over another, that indicates they have technical judgment and aren’t just following trends.

A bad interview also tells you something useful.

When you ask a candidate difficult engineering interview questions, do they struggle to understand what the job entails? Do they require additional details on the project? Or do they need more experience to excel at this type of question?

Perhaps they misunderstood the technical interview questions because of a mismatch in communication style. Then you know to adjust your interviewing approach before going into future phone screens.

Although a technical phone screen interview can be used to weed out candidates, it can also provide valuable information for both sides. With the right approach, everyone can benefit from this type of interview.

Technical questions and answers

Technical phone screen interviews typically focus on a candidate’s experience and knowledge. And the questions vary depending on the role that’s being filled.

Technical interview questions for freshers often ask about specific programming languages and tools; senior engineering questions might ask about algorithms or data structures and test their ability to solve complex problems.

Regardless of the position, here are a few common types of questions asked during a phone screen:

  1. What is your experience with (programming language)?
  2. Can you walk me through how you would solve this problem (using a specific programming language)?
  3. What are some of your past projects?
  4. What tools and programming languages are you most familiar with?
  5. What is your experience with (database)?
  6. Can you give me an example of a time when you had to debug a piece of code?
  7. What are some common algorithms and data structures that you are familiar with?
  8. How would you design a (specific type of software)?
  9. What is your experience working on big projects?
  10. How do you handle working under tight deadlines?

For more examples, check out our list of 50 questions to ask as a technical interviewer.

How to prepare for a technical phone interview

Phone screens are an important part of the hiring process for both candidates and hiring managers. They provide an opportunity to assess a candidate in a more relaxed setting.

As an engineering leader, you want to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your phone screen by asking the right technical engineering questions and following a few general tips.

Here’s how to prepare for a technical interview:

  • Know what specific experience you’re looking for, whether it’s with technologies or tools. (For example, if your company is new to the NoSQL database industry, don’t ask a candidate about their experience with MySQL. If you’re hiring junior developers, keep your questions basic and related to entry-level tasks.)
  • Ask open-ended questions to get a better sense of how the candidate thinks and approaches problems. You may find it helpful to start by asking them for their opinion about a problem and then following up with specific questions.
  • Come up with your list of questions ahead of time. Phone screens usually last between 30 minutes and one hour, so make sure you don’t spend too much time asking follow-up questions.
  • Remember that phone screens are about both sides learning more about each other; be prepared to answer any questions the candidate has about the role or the culture at your company.

Phone coding interview

A phone screen is just one step in the hiring process. It’s an opportunity to gather more information before making a hiring decision.

After a candidate has completed the phone screen, the next step is a technical assessment test. The test may be in the form of a written exam or an actual coding assignment.

This step is essential to assess two things: whether you are looking at the right candidate for this job, and if they have the necessary skills to do their job well.

You might stumble upon a great person who doesn’t perform well on tests — and that’s okay! When Woven’s technical assessment platform, you can administer an asynchronous technical assessment test online. Candidates complete the assignment wherever they are, on their own time.

Next, candidates are double-blind scored by our network of senior engineers. They receive valuable feedback to help them improve their skills, and you receive hiring recommendations from us.

If you’re looking for a great way to assess candidates for your next software engineering role, start a free trial today. Our platform can help you screen candidates and assess their skills before moving forward in the interview process.

Final Thoughts

As companies are becoming more comfortable with assessing engineering candidates through tests, phone interviews are becoming less popular. Nevertheless, they are still an important part of the process for both the candidate and the hiring manager.

When preparing for a phone screen, make sure you have a solid understanding of the specific experience you’re looking for. Ask questions that will help you get a sense of how the candidate thinks and approaches problems. And finally, remember that phone screens are about mutual discovery.

Best of luck!