Job Search Tip of the Week #39 (2017)

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How to Rock the Phone Interview

Phone Interview Tips That’ll Get You a Second Interview



Unfortunately, your résumé only gets your foot in the door. Want to get to your prospective employer and dream job waiting on the other side? Before you pick out your lucky interview outfit and practice your perfect handshake, you have to first push past the phone interview.

Knowing what you’re up against is half the battle: The employer’s goal during the phone screen is to determine whether to invite you on-site for more thorough interviews and continue investing in your candidacy. Usually, a human resources representative or a recruiter, armed with a basic profile of the ideal candidate for the position (constructed from what the hiring manager has told him or her about the job requirements and team culture), conducts this initial interview.

The other half is preparing. Let us break it down for you!

A typical technical phone interview consists of three parts:

Self Description / Career History

This portion of the phone interview is meant to ease your nerves and let you tell your career story.

It’s important that you know yourself and your résumé extremely well. The interviewer will ask detailed questions to determine not only exactly what you’ve done (to make sure you didn’t fabricate or exaggerate anything on your résumé), but also give you the opportunity to talk about your motivation for seeking employment and how you’d apply your experience to new work situations.

Common questions include:

  • What are you working on now?
  • What project are you most proud of, and what was your contribution?
  • What languages and development tools are you working with?
  • What are your technical strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your IT/technical certifications? What do you do to maintain them?
  • How would you rate your key competencies for this job?
  • In what ways has your current job prepared you to take on greater challenges and responsibility? (For soon-to-be or recent college grads, the question may be “How has your education and internship experience prepared you for this position?”)
  • What managerial experience do you have?
  • Tell me about your most recent side project.
  • What technical websites and/or blogs do you follow?
  • What was the biggest challenge you faced and overcame?
  • Could you tell me about a time you had a problem you couldn’t solve?
Technical Problem(s)

The interviewer wants to know that you have knowledge of basic concepts that you need to know to be successful at the job. Depending on the position and its responsibilities, you may be required to, for example:

  • Compare and contrast programming languages.
  • Define basic OO concepts.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the most common data structures.
  • Answer questions about bits, bytes, and binary numbers.
  • Explain how you’d prevent an error or mistake that would have cost hours of additional work from happening.
  • Using an online real-time collaborative code editor like Etherpad, write some simple code with correct syntax in a specific language or design a data structure or block of code to do x.

For more complex questions, and especially since your interviewer can’t see you, it’s important that you think out loud and not let your interviewer sit through awkward silence on the other end of the line as you work out the problem. In fact, oftentimes your thought process is more important to your interviewer than the end result, so talk through your approach to solving the problem.

Also, if you don’t understand the question, ask for further clarification. If you don’t know the answer, admit it and tell your interview how you’d find the answer. Don’t try to Google it during the interview, because the interviewer will be able to tell (no matter how quietly you’re typing)!

Open Floor

The interview process is a two-way street, meaning that it’s an opportunity not only for the company to determine whether they want to move forward with you, but also for you to decide whether to keep pursuing the opportunity.

The questions you ask the interviewer will reveal your interview preparation, or lack thereof. Don’t ask questions which can be answered by the company’s website (e.g., “What does [name of company] do?” or “Where are you located?”) or a quick online search, or inquire about compensation and benefits (the time to do so would be the final interview).

Ask intelligent questions that show that you’re interested in and have envisioned yourself working for the company, such as:

  • What excites you about coming to work?
  • From the job description, I gather that a typical day on the job goes like this…
  • What’s the company’s five-year plan, and how does the software development team fit in?
  • How does the company invest in its developers’ professional development?
  • How will my responsibilities and performance be measured, and how could I exceed your expectations if I were hired?
  • Who will review my performance, and how often?


Still can’t get over your phone interview phobia? A specialized IT recruiter like Chase Technology Consultants (CTC) can help. CTC empowers its candidates with information about the position and company that you can’t learn from a job description or online, including what to expect and what hot buttons to hit on during your phone presentation. With the right knowledge and preparation, you’ll move forward in the hiring process!


Remember: Because you can’t see your interviewer, it’s that much harder to connect with him or her. Focus on the quality of what you’re saying rather than how much you’re talking, and convey your enthusiasm for the position!



Sound Off: What’s the most difficult phone interview question you’ve been asked? How would you answer it differently now than you did before?


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